“What’s In A Name?”

1940 Family_00039A

Maybe a rose would smell as sweet by any other name, but what about the rest of us? When parents choose a name for a child they are giving her an important word which will be associated with her for life.(Exceptions follow below.) My parents settled on Elizabeth Anne for my name after agreeing with my father’s insistence that I be called “Betsy.” Elizabeth had been in my mother’s family since the 1500’s; Anne seems to be a flourish added without family reference. I am not sure where my dad first heard “Betsy,” but it was what I was to be–and am–called. My mother–another Elizabeth–was called Betty. Only Great-Aunt Elizabeth called herself that throughout her life.

I’ve always like both the long and short version of my name. The long one sounds like an author, while the nickname has just enough spunk to fit. But two of my friends changed their first names as adults. One given an “American” name Carol by her Russian immigrant parents, changed it to a Hebrew Sura once she was grown. Another, named Roger, apparently liked the more dashing sound of his middle name, so he morphed into Lorenzo.

No matter how original parents think they are being when they name their baby, certain trends arise anyway. Each year the Social Security Administration lists the ten most popular girls’ and boys’ names. Emma ranked tops for girls, Liam for boys. A few years ago Liam would have sounded unusual here. Now it is number one. When I taught I would see this phenomenon on my class lists. In the 1970’s I had lots of students whose names started with “J.”

I wrote a while back about nicknames. Now I would like to know how people feel about the names they were given at birth. Have you changed it? Do you prefer your nickname? Please share if you have the chance.

21 thoughts on ““What’s In A Name?”

  1. I think names can define age and class, certainly in Britain.
    No working class person would call their son Roderick, or Algernon, and no upper class person would use Darren, or Keith. When I was born in 1952, so-called Biblical names like Peter, Paul, John, and Mark were common. Since 1970, it is rare to find anyone born after that date named Peter here.

    I always use ‘Pete’. Only my Mum and Aunts ever called me Peter. Most of my school friends called me ‘Johnno’, a common nickname for someone called Johnson here. My step-daughters call me ‘Peteypops’, hence my GMail email address. My wife’s name, Julie, is usually ‘shortened’ to ‘Jules’ or ‘Jools’ here, despite having the same amount of letters. It is considered affectionate to do this.

    In 2019, the most popular baby boy’s names in Britain were 1) Oliver, 2) George, 3) Harry.
    A sign of the changing population is that variations of Muhammad are the 9th most popular.

    Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. Here names are sometimes aspirational, denoting the class the person hopes the child will attain. Oliver hasn’t made it big here, nor Harry. Archie will always be associated with the bigot Archie Bunker, so I don’t think it will catch on.

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  2. My friends all call me Pete, but my parents always called me by my given name, Peter.

    One of the things that changed a lot throughout my career was the change in traditional spelling of names Jason became Jayson, Michael became Mychal or Mychael, etc.

    I went to middle school with a kid named John John. Maybe that might seem cute when you’re a toddler, but his parents were doing him no favors when he got older.

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    1. My childhood friends were Dude and Skipper. My granddaughter was howling last night when I told her that. You are right about the “creative” spelling now rampant. It will cause endless problems for them as adults I imagine.

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  3. Wow! I am Elizabeth Anne, also! My mother’s first name was Elizabeth, and that is what she was called. Everyone used my middle name to keep us straight. When our daughter was born, John insisted she had to be named Elizabeth Anne. I agreed, only if we would call her Lisa. I couldn’t stand the pronunciation of my mother’s name in the South — Liz-buth. Lisa respelled herself and goes by Lise now. After college, she began working in a city where no one knew her. She had people call her Elizabeth and kept that as her working name until she moved to Denmark. She’s back to Lise, which Danes pronounce correctly (Lisa).

    Are you satisfied with being called Betsy?

    I would love to have changed into Beth years ago, but I was always near family and friends of long standing. It wouldn’t have worked. I’m glad now, because my brother married Beth, and I like that name applied to her. She’s a much better Beth than I could have been.

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    1. I love being called Betsy. I did flirt with Beth after reading “Little Women,” but Betsy fits. When we were kids there were a lot of Betsy books and I loved that too. I also like always saying “Anne with an e.”

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  4. My name is Susanne but I was never called that while growing up. I was always Susie. It was only when I started working at a bank, I felt Susie was too young for me and switched to Susanne. It took a lot of training of my friends and family but it worked. Of course there are many variations of my name and I’ll answer to most of them!

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  5. I’ve changed my names. Alexis isn’t my birth name. My birth name is German and sounds like something you call an old spinster who milks cows and has 50 cats, a sheepdog, and a little house on a hill with no other neighbors for 15 miles. … … …

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      1. I stopped answering to that name as a teen, partially because my biological father named me. Alexis Chateau has been my pen name since 8th grade and people have been calling me Alex since college. All my work is under the name Alexis Chateau, including my business and copyrights. That old German lady with her 50 cats is essentially non-existent. 😂

        Let me tell you how bad it is. My husband saw the name on a document recently and asked me who that was, then he remembered and burst out laughing. Even my parents don’t call me that. Funny enough, they tend to call me by my husband’s last name. Same at work because I added it to mine, so some people think my maiden name is my middle name!

        If you’re wondering why I chose Alexis, I guess I was a little firecracker feminist from the start. I didn’t want a girly name. I wanted something unisex, especially as a writer. My Uber drivers often tell me they thought it was a guy who ordered the ride. Mission accomplished!

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        1. Haha, I don’t mind that it’s German. I grew up in a German village in Jamaica. I just mind that they had to choose THAT ugly name and that my biological father gave it to me. Everyone loves the name though. Only I hate it.

          What’s the name your friend uses on Uber? Did they say why they chose a male name?

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