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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Would a Rose by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?

So, Janet posted a meme, in which you're supposed to grab the nearest book, turn to page 123, find the fifth sentence, and post the next four sentences. So, the nearest book (sitting right here on the desk in front of my monitor) is A Dictionary of First Names (Oxford), and the four sentences on page 123 starting at about the fifth sentences are:
Francesco (m.) Italian: originally a vocabulary word meaning 'French' or 'Frenchman' (Late Latin Franciscus; cf. Frank). This was a nickname given to St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) because of his wealthy father's business connections in France. His baptismal name was Giovanni. He had a pleasant, ordinary life as a child and young man, but after two serious illnesses, a period of military service, and a year as a prisoner of war in Perugia, he turned from the world and devoted himself to caring for the poor and the sick. He was joined by groups of disciples, calling themselves 'minor friars' (friari minores). The main features of the Franciscan rule are humility, poverty, and love for all living creatures.

Okay, that's a little more than five sentences. Forgive me. The fact that this book was the handiest shows what I've been thinking about lately. Lately meaning the last five months or so: names. In that time, I've been thinking lots about the name we'll give to our third child and first daughter, but also about names for family and friends who have had or will have babies. Not surprisingly, probably, I have very firm ideas about what makes a good name:
1. It should be recognizable as a name. There are so many wonderful names out there, I fail to see the point in making up something new.

2. It should use a standard spelling. Some names have multiple variants already; don't make up something just to be different. Tayler with an e "because she's a girl" doesn't work for me.

3. The child's gender should be at least surmisable. No, I'm not a big fan of the genderless names, from old ones like Terry and Lynn through Shannon and Kelly up to Taylor and Ryan.

4. It should "go" with the last name, at least aurally if not ethnically.

5. It should not be popular or trendy. If people ask me for advice, I strongly urge them not to pick a name in the SSA top 100. I personally would avoid anything in the top 1000. This is not as hard as it sounds. I also try to avoid names already used by family and friends or other kids in the neighborhood. Not that I'm always successful--Number One was not the only kid with his name (which entered the top 1000 for the first time in 125 years last year; the wee feller's name hasn't been in the top 1000 for 20 years, and never ranked higher than the mid-600s) on his baseball team this spring (though the other kid's was pronounced with a short initial vowel).

6. For girls, names should not be overly cutesy, and feminized male names should generally be avoided (Paula, Roberta, Thomasina, etc.).

So with all these rules, I've dabbled some in name consulting, providing lists of names for friends and family who are interested. I've never yet charged, though after reading an article about name consultants in the WSJ a few weeks ago I'm sorely tempted. Not because they're making so much money, just because they're doing such a crappy job! Giving a couple a list of names that runs to over 1000 names or 15 pages isn't doing much to help narrow the field. And who are the people who hire name consultants? Okay, mostly they sound pretty pathetic. It's kind of sad when you pay a name consultant to come up with something "original" and then you end up with a name (from the consultant's list) that's been in the top 50 for the last three years. Yeah, really original.*

So, if you're interested in what names I'd recommend for you, drop me a line. I won't even charge you, and I promise the list will all fit easily on one page. The last two lists I made had 14 names (for a girl, a fairly winnowed-down list) and 33 names (for a boy, a very rough first-draft list). And hey--if you've got serious suggestions for Ingeborg's real name (that meet all my rules above), by all means pass them along!

*The names picked by the name-consultant clients in the article: Leah Marie, Anna Irene, Ava, Nicole Josephine, Max Phillip, Ross, Natalie, Evander Jet, Sheridan, Beckett, Gabriel Rush (these last three were chosen by name consultants for their own children), Jackson Dean, and Jackson Thomas. Of these, all the girl names but Sheridan, which is not in the top 1000, were in the top 100 last year. Gabriel and Jackson are both top 50, Max 160, Ross and Beckett in the mid-700s, and Evander not in the top 1000.

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Blogger Janet M Kincaid said...

Love your criteria for names. And I couldn't agree more! Excellent post. I'm glad you played along with the latest book meme. Thank you!

July 18, 2007 at 3:37 AM  
Blogger MWR said...

I wonder if you think I would have more or less luck proposing real names for her than I had with the gestational names.

I guess they were saying Beckett was a boy's name. However, the only Beckett I know of is a girl. Her brother is Deckard, evidently a family name since her mother was not aware of the sci-fi coolness involved.

I'd be interested in seeing what you could come up with for my as-yet hypothetical offspring, so please feel free to dust me with names. However, there is value to giving certain things/people names that you come up with yourself. Otherwise it's like taking credit for the work of a caterer or interior decorator. There is a great story about how annoyed Steinbeck was when he finished, I think, The Grapes of Wrath and his wife came up with the title , which he immediately knew was not only leagues better than any of his ideas, but better than any other ideas he was likely to have.

A rule I would apply is that a name name should not carry the near imperative of becoming a shortened form. I like mine, but most others I don't care for. These sorts of names, I think, are good for middle names. Joseph, for example.

July 20, 2007 at 1:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For a lot of names, it's possible to come up with a tolerable nickname if you just look a little harder. Like Zeph or Jose (soft s, silent e, not Spanish) for Joseph. Or you can just be sticklers about the no-nickname thing, as with my very own Mavis, who is always Mavis and never Mave.

M, if I were to come up with a list of names for you, I'd need more info, like names you already know you like, your genealogy, any associations you'd like the name to invoke, etc. When it actually becomes closer to an eventuality, we'll have to talk. :)

July 27, 2007 at 1:21 PM  
Blogger Swizzies said...

I'm confused - are you proposing, essentially, "hose" (like the gardening implement, mostly) as a nickname for Joseph? Or Joes? I am not following.

Luckily, I have no offspring, lest I name them after a garden implement AND give them a crappy nickname too. ;-)

(Formerly DeeDee here - d'oh!)

August 2, 2007 at 5:37 AM  

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