Monday, March 22, 2010
What's in a Name?
I am fascinated by what people name their children and the waxing and waning of name popularity. Why and how do we name our children the way we do?
When I was born, the most popular boy's name was James and the most popular name for girls was Linda followed by Robert, John, William and David for boys and Mary, Barbara, Patricia and Susan for girls. Hence growing up, my best friend's name was Linda, and I had many Marys, Barbaras, Patricias and Susans in my classes. I also had boyfriends named Robert, John, William and David. (No, I'm just kidding about all of the boyfriends - sort of kidding).
In 2009 the most popular name for boys was Aidan and for girls Isabella, so I guess in 10 years the schools will be teaming with Aidans and Isabellas.
My mother, however, was not one to follow the pack.
I was named Rosellen Edith. It is pronounced as if spelled Rose Ellen. She named me after her best friend, Rosella, and even with that, she had to put her own twist on it.
I hated my name, not because it was an ugly name, but because no one could pronounce it or spell it correctly. In class, the teachers would call out everything from "Rozlyn" to "Roselyn" to "Rosalee," and I would have to raise my hand and correct them. For a freckle-faced ten year old with a bowl haircut, this was torture.
Spellings of my name would turn up as Roselyn, Rose Ellen and every variation in between. When asked my name, I felt I was a model of enunciation, but invariably the reply would be "Rosella?" My mother should have just given me her friend's name and be done with it.
That's where Rosy came from.
It was just easier. But again, I should have watched how I spelled it. I still run into the issue of incorrect spelling. Rosie and Rosey are common. And as for the nickname itself, as a young girl, more than once, I was called Rosie the Riveter by some old guy who thought that was hilarious. How do you respond to that? It's like when people would ask me where I got my freckles from. Funny for them, mortifying for me. ( One good thing about my name, though, is that when I answer the phone, I can always tell when it's someone who doesn't know me --usually a telemarketer, so I can just hang up or pretend I'm the babysitter. Telemarketers ALWAYS mispronounce my name).
My mother must have had a thing about roses, because my older sister is named Rosemary, which in my opnion, is a much easier name to deal with. However, for some reason her nickname was Posy, so I was spared something, I guess. So there we were, Rosy and Posy (stop gagging!)
And then there is the middle name. My mother gave me her name as my middle name. However, since my first name consisted of what could arguably be two names to begin with, it was not easy to explain that. So I didn't.
Now my husband's name is Charles. As a child he was called Charlie. For some reason, though, when he became a teenager, he decided Chuck was more adult and/or masculine. Not sure how he came up with that, but there you go. (I wonder how someone comes to be called Chaz?)
So with this legacy, I was determined that my own children would not have common names, but at the same time would not be saddled with names that would cause them embarrassment (My brother swears he had a teacher named Ima Nutt. Parents should put their sense of humor aside when naming their children). I also didn't want the names to yield horrible nicknames or any nicknames at all, for that matter. (I was also very careful that their initials would not spell out something egregious, either).
Ah, the best laid plans...
I named my son Alexander. He was almost a Justin. (If he had been a girl, he would have been Hilary. Now wouldn't that have been interesting?)
When he was born, the most common baby names for a boy were Michael, Christopher, Jason, David and James (Justin was #13). I think I discovered that Alexander was the most popular boy's name in Europe, but since I didn't think he would be going to school over there, I wasn't worried. Also the worst nickname that could come out of Alexander would be Alex, and I rather liked that. Or so I thought. One of my son's friend's mother called him Al. I know she did it just to vex me, and it did. A little five year old called Al was not cute.
As for his middle name, I wanted to give him a family name. My mother's father's name was August and my father's grandfather was Augustus, so I thought giving my son the middle name of Augustus would cover both sides of the family and since it was a middle name, not harm him too much. I thought his initials were cool. I fantasized that when he became a powerful corporate executive, his secretary would call him on the intercom and say, "Mr. Smith is on line one, A.A." (The only way I can rationalize this decision is that the trauma of birth probably addles the brain).
My son has since forgiven me.
My daughter was born almost five years later, and I was originally going to name her Jessica. But then changed my mind and named her Ashley Rose. I thought I had the brilliant idea for this name(more on that later) and better yet, it didn't conjure up any nicknames. And I guess I wanted to continue a trend with the Rose part.
My mother hated the name Ashley.
She was convinced I was on a "Gone with the Wind" kick (remember Ashley Wilkes?).
I was offended she didn't know I was naming my daughter after Lady Brett Ashley from The Sun Also Rises.
My mother offered me $100 NOT to name her Ashley, which was a hunk of change in those days. But I stuck to my guns. Other than Ashley Rose sounding a bit like a china pattern, I was happy with my choice, and people even complimented me on her beautiful name.
Fast forward to the present.
Guess what the most popular girls' names of 1985 were?
Jessica, number 1. Ashley, number 2.
Do you realize, not only how many Ashleys there are now, but Ashleys with Rose as a middle name? And then there are the variations: Ashleigh, Ashlee, Ashlie, Ashly? I'm sure you can think of one. So either way I was doomed.
If only we could see into the future for those lists.
I wonder what my children will name their children. Since my son was an athlete, I wonder if he will consider Evander or Magic. My daughter was an actress, so perhaps Reese or Uma? Or maybe not. These things go in waves.
So here's my advice.
Forget the family names, keep your sense of humor in check and listen to your mother.
I should have taken that $100.
How does your name rank in popularity for the year you were born? Here is a great site to find out.
Most Popular Baby Names
Share your stories of naming your children and why you have the name you do. Do you like your name?
And here are some library resources on names.