Be still. Remember my name. It is the label that is attached to me. It is the one thread that is sewn through this entire story. Your story or my story – it is only the stitching that changes. The want is the thing that drives us. Trust me: I have a story to tell.― Richard Payment, For Want of Wonders
Prior to his birth, lots of time was spent guessing what the newest addition to the British royal family would be called. Now we know. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have named their infant son Archie. The name is currently popular in Britain but as soon as I heard it memories of the Riverdale gang came to mind. Some of you will remember the teenage superheroes Archie, Veronica, Betty and Jughead. Comic books were the rage in the days before Netflix, and those of us who were not allowed to have them found friends who stashed and shared
them. Jimmy Chambers had a fantastic collection of the early superheroes and while I preferred Wonder Woman, I’ll admit to spending many an hour reading about the eager exploits of the not always bright crime fighters. I wonder if Archie’s mom and dad knew about the Riverdale gang when they named him. Does the royal family need a superhero?
That would be laughable, save for the fact that there is evidence to suggest that a name can influence all aspects of a child’s life. It can affect the way other people look at them, and may cause others to make unfounded judgments about their character and background. Chances are those who are given names that sounds intelligent and successful, will act in a like manner, and while I haven’t seen the data that supports it, I’ve read that names as a predictor of success have been studied. They’ve found that girls who are given more feminine names, like Lily or Chloe, will be less successful in math and science than those who are given androgynous names, like Taylor or Cheyenne. Girls given names like Misty or Destiny are perceived to be lower class, while, fairly or not, Olivia and Grace are thought to be further up the socioeconomic ladder. Carrying the silliness a bit further, “they” have also found the first letter of a child’s name may be predictive of their future occupation. To wit, Denise = doctor, Larry = lawyer, and while I could go on ad infinitum, its probably best I stop before you throw stones at me.
What’s in a name? Shakespeare and Stein shared their views. So has William Goldman, who gave us The Princess Bride. I’m sure you remember, “…. my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Goldman bundled character, intent and clarity in that name, and while I’ve read and seen a lot in the intervening years, I’ve never forgotten the name Inigo Montoya. On a more serious note, the New Testament has given us the name Judas, synonymous with treachery and betrayal, and the Old Testament has given us the names Daniel and Samson, which we associate with bravery and strength. My own birth certificate has no given name. I was to have been Audrey Lynde, but on seeing me, my father decided I needed all the help I could get, and I remained “female” Boyle until my Baptism, when I was christened Mary. Maybe it helped – a little.
This business of names came up over the weekend when friends noted that Bob and I never call each other “Mother” or “Father”. It’s true. We don’t. Never did. Never will. Those names don’t define our relationship, and while I know why some adopt them, we deliberately chose not to. I am not his mother and don’t want to be treated as such. Conversely, our children were never allowed to address us by our given names. I love that our adult children consider us friends, but there were years when the distinction between parent and friend had to be delineated and we drew that line in the sand without regret. They were not allowed to address our friends by their given names, and they were taught certain titles should be respected. They were also taught the President of the United States, by virtue of his position, was entitled to civility and respect, if not for the man, than for the office. Teachers fell under that umbrella as well. We actually encouraged dissent that was reasoned, polite and to the point, but some of the rhetoric we hear today is beyond the pale. I suspect some reasonably intelligent people were actually raised by wolves. They certainly have heard the call of the wild and don’t understand that a title is a name to many. Years ago we believed that if you denigrate the man, you denigrate his title and the office he holds. These days I think the man denigrates the office and brings shame to his title.
I believe most of us give a great deal of thought to the names we give our children. Some, by custom, name their children after deceased relatives. Others have different criteria. In the neighborhood where I was raised, we had a family in which all the children were given stage names. Their mother had been a Rockette and, apparently, not quite finished with Broadway, she wanted to assure that any stage bound progeny would have a name worthy of a theater marque. Do you have any idea how compelling the names Tamara, Piper or Desiree can be if your name is Mary? At least I had all that other help going for me. I wonder if the newest royal will have dreams of superhero stardom and a buddy named Jughead.