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What’s In a Name?

I recently was trying to find out the origins of a name (to decide whether or not to use it for a character who is slowly forming in my brain), and I ended up looking up my own name on the site.  I discovered that there is a feast day in France on September 21st for Melissa.  And there is an Edward Gorey (I love Edward Gorey!) book called Saint Melissa the Mottled.  Melissa is the sorceress in “Orlando Furioso,” and lemon balm is also known as Melissa officinalis.  My name pops up in Greek mythology — which is where it originated in the story of Zeus — and the original Melissa has been depicted in visual art and poetry.

Once, I was at a David Malouf reading with a man who really didn’t appreciate me.  In fact, if we were being polite, we’d call him an asshole. (If we weren’t being polite, we could call him a whole host of other words.)  After the reading, I went up to the desk to have my book signed, and when I told Mr. Malouf my name, he looked up, so excited, and said, “Melissa!  The Queen Bee!”  And we had a talk about the origins of my name.  It was such a stark contrast, this stranger willing to get excited over my name and this boyfriend who wasn’t even excited about my actual being.

And while I like people to actually like me, I am willing to settle on people liking my name because I like it very much too.

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A long time ago on a blog post, Delenn brought up this mind-blowing question.  In Judaism, we only name children after someone who has died.   She writes about her father-in-law who died 17 years earlier.

Certain things would have been different if he had lived. (He died at 51 of heart attack). For one thing–my son would not be named after him. And that brings a lot of questions concerning would my son be MY son or would he be a different version of my son with a different name?

Are we ourselves if we have a different name?  I mean, would I have still grown up to have the same personality and have the same accomplishments and the same life experience if my name had been Jennifer or Anne or Emma?  Or would the Jenniferization of myself transform me into a very different type of person?  Do names matter; charting our fate?  Could I still be the same person I am today with a completely different name?

I don’t know.

I feel rather Melissa-ish.  In all the Melissa-ish meanings of that word.  And I can pick up honeybees with my bare hands, and it doesn’t frighten me.  Would I be able to pick up bees or allow them to land on me while I’m outside with no fear if my name was Cassandra?

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Stacie sent a really interesting article into Prompt-ly about an Icelandic teenager who is fighting to be able to keep her name.  Iceland has an approved list of names that parents can choose from when naming their baby (1,712 male names and 1,853 female names), and if the name you choose isn’t on that list, you can apply to have your name considered.  But if the name is rejected, you are simply called “Stúlka” (which means girl, and I’m assuming there is a boy equivalent) on all official forms.  This teenager is fighting to have the name she has been called for 15 years by friends and family — Blaer — to also be used on official forms and in business instead of being listed as the generic Stúlka.

I tried to imagine how I would feel if I couldn’t be called my name.  If all my forms said “Girl Ford” and I was called back at the doctor’s office as “Girl” and my mail came addressed to “Girl.”  While many other people usually share our name unless our parents invented it whole cloth, our names are something that make us unique, that set us apart from all the other people in the room.

In Margaret Atwood’s dystopia, The Handmaid’s Tale, removing the women’s names and making them the property of their Commanders (Of Fred and Of Warren, or in the book, Offred and Ofwarren) is one way the government takes away your individuality.  And the way they women hold onto their individuality is not by fighting against the uniform but by whispering their original names, cot to cot, in the dark.

I am not bothered by nicknames — I introduce myself by my nickname (and sign off notes) more than my full name — but I am uneasy over the idea of someone removing my name from me, of not allowing me to be a Melissa anymore.  Even when I’ve been called a nickname I haven’t particularly liked, I’ve always known that deep down, my name was still my name.

I tried to think about the inverse: what if I changed my name legally to Courtney, so my driver’s license and mail and medical records were all under the name I wanted — Courtney — but my friends and family all still called me Melissa, refusing to utilize this name I chose for myself?

And what about offensive names?  And who determines offensiveness?  I tried to imagine how I would feel if the twins had a classmate named Adolf Hitler Smith.  Would I be able to interact with the Smith family?  While I think the government can make a strong case against a name that is not suitable to be spoken over television or radio (such as Fuck Smith), we get into grey areas when we start determining what is an offensive name and what is a reasonable name.  Especially when we cross cultures.

Anyway, I hope Blaer gets to keep her name, by which I mean that she gets it recognized by the government as an acceptable name.

How do you feel about your name?  Does it define you, or do you define it?  Meaning, do you think you’d be the same person even if you had a different name, or did your name shape you into the person you’ve become?

41 comments

1 Denver Laura { 01.09.13 at 11:14 am }

Before I was born, my parents sat back to back and wrote out a bunch of first names without sharing the lists. Both girls and boys. Then they circled all of the names in common and did the same fir middle names. They came up with Laura and Gwendolyn for girls, and 2 other names for boys. I was first so I got the first girl name. My brother came next so he got their first choice for a boy name. If I had been a boy, I would have had my brother’s name. I guess I would have grown into it. I just have a harder time thinking I could have been a Gwen. I mean it like the name and all, but I like my name so much more.

Which is why we chose not to change our daughter’s first name at the adoption. She had been called one thing for 18 months by that point. Sure we could have changed it but honestly I couldn’t think of a better name that fits her personality.

Poor Adolph. At least people will be less likely to misspell his name?

2 Lollipop Goldstein { 01.09.13 at 11:20 am }

Isn’t it so random then? Since we usually choose a child’s name before we’ve ever met them?

Poor Adolf Hitler Smith. I bet his name still gets misspelled since there are multiple spellings of Adolf/Adolph.

3 Sharon { 01.09.13 at 11:28 am }

I enjoyed this post because names are something I’ve thought of often over the years, for a variety of reasons. I don’t love my name, and I’ve never really thought it “fit” me. But now, at age 41, I can’t really imagine being named anything else.

I think it’s true that most people choose their children’s names before they’ve ever met them. I know we chose our sons’ names long before they were born, and in the case of AJ, I chose that name for my son long before I ever met my husband and was just fortunate that he also liked the name. Once it was confirmed after our 20-week ultrasound that we were having two boys, we no longer called them “Twin A” and “Twin B”. After that, we called them by their names.

Over the past year, I have sometimes mused whether their personalities would’ve been different if I had given AJ’s name to MJ and vice versa. Who knows?

4 Battynurse { 01.09.13 at 11:56 am }

Considering what my birth name was, I’ll keep Michell thanks, I like it just fine. I did go by Mickey through Jr high and half of high school and a couple of my friends will still slip and call me that on occasion.
I will say though that working in the hospital with new moms and babies I’ve seen some pretty awful names or spellings that parents give their kids.

5 ANDMom { 01.09.13 at 12:11 pm }

Names are kind of a big deal to me. I’ve often felt like I didn’t “fit” my name, but I think I’ve grown into it more as I’ve aged.

For my kids, we had names we liked, but it wasn’t until I was wheeled into the NICU that I could put my finger on what their names were. I looked, and I knew. People ask how I knew which one was A and which was D, and I was like … look at them, don’t you just KNOW? A could never have been a D, and D could never have been an A. It was that strong. My mom says when I was born it was the same way .. they had several names chosen, but I came out, made the same gesture as her grandmother had always made, and she knew who I was.

The third child was much harder for us, and I’ve mostly found that though we don’t use nicknames on the big two, it fits so much nicer on the baby, and I expect, like me, he will grow more into his name when he’s older.

6 a { 01.09.13 at 12:29 pm }

I have a thing about names – it’s probably because I see so many odd ones come across my desk at work (the latest were Koudaben and his brother Shoudaben. This is not an urban legend.) I have a hard time getting along with people with certain spellings of the name Michelle. I think since you go by Mel much of the time, you are not included in my historically bad relationships with women named Melissa. I’m not a fan of people named Peter or Pete. I don’t believe I’ve ever met a Chad that I can tolerate. And I much prefer Sarahs to Saras. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t prejudge based on names, because people often go by nicknames. But I do notice patterns.

My name was chosen by my parents from a list given to them by my oldest sister. I don’t particularly care for it, and most other people who have it are a lot more bubbly than I am. But I can’t think of any other name that would suit me better, and it’s nice and short and easy to sign.

My husband chose my daughter’s name from the Bible. It suits her but I was campaigning for something more common. It ended up being a choice of what sounded more pleasant to my ear. However, I hate that she won’t be able to find things with her name on it at theme parks and such. I hate that she will be called other names that are more common that sound similar to hers. I find it amusing that she renames herself on a weekly basis anyway.

7 Alexicographer { 01.09.13 at 1:32 pm }

This is such a fascinating question and I should probably write my own blog post because my response will be so lengthy, but I don’t blog, so here goes:

I think it’s likely that our names shape us. My first name is a “standard” english- (and many-other-language-) name, but it is just uncommon enough that as a child I often had to restate it, spell it, and/or insist (as I do) that people not shorten it. I did use a nickname (popular child’s literature fictional character) throughout elementary and possible middle school, which mitigated that a bit, but I did feel that it was important in terms of my real name that I was Name and that I should be called Name (not ShortenedName, even though as noted I embraced EntirelyDistinctLinguisticallyUnrelatedNickname) and that this preference for Name and the nature of Name as a name (known, but not routinely recognized/spelled) made me speak up for myself far more than I otherwise would have (probably true, as I was a very shy/quiet/compliant kid but believed myself well within my rights and indeed, morally obligated, to insist that people used my Name correctly).

(I no longer use FictionalCharacterNickname but it turns out that my full maiden name, which I use professionally, is that of another fictional character who is pretty popular. I quite like this, as it, together with my own minimal online real-name presence, makes me virtually un-googleable.).

I have a good friend whose wife is from another country; their older child has a name that is a totally standard and reasonably common name, but is spelled and pronounced entirely differently across the two languages the family uses and speaks. As they use both languages and live/travel in both nations, I wonder what this experience will be like for said child. They made a different choice for the younger kid (though I don’t know the motivation behind that decision), a name that is, again, standard and common, but also spelled and pronounced the same across the two languages. Last and least, but still a semi-interesting thought exercise, that same friend’s mother’s family name is one recognized (even today) in said small nation as belonging to someone who did BadThings regarding the redrawing of Wife’s Nation’s borders at the conclusion of the first World War. Neither he nor his kids have that name (his mother’s maiden name), but if they did (if it had been his father’s family, rather than his mother’s, or if the naming traditions were different), would that be an obstacle to their living peaceful and unobtrusive lives in that nation?

Another friend of mine from behind the Iron curtain who kept her maiden name after marriage, was talking to her own mother (who did the same as my friend, her daughter, i.e., kept her maiden name) about that decision, and her mother made some comment about, “Oh yes, you must keep your name, a name is about who you are, it is your history.” Now, OK, but what makes this funny/different is that the friend’s mother’s last name is a last name that her family (the friend’s mother’s family) adopted during some political conflict or other (probably WWII or possibly some part of the Soviet era) when they basically dropped out of existence (from a record-keeping perspective) and then resumed a new existence, as they were not (in the original incarnation) on the good side of whoever was in, or likely to be assuming, power. So there is certainly a type of history captured in that name, but it is a name that was chosen precisely as part of a process of erasing or dissociating from a history, at least in terms of official records (though not perhaps otherwise), and the last name that she has, and kept after marrying, is effectively a made-up name (for her and others in her family) that was chosen precisely because it was reasonably common (within the culture) and had nothing to do with their origins or existing identities. Making her view that your name is your history a bit odd or, at least, more complex than it would be for many of us.

I worked with someone born in the late 1930s or early 1940s in a middle eastern nation to a native-to-that-nation family who wanted to name him Adolph, to honor Adolph Hitler whose actions at that time appeared to be helping the nation in question throw off the (real) burden of British involvement in their governance (and resource use, and …). The British authorities who got to decide such things within that country forbid the use of that name, and as a result he was instead named Rudolph. IIRC, he is happy about this, but it’s an interesting illustration of how time and circumstances can affect and/or change the meaning and value of names.

8 Shana { 01.09.13 at 2:49 pm }

When my younger son was born, we knew we would be naming him after my recently deceased father, Samuel, but I couldn’t bear the thought of calling my new baby boy by my dead father’s actual name. So we decided we would give him a name that starts with the same letter as a close-enough honor, but then we couldn’t decide on a name until the day after he was born. He just didn’t look like a Steven, or a Sebastian, etc. The funny thing is that for months I have kind of regretted not giving him my father’s name, and every so often I find that I really want to call him Sammy, because he seems so like a Sammy to me. I wonder sometimes if I should call him Sammy as a nickname, or if that would just be kind of morbid or wierd. So, I still call him by his given name, even though it doesn’t quite sit right with me. I wonder how he will feel when he gets older, if he will say “Yes, I’ve always felt like my name is not quite right” and change it on his own. He is only one now, so it will be a while before I see what develops.

9 Blanche { 01.09.13 at 2:55 pm }

I used to dislike my first name, feeling it was quite boring and not very exciting. It also became annoying to deal with the spelling issues as the last letter is optional for some, but required for me. (Blanche is not my real name.) But even as I tried to find a replacement name, I couldn’t find anything which seemed to fit better; and I grew to appreciate that my parents hadn’t saddled me with a nine letter first name to go with my nine letter maiden name. The real irony is that the meaning of the name, which can apply to either physical or religious activity, is completely opposite to how I am.

I picked up Blanche in college as a joke nickname and it actually feels comfortable to me, but only a few college friends still call me that on a very irregular basis as even then it was never my primary name. Maybe if I had continued to use it my MIL and I wouldn’t have the problems we do at family gatherings as our names are only differentiated on paper by that missing last letter.

10 Mirren { 01.09.13 at 2:58 pm }

I am adopted. At birth, my mother didn’t name me, so my original birth certificate (not that I’ve seen it), says “Baby Girl N—-” on it. When I found this out, it made me a little bit sad that she hadn’t named me, but for a host of reasons, she wasn’t committed to the pregnancy, or me. C’est la vie.

My adoptive parents chose a name for me that has been a bane. It’s Scandinavian-ish, not hard to say, but extremely prone to mispronunciation. There’s one way to say it, the way that 90% of women in the US with the name seem to say it, and the “other” way (the way my parents chose). I have fought my entire life against the tide of the crowd, correcting people politely, not-so politely, trying not to care, caring very much, and realizing, finally, at 43 that I really hate the name and that it doesn’t feel like me and never did. I hate the way that 90% of the crowd says it, so I would never cave to pressure that way.

I am now in the process of changing my name legally to a name of my choosing, a name that I love and that feels like *me*, based on my biological father’s ancestry. The change is a bit daunting, but fun. Some people are very supportive with the change, some are passive-aggressive, some are frankly horrified. It’s been curious to see who fits into which group; sometimes it’s been surprising.

The thing I like is that even if my new name is mispronounced, I don’t care. I don’t feel as though I am being bludgeoned, as I did before. It’s like shedding a skin that didn’t fit well at all.

11 Stupid Stork { 01.09.13 at 3:05 pm }

Hmmm… I think about names and what they mean a lot. (Like how if you repeat your name out loud enough times it starts to sound like jibberish). I’ve personally never, ever felt like a Jennifer even though that’s definitely my name. Jennifer feels foreign. Jenny, on the other hand – plain, sure, but that feels like me. I’m always curious about people whose names don’t come with built in options like that.

12 Alexicographer { 01.09.13 at 3:15 pm }

@Mirren I grew up with someone whose parents had split not long after her birth and whose father had basically absconded from her life. As a young adult she took not only her mother’s maiden name (which her mother had re-assumed but not, I think, that long before her daughter did), but also a new first name. Apparently when she was born her mother chose one first name for her but then yielded to her father’s preference of first names. So she became an entirely “new” person from a name perspective. I thought it was really nice that she chose to align her name in a way more consistent with what she felt about who she was and her parentage.

13 Mirren { 01.09.13 at 3:33 pm }

@Alexicographer: Thanks for sharing your story! I live in the Bay Area and have gay and transgender friends who have changed their entire identities in ways far more difficult than I am doing. They’ve been wonderfully supportive and inspirational in showing me how to get things done, and in letting me know that it’s okay to choose who you are. I do wonder what this will do to me career-wise, when all of my degrees and licenses are under my old name. We will see. Probably lots of explaining if/when I change jobs.

14 SRB { 01.09.13 at 3:57 pm }

When I was born, my father decided that he didn’t like the name my mother had picked out (now my middle name) and just wrote my first name down on the paperwork. I have never been called by my middle name, and my mother has always seemed utterly unfazed by the change. Which, given her personality, is staggering frankly.

Anyhow, my name means “princess” in Hebrew, and I am decidedly NOT one of those. But truthfully, I don’t think about my own name much. It was VERY important to me to name my son after my brother who passed away as a teenager. But for this second baby, we have a list of names with like fine, but nothing meaningful or interesting… and I feel kind of bad about that.

Really interesting questions.

15 loribeth { 01.09.13 at 4:03 pm }

I wrote about names in my blog awhile back: http://theroadlesstravelledlb.blogspot.ca/2009/09/name-game.html

I didn’t much like my name when I was younger… I wanted to be Laura, or at least Laurie (I went through a phrase where I signed myself “Laurie,” at least until one of my teachers made a cutting remark about it). To make it worse, my middle name really is Beth = Lori Beth. “Happy Days,” anyone? (I always told people that I had the name first…!)

But I’ve made peace with my name as I’ve aged. It’s a 60s name (you don’t see too many little girls being named Lori these days), and I’m definitely a child of the 60s. ; ) Apparently my dad thought of Lori, although I have a hard time picturing him having an opinion on the matter, and wonder where he got it from?? My mom wanted to name me Julie Lynn. Much as I might have preferred Julie Lynn when I was younger, it really doesn’t feel much like me.

16 Rebecca { 01.09.13 at 5:02 pm }

My father was a DJ and wanted to name me “Mandy” after the Barry Manilow song. I often wonder what kind of person I would have been as a Mandy.

My family is Sephardic and Sephards have opposite naming conventions from other Jews — we ONLY name after the living. It is always weird to me to see it the other way.

For my twins, Baby A was named D because he was the first one to show us his sex and we had always discussed having a boy named D. Baby B took a few more weeks to show us he was a boy. It then took until I first was able to visit them in the NICU two days after they were born to name him S. Driving to the hospital my husband and I were still debating names for him. We had it down to two. And, I actually first decided to call him a completely different name. We even told the nurse the other name when she went to make them nametags. Then I looked at him really closely and felt anxious about the choice and thought “nope, that’s not it. He’s an ‘S’.” The nurse and my husband are the only people who know that S was almost called something else. (And my husband has asked me not to remind him of what the name is because he can’t remember…)

Now I can’t imagine either of the boys being called anything else. But, truly S could easily have been D if he’d just been a bit less shy in the reveal…

17 YeahScience! { 01.09.13 at 6:05 pm }

It’s funny, my name is Vanessa but a lot of people say I look “nothing like a Vanessa” — but I’m not quite sure what that means. To be honest, I feel more attached to my last name than my first (which is why I didn’t take on my husband’s name after we got married). But then when my mom reveals that I was very nearly a Tamara, I’m all, “WHAAA?! THAT’S CRAZY!” After 33 years, it’s just weird to try and consider myself being anything else…

18 lifeintheshwa { 01.09.13 at 6:12 pm }

We gave DS a recognizable name but spelled it the older of the two spellings way so no, there will be no tacky souvenirs from theme parks with is name with his spelling. We wanted someting recognizable but not too common, and he totally fits his name (though he’s only four). I hope he won’t be too mad at us for the harder spelling. I love his middle name and think it totally suits him too.

My name is a common name and I’m not so sure it fits me but there isn’t such a disconnect that I care about it.

I’m nearly 17 weeks with pregnancy #6 which hopefully will turn into child #2 and even though we’re finding out gender soon I’m pretty sure that I won’t be ready to discuss names until it’s very nearly time, given how pregnancies two through five ended in miscarriage.

19 AnneH { 01.09.13 at 6:38 pm }

Great post! I’ve always joked that I was a better student because I was named Anne. I felt like I had to be on my toes in class because if the teacher would trail on then say annnnn-d, it always sounded like my name. I never liked my name through school because it always sounded so old. In fact, it peaked in popularity in 1915, so I guess it is old! As I have gotten older, I have grown into it somewhat. I always laugh at my middle and high school self because I told my mother repeatedly that I wish she had named me Rachel. I hope she didn’t take it to hard!

20 Ladyblogalot { 01.09.13 at 7:35 pm }

David Malouf? Of Fly Away Peter fame? Whatever. As if I even want to meet the greatest writer Australia has ever produced. I don’t even care and am totally not jealous. At all. What was he like? He sounds friendly and not stuck up, and that’s how I picture him. Unless it’s a different David Malouf you met of course, like a porn star or someone…

21 KeAnne { 01.09.13 at 8:43 pm }

This is a timely post b/c our son is going through a phase in which he refuses to be called by his name – gets angry if he is – and demands to be called something else (usually his favorite train’s name but sometimes anything that catches his fancy). We’re struggling with how to handle it b/c we gave him a name, right? Yet I guess it is his prerogative even at 3 to decide he wants to go by something else, even if it is an asshole train.

Names are a bit chicken/egg, but having an unusual name, I do feel like it helped to shape me. I think some of my social awkwardness comes from having a name that seems difficult to spell and pronounce and my embarrassment at having to endlessly correct people. On the other hand, my name stands out, and I’ve always felt a little outside the mainstream both positively and negatively. If someone says my name, chances are they mean me. Now that I’m older, it’s easier to be “KeAnne.” It was harder as an adolescent.

“KeAnne” wasn’t the name my parents intended to name me. I was supposed to be Carrie Elizabeth and called “Carrie Beth.” Euphoria led my father and grandfather to create my name from my mother’s first and middle names. “Carrie Beth” doesn’t seem like the same person that “KeAnne” is. Maybe my mother still wishes she had named me “Carrie Beth” instead.

Many European countries also restrict names: http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/07/03/mf.baby.naming.laws/index.html?hpt=C2

22 V { 01.09.13 at 8:48 pm }

I was not born in Canada so when I got there I hated my name. I just wanted to be named Susan, and I planned to change it as soon as I could. Then I discovered boys remembered it becuase it was different, then it wasn’t so bad. My name is now very much me, and I wouldn’t want to be called anything else, well except my middle name…yuck. When I was naming my daughter I gave up on unique becuase quite frankly, for the most part, it’s a pain in the ass to have a unique name, and for the majoirty of your childhood it’s not fun. I also worked at a hospital in Obs/Gyne, and the addage that no one under 21 should name a child holds true. At the hospital when there was an especially stupid name or one that may have worked in the parents language but translated badly in English Social Work was called to have a chat with the parents. The slippery slope argument about names I don’t agree with. There are names that are universally stupid, and frankly horrible to saddle a child with. Unless you are rich, then I guess Apple won’t hurt you one bit.

23 Lisa { 01.09.13 at 9:37 pm }

I have one of two names given to every Italian-American girl born in the 70s (the other being Gina). It’s fine, it’s me, but my whole given maiden name was kick ass. People used to just call me Lisa [MaidenNameHere] because it was just kick ass. Some people still do even though I took my husband’s name. I REALLY hate it when people call me Lisa Marie. That’s not my name, but everyone expects it should be. Stupid Elvis.

I see some really horrid names too. Like the kind of names my coworkers and I have to get all our giggles out over before we actually meet the family. Usually you get used to it and you can’t see that kid as anything but little “Apple.”

24 Rachel { 01.09.13 at 9:39 pm }

I like my name. I think about names a lot, it’s part of my infertility self-abuse. My grandfather was Milton and I couldn’t do that to my child. But I have about a 1000 standins. When I was 5 I wanted to be Angelina for the ballerina.

My cousin is named Dolph after his grandpa, and it works for him. Adolph makes me uncomfortable! Lol.

25 persnickety { 01.09.13 at 11:02 pm }

My name was very unusual in the USA when I was born (it’s australian), but gradually became more popular as I got older. I suspect I did form part of my idenity around its unusual qualities, which made moving to Australia (where it is very common) a bit disconcerting. Add to that the fact that it is not a well educated name- you are more likely to find a hairdresser with it than a lawyer, and the fact I need to establish my thinking/research ability in my career and it is frustrating. That said, I was almost an Amy- my parents had the name picked and then Carter got elected and my mum refused to name me after a president’s daughter (because having the name of a pop star is so much better). The funniest thing was a co-worker years ago who remarked how odd it was to hear two merican accents with very australian names – my sister also has a distinctly australian name.

I am in the very (6 weeks) early stages of pregnancy and my husband is driving my crazy with the name suggestion. On NYE he spent three hours in conversation on this, despite multiple efforts to steer the conversation away. After an early miscarriage last time I don’t want to consider names until much later, and have articulated this on more than one occassion, but this morning I found a list of family names, culled from the family tree on my handbag. Nothing i do deters the name suggestions.

26 Shannon { 01.09.13 at 11:20 pm }

When I was born my parents decided to call me by my middle name. I have always gone by this name, never by my first. I have always hated that. Everything official has me as one name, but that’s not me! It wasn’t a problem at work for the longest time, as all official documents had my first initial, then my middle name. Until last year, when we went to electronic medical records and the system was set up with my first and last name, not even my middle initial. So it feels like every note I write, every order I sign is being signed by someone else.

I’d always planned on dropping my first name when I got married. But here I am, 41 and still not married, so it looks like I’m stuck with this fake name.

27 Lollipop Goldstein { 01.09.13 at 11:27 pm }

Persnickety:

Make him a little shoe box called the name box and he can fill it with slips of paper to you that you’ll open on X date. So it’s a little gift of names. He can get them out of his system in real time, but you won’t have to deal with them until later :-)

28 StacieT { 01.10.13 at 1:26 am }

This girl has been on my mind since I read the article. I do hope she is able to win her case, because I do think a person’s name is part of who she is.

I don’t really mind my name, although it isn’t spelled in the common way which was always annoying to me. I can’t see myself called something eles, either. I do identify with my last name and tend to use only my maiden name at work vs my married hyphenated name. I even lobbied hard to give our boys a hyphenated last name, too. That was nixed, but I did include my maiden name on their birth certificates as a second middle name.

We struggled naming our boys, and in the end we looked at two things: 1) meaning and 2) position on the list of popular names of the last 5 years. We did not want a super common name, but we did want something that wasn’t too out of the ordinary.

For the twins, we didn’t name them until they were 4 days old, and that was only because the hospital pressured us to so they could complete their paperwork. We wanted the boys to have names we thought were meaningful, so we used the definition of the names to help us narrow our search. (one name means “a gift from G-D” and “valiant” while the other means “healer” and “warrior” — the kind of names I wanted attached to our very premature boys struggling to survive just in case their names did indeed influence their personalities!)

The baby’s name was sort of decided the day I went to deliver him, but we did need to see him before we officially decided to make sure the name we liked fit him. (His name means “G-D is gracious” and “enthusiasm” which I thought was appropriate for his position in our family.)

29 Tiara { 01.10.13 at 8:40 am }

First, the thought of you handling bees with your bare hands frightens ME to no end!!!!!

I love this topic of names!! Growing up, I always wanted a different name. Tara was just uncommon enough to make me feel self conscious & people were always asking if it was pronounced “Ter-ra” or “Tar-a”…My parents were decided to call me Brenda until the day I was born. I can’t picture myself as a Brenda…if I had been a boy, I would have been Calvin. I think that would have suited me.

While pregnant I had so much trouble picking a name & being that I didn’t have to compromise with anyone, I felt a lot of pressure to make the decision solely myself. I was sure I would name my daughter Aislin…until about a month before she was born when I just knew her name was Elena & it stuck. I can’t imagine her as an Aislin or as anything other than Elena. But funny thing, when I’m particularly frustrated with her I slip & call her Sophie, the name of my childhood dog!!

30 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 01.10.13 at 10:59 am }

I think there is a nurture component. People react differently to an “Anne” as opposed to a “Kylie”. I love getting a localised nickname/short form wherever I go – it matches the way we ourselves change depending on where we are and whom we’re with. In my year at university we had about 85 students and about forty names between us. I’d gone through my whole life thus far being unique out of hundreds or thousands and now there were three of us – out of eighty-five. There’s something in that.

From time to time I come across the view that one should name one’s children such that the name is straightforward and hard to change or shorten, in an attempt to ensure they are forever known as what you have chosen for them. It is instantly clear, when you know my kid’s names, that I am not of that bent. There on my kid’s birth certificates, in black and white, is an open invitation to choose how they want to be known. Their names can be played with in a variety of ways. Not everyone likes our choices.

I have to admir they are a damn pain in the arse when I have to fill out forms for them.

Iceland is strange.

31 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 01.10.13 at 11:09 am }

Keanne – Our eldest does that, too, started at three and seems to be lessening at nearly five. Apparently it’s a thing they do (as confirmed by others). I have to say it never really occurred to me to do anything about it, apart from explain to confused people that his birth certificate had him as name x, and that name y was his currently-preferred name. Then again, I am not of the straightforward name that is difficult to shorten bent, so take that as you will.

32 Lori Lavender Luz { 01.10.13 at 3:51 pm }

“Are we ourselves if we have a different name?”

I do think you’d be different if you weren’t Melissa. All the names you mention here change the flavor of you in my mind. I think name and being are intertwined, affecting each other.

I’ve always like my name. It suits me. But I have noticed nobody names their daughter “Lori” anymore. I fear it will become a period name like Edna or Ethel or Rita.

It was reaaaallly hard to come up with our kids’ names. Now that I know them, I think we did well.

33 Elizabeth { 01.10.13 at 4:47 pm }

I find names fascinating. I always felt a special kinship with the grandmother I was named after.

34 magpie { 01.10.13 at 8:07 pm }

i think the most interesting is when parents name a child and then later change the name. i remember my shrink telling me that she’d done that; it seemed so odd. and i know of a blogger who did that as well.

me, i like my name. it’s not all over the place. same with my daughter’s name.

35 Dora { 01.10.13 at 10:56 pm }

Oh, my! Love this post and the comments. Particularly fascinating within a community that has some members who use pseudonyms for themselves and others in their lives. Seriously, dear Mel, I could write a novel (okay, a novella) on this subject. I’ll try to steal a few minutes from work tomorrow to comment further. But I will say that not having to consult or compromise with anyone about my daughter’s name was a very cool perk of being an SMC.

36 lostintranslation { 01.11.13 at 10:00 am }

I do think my name defines me. I have a name that’s impossible to pronounce in English, especially if people see it written first. The French do a better job in pronouncing it but always make mistakes when writing (or think they have to correct me, so even if I spell it through the phone the name on the envelope will still be different). When we lived in the US I often thought of using another name when ordering coffee or something, but it just didn’t work… (also because I wouldn’t look up when they would call out that name). My husband has a bit of the same issue, so our kids now have names that work well in various languages…

37 Valery Valentina { 01.11.13 at 10:20 am }

Sorry, it took me a while to find it online, but found it: the story of a father naming one son Winner and another Loser.
http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/2005/04/a_roshanda_by_any_other_name.html
The good news is that Loser wasn’t destined to lose and grew into Lou. The sad news is that Winner wasn’t destined to fulfil his name either.

I have to admit I’ve grow quite attached to my blog name. When a Spanish girlfriend Valentina showed up in your ‘Life from Scratch’ I was all like ‘hey, that’s my name! (just never imagined it Spanish)’
And I love the irony of me now expecting a mid February baby.

38 knottedfingers { 01.11.13 at 11:49 am }

I’m a Melissa. I don’t really like my name, mostly because it’s so common. I am not a common person, I’m uncommon and unique and I wish I had a more unique name to fit how I feel inside.

It’s because of this I went out of my way to name my children names that were unique or at least uncommon which is how I ended up with

Freja Eowyn
Raeden Storm and
Calypso Paikea Rhyder

For myself as a Melissa I go by Issy or Izzy most. It’s easier since there are 4 people in my town with my EXACT full name

39 JustHeather { 01.12.13 at 9:27 am }

Love this post and the responses!
I’ve thought a lot about names for a looong time. I didn’t care for my name much growing up. I remember in 4th grade or so changing the spelling of my last name, writing Feather instead of Heather and calling myself Wednesday (yes, from Addams family). Growing up, a friend’s father would call me “walking talking bush”, as I was in fact a walking talking Heather. I also never really had nicknames (Feather, Weather, Leather? bleh), so I tried to find myself one. “Boots” anyone? I also looked for a name to officially change my name to (Oceana, Star, etc) and never found anything that was me. I’ve grown to accept my name, as I’ve never really found anything that I think I am.

A friend on the other hand, change her name a few months after I had met her. I can only see her as her chosen name and not her given name. Although, her family (esp. her mom because she gave it to her!) still calls her the given name to which she doesn’t always respond.

In Finland, we don’t have to have a baby’s name before leaving the hospital. We have about two months before we have to officially declare a name and most people don’t tell the name of their kid until they have a naming ceremony at aprox 1 month of age. We on the other hand just didn’t have a name for our little guy until he was about 2 weeks old, even though I had been thinking of names for years. Hubby wasn’t ready to think about names until it was more immediate and he didn’t like any I had loved for years. We, mainly me, also wanted a name that could be easily pronounced in Finnish and English.

40 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 01.12.13 at 10:36 am }

My comment has been gnawing at me. When I said, “the way we ourselves change depending on where we are and whom we’re with” I didn’t mean that in a two-faced, show-people-want-they-want-to-see way. I meant it more in the sense that we inevitably change and grow according to the influences of our friends and environment. Sometimes it feels right to be known as a new nickname/short form/go back to the full form/whatever to reflect that change.

Phew. That feels better.

41 clare { 01.20.13 at 3:57 pm }

Speaking of crossing cultures… a good friend of mine here in Europe goes by the name ‘Fanny’ which to Americans might seem mild, but by British standards it is not. She knows full well its meaning, but it is her name and so she goes by it and proudly introduces herself to our British friends. Another person, this time American, had the last name Root (which in Australia is basically the equivalent to F^ck) and people would occasionally refuse his credit card not believing it could be someone’s name.

And then you get into naming conventions of people versus computers: http://www.kalzumeus.com/2010/06/17/falsehoods-programmers-believe-about-names/

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