December 2, 2010

What's In A Name?

You've probably picked up on the fact that I'm obsessed with names. I could tell you the full name of just about anyone I've ever met - and often ask people what their middle names are, just out of curiosity. I'm entranced by monograms and captivated by the stories behind old family names.

I was the girl who dreamed of naming, not necessarily having, a baby. (It took a while before I realized the two go hand in hand. It'd be a rare mom who would allow you only to name her child.)

I think it's because, growing up, I didn't love my name. (Cue Anne of Green Gables references. I never asked to be called Cordelia, but you get the idea.) Anne is my middle name; my first name is a family name that is unusual and easily mispronounced.

The first day of classes, from kindergarten to grad school, my palms would get sweaty when the teacher got to the "S" portion of the roll. When I saw a puzzled expression, I'd call out, "I go by Anne! Just call me Anne!"

Additionally, my whole family (of origin) has unusual name quirks. Three of the four of us go by our middle names. My brother, the sole "first namer," has four names. Three are last names; all are family names. Welcome to the South, my friends.

Most everyone I knew growing up was named after someone - a beloved aunt, their mom's favorite poet, even a Dynasty character. Few parents pull their children's names from thin air.

When it came to naming our Mac, I knew early on that I wanted to incorporate family names with a lot of meaning to us. (If your last name is Smith, you know the importance of standing out a little in the first name department. Take it from "Anne Smith #8" at my salon.)

Mac is named after several members of our families, one of whom was also called "Mac Smith." It means everything that we could honor so many with one sweet little baby's name.

Reading the top name trends of 2010, though, I am a touch disheartened that Macky's first name is number three on the list. (Yes, I did what I said I'd never do and gave my son a first name he doesn't use. Don't hate me, future Mac!)

I suppose I should take it as a compliment that there are so many baby Jacksons out there, but we named him Jackson McNeal for a reason. Mac's names each have meaning and come directly from someone our families knew and loved. (The first Mac Smith skipped over Jackson, abbreviated his middle name and went by Mac too, future Macky. You're in good company!)

Though he was born in 2009, not 2010, I hate thinking that Mac's birth certificate is one of ten thousand other Jacksons!

I won't say much else about names, though I'll wax poetic for hours with friends in an adult version of the treasured seventh grade "let's name our invisible children" game.

I have lots (and lots) of "rules" and opinions about naming a child well and with tremendous thought. Given my name history, I feel I deserve such opinions!

That said, names are intensely personal and I wouldn't want to step on anyone's toes - or their top choices. Pick an old family name, find inspiration in classic literature, choose a favorite Biblical name, put lovely-sounding syllables together, do what makes you happy - but realize names last forever.

Can I please urge you, if you're going to name your child after a politician, Olympian or television figure, as the article indicates more people are doing, to choose extra wisely? Do you really want your baby to spend his life explaining why he's named Apollo Piper Chuck Bass Finn Puckerman Smith long after everyone has forgotten who most of those namesakes ever were? Okay, then.

Read the top names of 2010. How many of these babies have you bought presents for this year?


Kitty said...

I love this! I read that article too. I could spend hours talking about names. I always think it's so interesting how differently people feel about certain names and the characteristics they associate with them.

Emily Emeneker said...

Love it! Sorry to my future husband and possible daughter, but I've had your name picked out for a long, long time: Caroline McSwain (last name TBD). Caroline is after my love of my state and my university and McSwain is my mother's maiden name and the last name of my favorite grandparents. Should there be a little boy in the future, I might have a problem. The only good male name on my side of the family is Lee - and it was my grandmother's middle name.

Love Mac's name and can't wait to hear what other special names might be in the future! :)

Anne said...

Kitty, I've always heard that teachers have the hardest time picking names because there's ALWAYS one bad apple in their class who spoils a perfectly good name for them.

Emily, I went to college with a McSwain. Fabulous name for a boy, too, if that issue every arises. :) Great choices.

Rowena said...

I've always liked "Helen Elisabeth" for a girl and "John Gerald" for a boy. I'm also starting to get partial to "Carenen Oakes" for either. Helen and Elisabeth are Devin's and my mother's names, respectively; and my dad is John and his is Gerald. BUT we are both cursed with the middle namers... I've never gone by Daniell and he's not a Gerald. Carenen is my maiden name and Oakes is his mother's... so we'll see. Of course, there have to be babies first ;-)

Whitney Bouknight said...

Your blog is so timely for me! Today is my due date, and we don't know what this baby is. Last week, we FINALLY picked out a girl and a boy name. We were having such a hard time. I sure hope we picked well. Our daughter was so easy to name (Virginia Blair), both family names and both names that I love and that just "go together." This time around the girl name was much more difficult for me.

Do you mind me asking what that first name was that you didn't like to hear on the first day of school every year?

EHS811 said...

I always said I would NEVER name my child where we would call him my his middle name. Boy am I eating my words now. Boy names, for us, were much harder to choose. We decided on James Griffin Scurry. My dad and grandfather had/have James as a first name. Same for Kevin's grand-father and great-grandfather. So, it seemed fitting for our son to have the same. But we didn't want to call him James. So, we chose Griffin (great-grandfather on Kevin's side) as his middle name and the name we would call him. It still drives me a little nuts at the doctor's office when we hear "James Scurry", but at the same time I am really glad we went with tradition. Now, when it comes time for #2....I have no idea what we will come up with. Gonna be tough!

Anne said...

Emily, I feel the same way when I call in for little "Jackson" Smith. Ha ha!

kelly said...

Coming from a family of Martha Ann Riggs Wilsons and Reginald Darlington Wilsons this just cracked me up.
With Love,
Plain ol' kelly :)

Nicole said...

Love this post.
My poor all I have to say, haha - he will be explaining all through school, I'm sure! Nicholas had always wanted to name a son after his dad, so we went with the full James Phillip Wallace, II. Both of our dads and all four of our granddads had the first name James, too! We didn't want to call him James, b/c of the fear that it would be shortened to Jamie or Jimmy. We didn't want to call him Phillip for fear that it would be shortened to Phil, which is what my FIL goes by, and also my stepdad. {also add in there the fact that my dad died when I was younger, so I didn't want people who didn't know us well to think we named our son after my stepdad...if that makes sense} We thought about the double name, James Phillip, but my MIL was afraid it would be shortened to JP, and she obsessively HATES initial names.
Is that complicated enough for you?!? my SIL and I sat going through the name, trying to come up with something out of it {Nicholas jokingly had the idea of "deuce" you know, like the treys, tripps and quinns of the world - HA, yeah right, honey...doesn't quite work} we came up with Mills - the middle of James {literally - "m"} - and the middle of Phillip {"ill"} and the "s" comes from the second {II}. My marketing spin on it was that it's "the heart of james and the heart of phillip" which are both important names in our family! Yep, it's a stretch. But now that he's our "Mills," I can't imagine him as anything else! Funny the way that works out!
I'm sure our future children will have simpler names, haha.
I blogged about the name decision way back when here:
:) at least it makes me feel better to know there are plenty of other people in the same boat of complicated names! :)

Nicole said...

and by the way, WOW, that was a long post! sorry about the novel comment, haha!


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