Wednesday Words: What’s in a Name?

“What’s in a name? A rose by any
other name would smell as sweet.”

 – William Shakespeare,

Romeo and Juliet

It’s a beautiful line from an amazing play, but is it true? Would we still be talking about these star-crossed lovers more than four hundred years later if they were Bartholomew & Agnes? Maybe, maybe not.

So what is in a name? Face it: We conjure up images of people by hearing their names. What do you think of when you hear Brittany, Chelsea, Katelyn? Ladonna, Shaneka, Selena? Gertrude, Hazel, Beulah? Maria, Lupe, Consuela? Even a name that has the same meaning can sound different depending on how it’s used – such as Joe vs. José vs. Joseph vs. Joey.

Maybe the words that matter most to us personally are our own names. Do you like your own name? I didn’t like Julie growing up. I wanted a more distinguished name – like Priscilla. But I have come to appreciate that my name suits me well. It’s straightforward, not terribly common, and has an upbeat sound. 

The concern of what is in a name came to bear pretty heavily when choosing our children’s names. After I unceremoniously threw out my husband’s first picks and he did the same to mine (ah, marital compromise!), we were then faced with the task of choosing a name that was acceptable to both of us and communicated what we wanted to say about our child.

I have to say that I am not personally among those comfortable with naming my child after a fruit (Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter is Apple), an object (Michael Jackson named a son Blanket), or a place (Ireland belongs to Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger). Not to mention Facebook’s Like button. I also did not feel the need to have Joseph John Glover IV –no family names came into play. Moreover, I insisted that the name be pronounceable: Some people seem to think they can spell a simple name like Cindy as Zynndee. Really? That just confuses me.

So after going through the Baby Name Book we had (and there are thousands and thousands of baby names!), we gathered a group of names to work with. We ranked them and picked out top girl and boy choices.

The next test came when I asked teachers in my family how schoolchildren could use these potential names to mock and bully my future children. Honestly, if you name your child Buford Ulysses Grant and he wears glasses, expect him to be called BUG eyes (and worse). There are some names or initial combinations that are like painting a bull’s-eye target on your child’s back.

I think my children like their names okay. They are strong male names, with no mockability factor thus far, and they have special meaning to us.

I like my first name as well. And I have the special happiness of liking both my maiden and married names (lucked out on that one).

What do you think of your own name? Does your name have special meaning? Is there a story behind how you got your name? How about your children’s names? How did you pick them? If you are a writer, do you have a pen name? How did you choose it?

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10 thoughts on “Wednesday Words: What’s in a Name?

  1. Your opening reminds me of the movie Shakespeare in Love (which I LOVED)–would it have stood the test of time if the play had been named, "Romeo and Ethel (the pirate's daughter)"? Probably not :).I do think names are important. Choosing names for our kids was a tough task for my husband and me. We both love classic names, but we didn't want them to sound too "old" either (and definitely wanted to avoid youneek spellings and playground bully potential). I didn't like my name when I was little. I wanted something more exciting sounding than Erin. When I was in my Sweet Valley phase, I REALLY wanted to be Jessica. Then, whenever I played make-believe games with my friends, I always changed my name to Asia, which I thought was very cool and pretty. LOL. Now I think my name suits me.

  2. Erin – I like your name. I've known several Erins, and they've always been wonderful women. Asia sounds cool, but it reminds me of the band.Margaret – You have one of those names that can become several different things – Marge, Marji, Meg, etc. Glad you found a rendition you like!

  3. Kudos to you for taking care in choosing your children's names. I don't think many people do that any more. I don't like any of my names. Growing up (and even as an adult), I've always cringed when my name is called in a schoolroom setting or a doctor's office. I grew up being called by my middle name, which was my mother's intent when she chose that name. It is one of those unpronounceable Kre8tif names. It also has a particular connotation–like those names you mentioned at the beginning of your post. Think redneck trailer trash names. My first name, Catherine, sounds stuffy and sort of old fashioned. It's also classy, but, if you met me face-to-face, you'd fall down laughing at the idea of connecting "classy" to me. I'm very down to earth, maybe even a little tomboyish. When I moved away from my hometown, I started using Catherine, though, because it is my legal name. I didn't like my middle name anyway, so it was easier to let people call me Catherine…even though I don't like it. Then I started writing. I wanted something I liked hearing. I picked Catie, which is just a diminutive of Catherine. It's not perfect, but it is better than the other alternatives. This was a good post. 😀

  4. I grew up liking my name because everyone called me Patti but there was a time that I wanted to change it,so when I had my first confirmation I added the name Christine which for some reason I thought was cool. Names do resonate with each of us in a peculiar way and compromising can be difficult when choosing a name for a child. I liked the name "Rafe" for my son because it was a name of some favorite character on a soap opera. My husband hated it, so we agreed to Dylan – his choice. So, when we adopted my daughter, I got to choose. It was Allessandra from a favorite Dostoyevsky novel!Patti

  5. I didn't like Jennette when I was a kid, but I never wanted it to be Jennifer, because there were so many of them. But by the time I got to college, I'd done a complete turnaround, which was a good thing, as there were two Jennys down the hall from me! So one was Jenny, one was Jennifer, and I've been Jennette ever since. Worked out well!

  6. My name is spelled differently- most people spell it Alicia, but I do it Alica- my dad chose that for me. I work ina group home in Tucson AZ- sow e get all kinds of names- afriacan american and mexican american, some are traditonal for them Yessica and some are newer Renisha. It drives my husband nuts- he gets so excited when we get a Jane or John or something simple.

  7. It seems like a lot of us go through at least some time when we don't like our name or think something else would be better.By the way, to Catie, I love the name Katherine, and one of my main characters has that name (yes, with a K). Maybe that's partly because I loved Hepburn, you know.And apologies to my mother who read this post and called me to say, "You didn't like your name?" Yes, Mom, I really like my name NOW! (Which she understands.) Thank you for it!!!

  8. I never liked my name and always considered the formal version of it – Debora – as "my mad name" because whenever I was good, my parents called me Debbie. When I was in trouble, they'd use a booming voice and call me, "Debora!" lol In my fourth grade class, there were three Debbie's and we were so different that I couldn't help wonder why we all had the same name. "Debbie" became a label rather than an identity. If that makes sense. Great post. Very interesting topic.

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