26 August 2010

Guest Post #4: Any Other Name

One night during the BlogHer conference, I went out to dinner with Sarah and Emily and Niobe. At one point, Emily turned to Niobe and said "you're really smart" in a wondering, admiring tone. Niobe replied "it's one of my salient characteristics". It is indeed. I remember precisely when she found my blog. She left a comment that was so oddly provocative that I dove into SiteMeter to try and figure who she was and where she came from. IP addresses being an imperfect methodology, I got it all wrong, but eventually we did meet. In fact, she shared a hotel room with me at BlogHer, and shot the photo below out our window.

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Any Other Name

crystal cityWhen my mother was born, her father was out of the country, stationed overseas somewhere remote and inaccessible. Which gave my mother’s mother completely free rein in naming her only daughter – a situation she took full advantage of.

My mother’s mother was a grade school English teacher whose tastes ran toward red silk kimonos festooned with dragons and silverware embellished with acanthus leaves. She spent the last days of her pregnancy reviewing Shakespeare’s plays, searching for the perfect literary reference, a name so old-fashioned and obscure that no one else would even think of using it.

And she pretty much succeeded. According to the statistics compiled by the Social Security Administration, the year my mother was born there were only about 60 other girls given that name in the entire United States.

By way of comparison, that same year saw the arrival of more than 50,000 Marys and nearly 15,000 Dorothys (not to mention 400 Dorthys, 350 Dorotheas and 150 Dorethas). Even names that sound a trifle, well, quaint, to our ears were orders of magnitude more popular than my mother’s name, as evidenced by the 4,000 Mildreds, 2500 Thelmas and 1600 Berthas.

Predictably, my mother grew up with a decided preference for the plain and unadorned -- Danish modern furniture and Ryijy rugs. And, of course, she detested her strange, recherché name.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering: so, Niobe, what exactly was this bizarre, bookish, Elizabethan-era name, anyway?

Well, as a matter of fact, it was, um, Jessica.

Which just goes to show that it’s difficult to make predictions. Especially about the future.

Magpie will be back soon. But, in the meantime, amuse yourself by seeing how popular your name was the year you were born.

Plus, if, like me, you’re a dyed-in-the-wool name enthusiast, you absolutely must download this file, which, while rather bulky, contains the stats for every single name given to at least five babies in the US for every single year since 1880.

And, finally, how do you feel about your own name? Do you think it’s kinda meh or totally awesome?

Or, like my poor mother, do you hate it with a passion that burns like the heat of a thousand suns?


after iris said...

It is so nice to read your voice, Niobe.

I'm a Jessica just like your mum. Just like every other bugger. I don't tend to think about it very much. It's my surname that I love and have held onto fiercely. It's nothing fancy, but we have a very strong sense of family identity which is important to me. It's why my kids suffer a double-barreled surname too.

S said...

I like my name. But woe to the person who spells it "Sara."

It's SaraH.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever met anyone who thought his given name was awesome?

When I was a teenager, I wanted to change my name to Rachael. I probably thought this was a compromise with my parents because my middle name is Raye.

My first name is Deidre, and I was thirteen before I met another. I think I would have been happier if my mother had selected the more common Dierdre, which is what most people call me anyway.

I didn't do my own children any favors, either.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I just compared Deidre to Deirdre over the last 50 years, and the difference in popularity is negligible.

YourFireAnt said...

I remember seeing the name Jessie Truesdale Peck on a doorplate once, and thinking it was the coolest name I'd ever seen.


leanne said...

Nice to see you writing here, Niobe.

I like my name (Leanne) okay. Though for the longest time it wasn't really my name. Everyone called me Missy (because my middle name is Melissa). My family still does (funny that I've never asked why my parents didn't just name me Melissa). I didn't go by Leanne until I switched schools when I started 10th grade. Then I wanted something a little more grown up sounding.

Also, if my parents called me Leanne (or rather Leanne Melissa), I knew I was in trouble.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I cannot believe that Jennifer was #31 in 1964--there were always at least 4 or 5 Jennifer's in every class when I was growing up.

And my middle name--the one I've gone by since those other 5 girls in kindergarten ruined Jennifer for me is #25.

I like both names okay, but don't passionately love them.

This has been quite interesting. Thanks.

Florinda said...

No surprise, but my name isn't in the top 1000 girls' names for 1964.

I've grown to like my name more as I've gotten older, but I've never loved it. However, I know it was important to my mother to have named me after her mother.

Interesting topic!

still life angie said...

I was named after a Rolling Stones song. January 1974. To be fair, my parents found out they were having twins two weeks before we were born and I am baby B. It was a popular song then and they really only had one boy name and one girl name. I was also named just the nickname, which would not be my choice. Though when I was married to a Mexican, he and his family and friends all called me Angelica (Anhellica), which I loved. It sounds so much better than Angie. I asked my mother if she would care if I changed my name and she said no. So if I weren't so lazy, I might have changed it. I always joke to my dad that I am glad "Sweet Home Alabama" wasn't playing in the waiting room of the hospital.

I miss you, Niobe.

alejna said...

I loved the story of your mother's name, Niobe.

I used to hate my name growing up. I got so tired of hearing it mangled and mispronounced. However, I eventually grew to love it, as it was (and still is) out of the ordinary. I once thought that I was unique in all the world, as my parents more-or-less made up the spelling of my name. However, it turns out to also be a Bosnian name. (My family is not Bosnian.) I am now aware of at least a dozen other Alejnas, some of whom even beat me to the punch for login names online. How could they?

I'm sorry I missed meeting you at BlogHer, or at least that I missed actually having a conversation with you if we did meet for a second. I got to be Magpie's roomie the night before you arrived, and I also got some photos from that window!

Julia said...

My name is English is the exact English version of my original given name in the Old Country language. I like both. The funny thing is that in English there's also Julie, which is essentially the same name. That one? Totally fine for others, but is sooooooooooooooo not me. I don't exactly know why that is, but it just doesn't sound right. I think it's the rhythm of it, and the hardness of the "l" sound in both languages, in a way that it's not in Julie.

Also, I was one and only in my grade in two different schools before I ended up in a class (~homeroom) of ~30 in a magnet high school of which there were at first 2 and then 4 (yes, 4) Julias. Err.. the Old Country version, but you know.

mayberry said...

I like my full name, Catherine, much more than Cathy. I was named for both grandmothers, although they were both Kathryns. Go figure. (I really, REALLY dislike "Kathy.")

Unknown said...

My birth name was Mariah. My mom named me after a soap opera character in the early 70's. Nicole Mariah. or Mariah Nicole. I never looked it up to see who this drama queen was, but I'm going to go ahead and guess this is why EVERY other person around my age is named nicole.

Why I'm not called Mariah? Well, it does mean 'the wind' when you spell it in Gaelic. And my grandmother was reminded of 'the black wind', the 'paddy wagons' used to cart the irish off to jail. That's the story anyway.

painted maypole said...

hello again. nice to see you here! :)

the year I was born my name was ranked 154th. My daughter, on the other hand, was apparently saddled with the 7th most popular name when she was born.

kathy a. said...

i'm a kathy, born in 1957, and there are just a gerbillion people named kathy, cathy, kathryn, kathleen, katherine, etc. in my general age range. there were always 2-3 people with my name in every class, however small. at a former job, a colleague and i specialized in a certain kind of problem, and people often referred to us as "the kathys."

the weirder thing is that i am a kathryn and my sister is a kathleen, with a different nickname. we have 2 more K sisters, too. this was confusing to everyone, sometimes still is. all of us have spent our entire lives explaining, "no, you're thinking of my sister." or in my case, "please do not call me that nickname; it is my sister's."

Kyla said...

I love my name...except when people call me Kayla. It was 535th the year I was born, way back in 1983. ;)

Maggie May said...

it's so funny you say that, because around here we often say ' i hate it with the fire of a thousand suns '


used to hate my name.
now i like it a lot.
not love. but a like.

MARY G said...

I'm one of the Marys from your mother's generation. It's either a feast or a famine carring this name. I once worked on a staff of six and three of us were Mary; I lately served on a committee that also had three Marys.
Just don't shorten it to Mare or I'll get you.