Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What’s In a Name?

While skirting around town last week, I was listening to Christmas music on the John Tesh Show and he read a piece on baby name trends for 2012. You stopped reading when I mentioned John Tesh, didn’t you? Yes, I sometimes listen to his radio show; I also like show tunes and am quite comfortable in pink shirts as long as they have a pocket. Stop judging me!

Now, let’s get on with the report, shall we? John was extrapolating about what new parents were naming their little bundles of messy happiness. I never thought about it before, but I suppose baby names can run in popular trends just like clothing and hair styles. When I was born there must have been a slump in trends, because it was the period of boring names. My classes were full of Roberts, Johns, and Billys. To make it worse, I couldn’t even get an exciting middle name. No, I had two boring names that combined to make me Robert John, and it wasn’t even my own name! It belonged to my father. I wasn’t even wealthy enough to be known as Robert John Cox, the Second. Poor people were juniors. Of course, I should be thankful that I wasn’t called Junior like my cousin. He’s in his fifties and still being referred to by his suffix instead of Levon, which is his real name. I couldn’t have done it. To me, being called Junior only shouts to the world “You’re not an original!” Even Indiana Jones preferred to be named after the dog than be known as the second in line. I, at least, inherited my great-grandfather’s name, Robbie, as a nickname; not an original, true, but no one knows that, and at least it wasn’t the dog’s name.

It strikes me as odd that my parents made me a junior, because they were happy my father had been skipped over for the honor. Of course, that could have been due to Grandfather’s middle name being Hobart, which he luckily stuck my uncle with. Laurie received an original name, but you don’t usually see ladies that are seconds or thirds unless they are the queens of England.

Mr. Tesh listed off three trends on the horizon, and I wondered where he was getting his predictions from. I never understood how people knew what was coming months or even years down the road, and I doubt that either Nostradamus or Moses ever made a baby name prediction. Still, wiser men than me know these things, so I guess we’ll have to trust in what they say. After all, entire religions have been based on someone’s prophecy, so why not fashion trends.

The first pattern of names according to this study is that parents will name their children after their heroes, such as Mariah Carey naming her daughter Monroe after Marilyn Monroe. This somewhat frightens me as most people’s heroes are based on fiction and I can see some poor kid getting his ass kicked because his parents named him Obi Wan Kenobi or Frodo. With Marvel and DC Comics taking over the movie industry, I’m sure we’ll see Wolverine somewhere and a variation of Green Lantern. Some might be inspired after J. K. Rowling’s novels and we’ll see Potter, Hagrid, and Dumbledore taking kindergarten classes in the future. Of course, others might not be so bad, such as Hannah or Montana.

It’s sad really that today’s heroes are based off someone’s imagination. Gone are the days where men stick out because they stuck out their neck for something worthwhile. We need more personal heroes, and I’m glad I was named after mine.

Another trend is that of cowboy’s names. Apparently, people want to return to the days of the Old West when men were tough and the women tougher. John Tesh gave some examples, like Wyatt, Colt, and Maverick, but if it was me I think I’d name my child Pistol Pete be it a boy or girl. Of course, the child’s nickname would be P.P. and with my last name that’s not really a good combination. Maybe I’ll rethink that idea.

This category can be combined with the previous making an heroic Old West name, such as Yosemite Sam, the rootenist, tootenist varmit in the west. He may have been short, but at least he was tough and that should be the goal of any good western name, to toughen up the child. A boy named Colt just should not be able to grow up into a sissy. That’s reserved for other names, which I shall refrain from sharing because I don’t know if they read The Mess.

And for the record, John Wayne was not a cowboy; he was an actor who portrayed a cowboy. While you may use his name in the hero category, it doesn’t fall under an Old West name. Sorry, but you must abide by the baby name trend rules.

The third trend John Tesh mentioned was that of people using adjectives, such as Loving and True. Like Paul Bunyan’s ox, Blue may be some poor child’s name forever making him the butt of jokes, especially if he ever flashed someone. “Hey, it’s a Blue moon!” Blue Christmas would be used all throughout the month of December making the child detest the classic Christmas song.

Of course, I doubt people would use colors as a name. Right, Redd Foxx?

Virtuous, however, could be one, or Fancy. I would worry about the trailer park crowd going a little too far and naming their daughter, Slutty or Trampish. “We just named her after her mother.”

When it came time to name our first born, I wasn’t aware that there were trends to follow. I was never one for popular fashions, anyway. I was merely determined that he would have his own name. I didn’t want a Robert John Cox, the Third who would go through life known as Trey and be told growing up, “Hey, carry this for me since you’re a tray.” I wanted a family of originals, not triplicates.

As most couples do, we selected a girl’s name, Leesha Rashelle, and a boy’s name, Joshua Aaron. However, when our son entered the world late into the night, Char changed his name at the last minute to Nathaniel from a Bible passage she had been reading and we tacked Christian on as a middle name as a commitment to how he would be raised. Nothing like sudden changes to throw everyone off.

As we watched my father interact with Nathan those two years between first and second child, we eased up on our individual name rule. Our second son made his prolonged entrance into our world as Christopher, because Char was having a Christopher Columbus phase, and Robert, after my father to honor him for the love and care he gave to our family.

Zachariah Alexander, our third son, was given his name in order to aggravate his teachers who would have the responsibility to teach him how to spell such a ridiculously lengthy moniker. The joke, however, backfired on us because we decided to home school our kids during their elementary years. I believe some would call that karma.

By the way, having had three sons we never used the name Leesha Rashelle, so if anyone is in need of a perfectly good, unused girl’s name, please feel free to take it. No charge.

Furthermore, it seems there’s an unwritten rule that everyone must have three names – first, middle, and last. However, I’ve known people to stretch that middle name out to include two or three names, because their parents were afraid of offending some family member and getting kicked out of the family will. Then, there are some like char who merely have two names. In her case, it was because her father named her and he simply didn’t want her to have middle name. This caused a lot of consternation with people throughout the years as they assumed she was lying and just didn’t want them to know what it was. I suppose they all thought it was some embarrassing family name that she had been saddled with. After we were married, many people tried to force her maiden name in the middle name slot, because paperwork abhors a vacuum.

There are also those rare individuals who have tossed society’s traditions and rules out the window and settled for just one name to keep it simple, such as Beyonce, Sting and Prince. I’m not sure, however, if Prince counts as a name since it’s really a title, and it’s not his title because he’s not the son of a king and has no realm to call his own.

As a writer, I know the importance of names. In fiction it helps set the tone for a character, making them memorable. There are several books out there to help creative writers do just that as well as several baby name books for the parents wanting to browse their choices. Actors, musicians, and authors sometimes change their names to better fit their genre – John Wayne has more of a tough guy sound than his real name, Marion Morrisson – and to draw the most recall from possible fans. You won’t be remembered if they can’t remember your name.

So, really, what’s in a name? To be honest, everything.

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  1. Don't forget Cher and then there's Rosanne--but that's a story in itself.

  2. You have stuffed with reality . This must be shown by your own quality as daring enough. A name must be unique enough even though my parents added their own ancient name with my one.

    1. I agree about the uniqueness of names. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.