Sunday, February 21, 2010

What's in a name?

I heard something on the radio yesterday that was both funny and pitiful. The local talk station morning guy was riffing on the silly names he hears anymore, and a caller chimed in with a story that was a doozy. It seems this guy and his wife volunteered with the local YMCA sports teams, and they were at the ball field conducting sign-ups last year. One name on the list caught his wife's eye and she tracked down the parent in the bleachers to be sure it was right.

"Is your daughter's name spelled correctly?" she asked. "Why, yes," the mother replied. It was spelled F-E-M-A-L-E, pronounced "Fee-mall'-ee". The lady tried to keep her composure, said thanks, and turned to go back to the registration area. But she couldn't resist asking why the girl was named that. "The hospital named her," the mother replied seriously. "When they brought the baby to me, that was on her ID bracelet."

O-kay. . .

Once back at the sign-up table, they practically had resuscitate the poor lady, she was laughing so hard.

I could never understand why people don't think a little when naming their kids. There's the ones who pick a cute name for a baby, but never think about someday their little pink bundle of joy will be a 40 year old employed woman named "Dawn" or "Tiffani". Then there are the girls with boy's names, like Morgan, Madison and Sydney. (Well, actually those are last names used as first names, if you want to be exact about it.) What happened to Mary, Deborah, Susan, Carolyn? When was the last time you met a child named Edith?

But the corkers are the totally made-up names that aren't even spelled by the rules of the English language. Project Runway last year had a contestant names Qristyl. Forgot that U after Q thing, did you? (It's pronounced "Crystal", by the way.) When I worked at a hospital 35 years ago, I ran into some real jewels, but it's gotten a hundred times worse. Even back then, you had to patiently explain to the parents that you only had 20 letters in the name field, or only three slots for names - first, middle, last - and if they had four names, well, one was just going to have to go. Or the computer didn't like just initials - there had to be an actual name typed in. (I went to high school with someone named E. L. - no name, just E. L.)

Another all-too-typical case is where the parents pick a first and middle name, and then every person in the family completely disregards the first name. The child is called by their middle name from birth. Of course, the family is the only one who does that, so at school, church, sports, clubs, work, etc. the organizers are going to look at the sign-up card or attendance roster and call the child by his first name. Usually to be met with glazed-over eyes. "Huh? I'm not James, I'm Robert." The kid faces the prospect of correcting people for the next seventy years, or just giving up and letting the outside world call him what they want.

I have to admit this exists in my brother's family, where one nephew has always been called by his middle name (and another nephew's son is continuing the tradition) and with my brother-in-law himself, who has an uncommon first name that no one in the family uses, but was known by it at work until he retired. And probably called that by every person he met in Seattle - doctors, lawyers, church workers, everyone.

My own mother's birth certificate says "Margaret", but no one ever used her first name, in or outside of the family. The same thing with her sister, who was never called her first name "Olive" either. Her youngest brother was always referred to as Jack, although that had absolutely nothing to do with his real name. But they called her other brother by both his names, so go figure. (When I was a child I never heard my middle name unless it boded ill for me. They trot that middle name out and it's head for the hills, somebody is MAD.)

Mom finally got her social security info, her bank accounts and her insurance changed so that her birth middle name is her legal first name, but that first name didn't disappear. About 45 years ago, my dad bought her a dress form for Christmas, those adjustable mannequins used for fitting clothing when you sew. After it was unwrapped, we unanimously christened it "Margaret", and so it has been known since 1965.


momtofatdogs said...

The new grandbaby is going by HIS middle name. I just wanted to shorten his first name, but my vote was not considered. Oh well. 'Course, i don't "go" by my first name either. Not here in the south.......nobody can pronounce it correctly.....that's WHY I go by *Sam*.

Also - DD#2 was named a boy's name @ birth because I wasn't expecting a girl & didn't have a girls name!

But I do have a funny for you. To maintian my modesty, I'll change the spelling, you need to use your imagination.

In 1998 - I went to a lawyer for something that needed one...another lady there , was a pro-bono case that the same lawyer was processing - a child support issue. The lady was patiently spelling her son's name to the legal assistant. And then pronouncing it like the legal assistant was ignorant or something. She kept repeating SHA-THEED - Es, h, eye, tee, h, E, Aye, dee. SHATHEED. Only she was spelling it the right way, if you know what I mean......??? But pronouncing it SHA-THEED. Poor kid, no wonder she was hunting child support, she had to be a jewel of a woman!

We ended up naming a stray dog the same name........


catsinger said...

...Hi Calico... my Dad's given name was "Jonnie"[Joan-ie] a normal Tenn. mountain name for a boy, that he had legally changed to John ASAP...
I had a number of students in 20+ years with oddly spelled names like you mentioned... but the prize winner was the young African-American boy named Mister... his mother, an intelligent lady with a wry sense of humor told me that she wanted people to always speak to him respectfully...
[he lived up to that thought too...]

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

I heard a story about a woman, around the time of the Civil War, who overheard the word "latrine" but apparently didn't know what it meant. But she thought it sounded so lovely that she named her daughter Latrine. I don't know if that's really true, but it sounds as thought it ought to be.

However, this really is true: My father-in-law was named Jack A. (Lastname). The "A" didn't stand for anything. His mother just wanted him to have a middle initial.

Tanya said...

Yeah, and then throw in the problems of putting the names in both languages. My mother suggested a name for my daughter and in Japanese it came out "locomotive". No thank you. And my husband thought Ruth might be nice but in Japanese the pronunciation is "Roots". Forget it!

The Calico Cat said...

couple of responses:
I know a Kindergarten teacher in Baltimore City. She had a pair of twin boys. Juan & Deadajuan (I am not 100% sure on the spelling.)

Lemonjello (Pronounced Le' mon' julo.)

My mom fell victim to the which name do we use. Until she got a "Job" (I was probably about 10.) she was "Kathy." Then she bacame "Joan" her first name. (Her middle name was Kathleen.)

I changed my middle name to my maiden name...