Monday, November 17, 2008

Hello, My Name is. . .

As each new semester approaches, I speculate what names will be the double-up names. You see, each semester that I have taught at my community college, I always have two students who share a first name. And almost always, this occurs among the young women in class. From this doubling up on first names, I can tell what were the trendy names the year they were born.

  • Megan

  • Jessica

  • Desiree

  • Ashley

  • Karen

  • Brittany

  • Amber

These are but some of the double up names I have had. So, I peeked at the advance registration for the spring semester—and, sure enough, I have a double up name: Amanda.

This business of naming does fascinate me. I wrote about it a while back,
here. At that time, I looked at the Social Security Administration’s listing of most popular first names over the decades. I found another spiffy site that shows the same thing, with a bit more pizzazz.

A year ago, I read the highly interesting book Freakonomics. The authors suggest that some first names that are super-trendy or super-ethnic may not serve their charges well. You can see some of what they have to say
here. It would certainly be interesting to hear their take, now that we have elected our first African-American president with a decidedly un-presidential first name of Barack.

To this point in our history, we have had 2 presidents first named Andrew, 2 named Franklin; 3 named George; 4 named John; 4 named William; and the most popular first name with 6—James. Prior to Barack, probably the previous most unusual first name was Ulysses.

I wonder how long it will be until we have a U.S. President with a first name of Amanda, or Ashley, or Karen, or Kristen, or. . .?

Maybe part of the mental block that Americans have for envisioning a woman as president has to do with the lack of strength too many first names for women hold these days. When our daughter was born, and we pondered a strong first name for her, we naturally turned to family first names. While I dearly love the women in my family life, I was not prepared to give our daughter some of the old-fashioned names. So I eschewed names like Dorcas, Mary, Ada, Kathryn, Leoda, Emma, Cora, Lillian and Ida. Even though we didn't pick a family name, I like the strong name my husband and I agreed on for our daughter’s name.

Several years ago, I remember that Garrison Keillor read a poem about strong women names—so I went looking for it. Here it is: what a wonderful way to celebrate the strong names of women.

Mourning the Dying of American Female Names

Hunt Hawkins

In the Altha Diner in the Florida panhandle
a stocky white-haired woman
with a plastic nameplate “Mildred”
gently turns my burger, and I fall into grief.
I remember the long, hot drives to North Carolina
to visit Aunt Alma, who puts up quarts of peaches,
and my grandmother Gladys with her pieced quilts
Many names are almost gone: Gertrude, Myrtle,
Agnes, Bernice, Hortense, Edna, Doris, and Hilda.
They were wide women, cotton-clothed, early rising.
You have to move your mouth to say their names,
and they meant strength, spear, battle, and victory.
When did women stop being Saxons and Goths?
What fate frog turned them into Alison, Melissa,
Valeria, Natalie, Adrienne, and Lucinda,
diminished them to Wendy, Cindy, Susy, and Vicky?
I look at these young women and hope
they are headed for the Presidency,
but I fear America has other plans in mind,
that they be no longer at war
but subdued instead in amorphous corporate work,
somebody’s assistant, something in a bank,
single parent with word processing skills.
They must have been made French
so they could be cheap foreign labor.
Well, all I can say is
good luck to you
Kimberly, Darlene, Cheryl, Heather, and Amy.
Good luck April, Melanie, Becky, and Kelly.
I hope it goes well for you.
But for a moment let us mourn.
Now it is time to say goodbye
to Florence, Muriel, Ethel, and Thelma.
Goodbye Minnie, Ada, Bertha, and Edith.

Published in The Domestic Life, 1994.


Susan Gets Native said...

I have yet to meet a woman named Lorelei.
But I seem to have struck out with Isabelle. Thought I was being SOOOOOO clever....turns out it was one of the most popular names for girls that year. Dammit.

Beverly said...

What a delightful post. We had some unusual names at our school. I remember one girl who was named Aquanet.

KGMom said...

Susan--friends of ours named their first daughter Isabelle--she now goes by Bella. I agree--Lorelei is unusual, and lovely.

Beverly--Aquanet? Hmmm. Growing up in Africa, I heard some unusual first names--the people liked the sound of English words without knowing what the words meant. My favorite from those days? Readers Digest.

Anonymous said...

My name is still one that I don't run into often. I did see a Liza on the news the other night. My kids both have unusual names too. Although, Ruth is one of those old-fashioned names you don't run into very often anymore. Although, come to think of it, at our small school, there is another Ruth and another Gage, too. Wacky!

JeanMac said...

Very interesting post.

Jayne said...

What a neat website! I had fun plugging in family names. And, yes, as I expected, Jayne was popular in the 50's and 60's with my spelling no doubt coinciding with Jayne Russell and Jayne Mansfield. :c)

NatureWoman said...

We have two Amandas working for us now - both college age. I like my name because my parents picked it special without being trendy. I don't really run into too many women with the name Pamela.

KGMom said...

Liza--and of course there is always Liza Minelli.
Jayne--yes, popular public figures influence first names. So we will likely see a spate of boy babies named Barack. And girl babies named. . .Hillary?
Pamela--hmmmmm, according to the spiffy website, Pamela peaked as a first name in the 1950s. Sound right?

nina at Nature Remains. said...

I always struggled with my name as a young girl, growing up. Wanted to be like the others--and was embarrassed when the teachers stumbled on it reading class lists. (Nina is a shortened form)

But, when naming our daughters, I did much the same. And watched them grow into their names.
Names are so much of who we are.
Nice thoughts you've brought my way.
What is your daughter's name? (did I miss it?) (or do you prefer to keep it unpublished?)

nina at Nature Remains. said...

I have one, too!

Dog_geek said...

I used to know a girl named Dorcas - I love the name, but I wouldn't want to wish it on a kid these days!

Climenheise said...

You'll have to follow up with boys' names. We tried for a less usual one with Vaughn -- succeeded. Then we thought we'd give the second one a more common name. Turns out that Nevin was only known in Lancaster County!

Faithe said...

Interesting post indeed!
I've only met a few ladies with the same spelling as mine and all of them are from the same church affliation as my family. Is it a "church" spelling??? I've always wondered who started it and why. Anyway, I recently was at a banquet where there were 3 of us in the same room -- none of whom spelled theirs with an "e". Instead of "Anne, with an e" (as in Anne of Green Gables), I am "Faithe, with an e." Not too many of us out there, but I am fascinated with the "odd" spelling of my name.

KGMom said...

Nina--yes, Kristen. I had not used her name for quite some time in posting, but she said it was OK to do. That's where the K comes from in KGMom.

Faithe--don't know where that E came from.

Mary said...

We used to remark on the most popular names when I worked at the high school in Maryland. Christopher and Michael topped for boys and Jessica and Ashley topped for girls for a few years. Then there was Grace and Jason, Morgan and Taylor. Abigail. All so trendy.

I had to choose a name that would flow with Ferracci, so there's Gina.

I knew a Mildred, Tillie, Ethel, and Edna. All long passed. But they were strong women.

My Mom - Mary Helen, too.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

This posting could generate lots of discussion. I took great care in picking my son's name. I wanted a name that could not be shortened and was distinctive. I settled for my Grandfather's name, Parker. I then though he should have another name as well. I gave him mine. Philip. I then tried it out in combinations and settled for Philip Parker Robinson (I thought it sounded distinquished with MD after it or Attorney at Law.

My sister's name is Penelope. known as Penny. I am not sure but I think the tune Pennies from Heaven was popular when she was born.

My pen friend of 50 years named her daughter Emma, unfortunately her last name is Virgin. She didnot even find it funny. Emma Virgin. A friend named his kid Justin, unfortunately his last name is Case, Justin Case. Tactfully, I broke out in laughter when I first heard it, "Just in case he is yours?"

My "daughter" Carrie as a teenager dated seven Justin's in a row. There were five Justins in her class at school.

Around here there are lots of unusual French names, Isadore, Polydore, Hector, etc. My dear lady friend's name was Délima.

I had a girlfriend once who had only one name. i can no longer remember he last name which was never used. She told me her name was Riça.

I always wanted a girl child. I have carried her name in my heart all these years. Rachael Robinson.
Sadly, she was never born. I did meet a woman once with the same name. Rachael Robinson was Jackie Robinson's widow.

I could go on.. . .I spare you that.

CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

There IS something to be said for the names we give our children. They often live up to them, for better or worse.

possumlady said...

Very interesting! Although I originally was supposed to be named Christopher (they were hoping for one more boy after 3 girls).

My mother's name (Agatha) is another one that you don't here anymore, but I think Aggie is so cute! Apparently, my mom didn't think so and was called Jackie by my dad and all her friends?!

A favorite old movie of mine--"Mildred Pierce"

Endment said...

Names are amazing - My first name is so common that there were six of us with the same first name when I was in the first grade - yet all our parents tried to find original names :)
I did find an original name for my blog and hence for my alter-ego

NCmountainwoman said...

I loved this post and it rings so true. When we named our daughter Amy (a family name)we thought it rather quaint and unusual. Suddenly there were Aimees and Amys everywhere. She was one of FOUR Amys in her kindergarten class!

Mary said...

Emma Virgin is funny :o) Reminds me of the "Cornelius" couple in my childhood neighborhood. They had Sarah, Ozzie, and Benjie Cornelius. That wasn't bad...until the twins were born

Azee and Bzee. (I assume they were nicknames.)


At the community college here, I see the wildest names of all - one lately I can remember is Dusty Furr. I should look through the rosters and list them.

NCmountainwoman said...

Of course the Palin kids won't have problems with duplication, will they?

And our US Congressman has a son named Navy and a daughter named Island. No worries about duplication there, either.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I forgot to mention a couple of old fashioned British names you don't hear much. My grandmother's name was Lavinia. I have never know anyone else with that name. It seen Gillian isn't used much these days either. My mother's name was Bessie, just Bessie, it was not an shortened name. My aunt is Beverley Beryl, call Billie. (she was supposed to be a boy.)

My sister who likes really conventional names called her daughter Elizabeth Joanne. I laughed, "we will call her Betty Jo." Sounds so Southern. My sister made me promise never to call her that even in jest.

KGMom said...

Mary--I'll bet you see some unusual names. Yes, you should record them.

Christine--we did something similar with our children--had male & female names picked out.

I had the same thought, NC MtnWoman, about the Palin kids. They seem to have selected names based on the first thing they saw--which of course is an old old joke.

CTG--oh so true--kids living up to (or down to) their names.

Endment--now you have me curious. Yes, you picked well for your alter ego name--I like your explanation of it, too.

Philip--OK, you win the prize for coming up with the most unusual names. I had friends named Gillian when I was growing up in Rhodesia--no doubt the English influence. Also a friend named Deirdre--a name I always liked. And a friend named Myfanwy--she was Welsh.