What's in a name? that which we call a roseJuliet speaks these lines in Act 2, scene 2. She is looking out a window, dreamily thinking of Romeo. Now, what precisely is the prompting of those lines? She has learned that Romeo, this handsome young boy who has stolen her heart, is the son of her family’s sworn enemy—the Montagues. Juliet is a Capulet, and for insults that happened long before the play began these two families have been feuding.
By any other name would smell as sweet;
In this scene, she first says—
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.
Even though these lines are frequently said as though Juliet is looking for Romeo, in fact she is wondering—why are you named Romeo Montague? Then, her declaration—
What's in a name? that which we call a roseWhat she really wonders is—why can’t you be you and yet be named something else.
By any other name would smell as sweet.
All of which brings me to my musing—what is in a name? Does it really matter what name our parents give us? If you have children, no doubt you pondered the name you picked out fairly carefully. Maybe you chose an old family name. Maybe you picked something trendy.
When we named our first child, we had two names—a boy’s and a girl’s name. When we had a boy, we named our son Geoffrey, choosing the old English spelling purposefully (after all, I was an English major, and Geoffrey Chaucer is a major author!). When we had our daughter, we selected only a girl’s name, as we knew what we were having. We purposefully didn’t pick something too trendy. Her first name begins with K (hence the KGMom name I use, i.e. the first initials of my children’s names).
My name, Donna, is one of those generational names. Usually, when I meet someone named Donna, she was born somewhere between 1940 and 1960. Donna has fallen away in popularity, although it was never in the top 10.
Speaking of top 10, every year, I have TWO of some name in my classes. Usually, the two will be a girl’s name, and I know it must have been the trendy name for whatever year in which these young women were born. This year, the double name was Ashley. One year it was Amanda. One year, Amber. A names are popular!
There are many places on the Internet that give a rundown of the top 10 names by year. One of the most comprehensive is the Social Security Administration, which lists them back to 1880. You can learn there that from 1880 to 1924 the top boy’s name and the top girl’s name were John and Mary! In 1924, the top boy’s name changed to Robert. Not until 1947 does the girl’s top name change, and then it changed to Linda.
For kicks, here are tables for the top 10 names in 2006, 1950 and 1900.
1 Jacob; Emily
2 Michael; Emma
3 Joshua; Madison
4 Ethan; Isabella
5 Matthew; Ava
6 Daniel; Abigail
7 Christopher; Olivia
8 Andrew; Hannah
9 Anthony; Sophia
10 William; Samantha
1 James; Linda
2 Robert; Mary
3 John; Patricia
4 Michael; Barbara
5 David; Susan
6 William; Nancy
7 Richard; Deborah
8 Thomas; Sandra
9 Charles; Carol
10 Gary; Kathleen
1 John; Mary
2 William; Helen
3 James; Anna
4 George; Margaret
5 Charles; Ruth
6 Robert; Elizabeth
7 Joseph; Florence
8 Frank; Ethel
9 Edward; Marie
10 Henry; Lillian
In general, girls’ names change more than boys’ names.
I would bet that many people wonder, if they don’t already know, why they got the name they have. My birth family had first names all beginning with D. When my sister was born (written about in Sibling Stories II) my parents contemplated giving her a non-D name, not to break the run of Ds but just because they were considering another name. I believe it was my aunt who said in horror—you have to give her a D name. Whatever the reason, my sister was named Denise. (My brother is Daryl.)
Sometimes being named for someone works out well. Sometimes not. My husband rues his first name which his mother had heard of from a family acquaintance. Since his name is in reality a surname, he frequently has his first name misunderstood. People call him various names, but not necessarily his first name.
When our daughter was little, she would challenge us and ask why we gave her the name we did. Well, I said—there weren’t family names that I thought would work. My mother-in-law was Mary, a grand old name, but it didn’t seem to fit. My mother’s name was Dorcas, which is really an old-fashioned name. I had aunts named Ada, Kathryn, Katherine, and Leoda. None of them seemed quite right, although our daughter said she would have liked Kate (at least she felt that way when she was little). And the grandmothers’ names were even less suitable: Ida, Lillian, Emma and Cora. Now, Emma is very trendy and might have worked—but, oh well.
When I was little, I coveted a grand sweeping name like Gloria. (Oh boy, am I ever NOT a Gloria!) We have many of us been there—thinking another name would change us in some way.
Just remember Juliet’s pronouncement—
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.