The name game

January 31, 2014 

No one has everything, but everyone has one thing, and that’s a first name.

That name might be familiar or strange, melodious or harsh sounding, old-fashioned or modern. That name might be one that exudes pride because it’s the name of a loved one or notable person.

It is common, however, to hear people say they never liked or even hated their name, in part because it identified them with someone they considered undesirable. Intense dislike of a name has caused some people to insist on being called by a middle name or nickname. Some have even changed their name.

Apart from the first name of aunts and uncles, grandparents and other ancestors, children are often given the names of their parents. For example, imagine that Allison Marie Jamieson marries Henry Allen Archibald. They might name a son Jamieson Allen Archibald and a daughter Marie Alice Archibald.

In Hollywood, box office appeal is so important that many actors and actresses discard or alter their names. It happened when Emanuel Goldenberg became Edward G. Robinson, Leonard Sly became Roy Rogers, Marion Morrison became John Wayne, Bernard Schwartz became Tony Curtis, Emilie Chauchoin became Claudett Colbert, Marion Levy became Paulette Goddard, Virginia Katherine McMath became Ginger Rogers, Ruby Catherine Stevens became Barbara Stanwyck, and Natalia Nikolaevna Zacharenko became Natalie Wood.

A person’s first name can indicate the admiration a parent had for a biblical character. Innumerable males have been named Adam, Moses, Abraham, Noah, David, Daniel, Joshua, Gideon, Paul, Peter, John, Stephen or Timothy. Similarly, countless females have been named Ruth, Esther, Hannah, Rebecca, Abigail, Anna, Elizabeth, Mary, Martha and Dorcas.

The names given to people are sometimes drawn from notable people in the period of a child’s birth. The name might come from a public figure, athlete, theatrical person or historical character such as Washington, Lincoln, Lee or Roosevelt.

Parents often name a son after the father, adding “Junior” or “II,” “III” and beyond. Sometimes a son is called Junior, without even mentioning his first name, usually to differentiate the son from the father. Call them what you like, but I think calling a son by his name is preferable. It seems a shame that a boy might go through his whole life know only as Junior.

A boy with whom I played as a youngster was a Junior, and I never heard his mother call him by his name. I can almost hear, even now, her standing on her porch and repeatedly yelling for all of the neighborhood to hear, “Junior!”

Some children have been, willingly or reluctantly, named for aunts or uncles who would have been hurt had the child not been named for them. While doing that might prolong the use of some names in a family’s lineage, it might burden a person for life with unwanted first and middle names such as Prudence Herminia, Sharonda Filomena, Demetrius Hipolito or Zachariah Faustino.

A girl can despise her name if she’s given an ill-fitting male name such as Abraham. And no boy wants to be named Evelyn or Sue. Some surnames might even have a background associated with crime or shame, which can cause embarrassment and might result in a name change.

A patronym is a component of a name, based on the name of a person’s father or a male ancestor. Williamson, for example, denotes a son of William. A matronym is the female equivalent.

Girls are sometimes given the first or middle name of their father or other male ancestor. Perhaps the father’s desire was to have a son. To ensure that his name is perpetuated in some form, a father might give his daughter a variation of his name.

For example, Adrienne’s father might have been Adrian, Brandie’s father was Brandon, Cammi’s was Cameron, Carlotta’s was Carl, Carol’s was Carroll, Cecille’s was Cecil, Claudette’s was Claude, Danielle’s was Daniel, Edwina’s was Edwin, Erica’s was Eric, Francine’s was Franklin, Georgeana’s was George, Geraldine’s was Gerald.

Similarly, Henrietta was named for Henry, Josephine for Joseph, Louise for Louis, Melvina for Melvin, Michelle for Michael, Nicole for Nicholas, Patricia for Patrick, Pauline for Paul, Ramona for Raymond, Roberta for Robert, Sherri for Sherrill, Stephanie for Stephen, Teresa for Terry, Vanessa for Vann, Vicki for Victor, Wallis for Wallace and Willhemina for Wilhelm.

One of William Shakespeare’s most famous quotes asks the question, “What’s in a name?” Indeed, a person’s name might carry along with it kinship, identity, affection and meaning. In my thinking, however, the name game calls for choosing names for the sake of the child and not for pleasing family members and friends.

Ray Hodge is a retired minister who makes his home in Smithfield.

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