“Besides, what’s in a name? Actually, a lot. Whether taken from a parent or grandparent, some saint, or even the late great Elvis, your name insists another person’s dream of what you should have been. The portrait of some ancestral ideal lingers through heirloom names. Gender specific names imply all sorts of expectations. More than just a signifier used to summon, instruct, address, accuse, sometimes praise us, our names define and thereby limit us. They put us in a cage.” ― Brien Piechos
I was to have been named Audrey Lynde in honor of my childless and miserly great aunt. Audrey had the distinction of having one blue and one brown eye, and if family lore is ever to be believed, her penurious habits enabled her to squirrel away a mighty impressive rainy day fund. While I don’t question my parent’s motives, hindsight leads me to believe their intentions were slightly less than virtuous. I spoiled all their plans by arriving early and in rather pathetic shape. My superstitious Irish father took one look at me, incubating like a chicken under warming lights, and decided I needed all the help I could get. I became Mary and with that my inheritance vanished.
I mentioned this because I grew up surrounded by friends who were given divinely beautiful stage names, obviously intended for a theater marquee. What chance does a Mary have when competing with the likes of Claire, Bernadette, Blythe, Alessia and Anneliese? I knew even then that mine was “a grand old name” but it’s one that came with certain indignities. Back in the day, classrooms were jam packed with Marys, Margarets and Anns. In a classroom with 5 Marys, teachers developed acronyms to identify which of us was being addressed. I was usually MaryB, but there was one terrible year when I was became MaryBB because the second letter of a rivals last name was an A and we all know that A comes before B. Numerals would have been kinder.
Now, I know that Juliet would argue the importance of a name but not everyone familiar with her fate would agree. As a child, one of my favorite books was Anne of Green Gables. Midway through the story Anne says, “I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.” The rose would certainly have fewer visitors. And would we even know what Juliet thought if Shakespeare had named his play Mordecai and Laverne? It lacks cache, know what I mean?
I know a name is nothing more than a bunch of letters strung together to make a word, but that word is an important identifier for us. If your name is Sunshine, Rainbow, Rain, River or Phoenix I may not know your age, but I certainly know that of your parents. The flower children usually gave their children lovely names, but I wonder how those named after entertainers of the era fared. While I love “Alice’s Restaurant,” being an Arlo can’t be that all easy.
There are beautiful names, names with beautiful meanings and names that can influence how we are perceived. If your name sounds intelligent, successful and attractive there is a good chance you’ll will grow into it, thus making your name a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s been found, for instance, that girls who are given feminine sounding names are less likely to pursue careers in math or science than those whose names are not gender specific. And there are names that denote the profession of an individual:
Scott Speed – Racing Driver
Bob Flower – Gardener
Bill Medley – Singer
William Wordsworth – Poet
Sue Yoo – Lawyer
Like it or not our names make impressions. Those who have names that are considered undesirable are often treated differently and in some countries certain names cannot appear on birth certificates. In America all names are protected by freedom of speech, but in other countries certain names are forbidden. In France, local birth certificate registrars must inform their local court if they feel a baby name goes against the child’s best interests. The court can then ban the name if it agrees, and will do so especially if it feels the name could lead to a lifetime of mockery. Nutella and Deamon are among the names that French courts have banned. In Switzerland a child cannot be named Judas and in Denmark the name Anus is forbidden.
Every generation has popular names for children, but certain names have remained attractive and safe over time. Elizabeth, Jacqueline, Holly, Ann and Mary are the top five names for girls and James, Steven, Christopher, Kenneth and Thomas are the top names for boys. At the bottom of the list of attractiveness were Elvira, Eula, Shar, Zoila and Latrina for girls and Butch, Rufus, Ozzie, Jock and Rip for boys.
I can’t believe people are still naming their daughters Mary. I know it is safe, sane and is, indeed, “a grand old name,” but I envy Barack Hussein Obama who could joke, “I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn’t think I’d ever run for president.”