Whatsisname Smith

With the vast number of bloggers about, and the fact that we inevitably link to those we feel an affinity with, synchronicity is hardly surprising. I was musing on strange names, and so was Marylin at http://warnerwriting.wordpress.com/ – she  reminded me that the great John Wayne was really called Marion.


Cropped screenshot of John Wayne and Angie Dic...

Cropped screenshot of John Wayne and Angie Dickinson from the trailer for the film Rio Bravo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


“Strange” is, of course, relative. Like the USA and Australia, the multi-racial UK now has lots of foreign names, and who is to say what sounds pleasant or not? A fairly recent trend is to give girls surnames as first names (Taylor and Paige spring to mind). Pop and rock stars in the seventies and eighties – especially the Geldofs – picked some outright outlandish names, and who could blame Zowie Bowie for changing his to Duncan Jones?


There is also a well-established habit of using ordinary words as names for our babies, and new ones are constantly coming into fashion. Girls have been called after flowers for centuries: Lily, Primrose, Daisy, Jasmine – I once knew a family with a mother Rose and daughters Iris and Heather and who could forget Hyacinth Bucket with her sisters Violet and Rose? Many of the old Puritan names of virtues still abound: Joy, Verity, Mercy, Constance, Patience and so on.


It also isn’t unusual to find girls named for towns, countries or provinces: Florence, Verona, Paris, Georgia, Virginia, Brittany, Lorraine, and even India, for instance. I wonder why those in particular, and not Oslo, Minnesota, Sweden, Zambia or Burgundy? And why do we feel that the Beckhams’ choice of Brooklyn for their first-born was preferable to Manhattan or Bronx?


Some countries still have laws regulating the names parents may choose for their children. In Switzerland, before the birth, you have to state both a girl’s and a boy’s name for the baby about to be born when you enter hospital, and there are rules as to which names are allowed. In cases where a name could be used for either sex, such as Andrea, Michele or Nicola (masculine in Italian and Romantsch), a second name is required identifying the child as definitely male or female.


In her comment on my last post Aunty Uta reminded me of the lists of acceptable names that the German state used to publish up until the nineteen-sixties: my pal Tuesday (actually born on a Thursday) would not have been accepted, nor another friend’s grandchildren, Ebony and Willow, even in translation. Hard to imagine, even in these enlightened times, German girls being christened Dienstag, Ebenholz or Weide.


This particular Ebony, incidentally, is a blue-eyed blonde, which makes me wonder whether some parents even think of the meaning of the names they choose.  When her little sister was born, it crossed my mind that her parents might name her Ivory, but no, she became Willow. You could create an entire arboretum in a large family. Hazel has been around a long time, as have Holly, Ivy, Olive and Rowan, and there are plenty of people called Ash (usually short for Ashley) but why not Birch, Beech, Elm, Oak or Cedar? Great if the surname is Grove, Wood or Forrest!


Yet another trend is to christen or register children under the familiar or short form of a name – Charlie, Jack, Tom.  I feel this is cheating the child in a way, depriving him of the option of being Charles, John or Thomas. I thought this was a recent innovation, but my genealogical research revealed nineteenth century Harry, Frank, Fanny and Florrie in my own family tree instead of Henry, Francis, Frances and Florence.


Fashions in names come and go. You can often guess at the age of a person from their name, and pity the poor child named after an elderly relative whose name is now outdated. The only glimmer of hope is that the name has been out of style for so long that it has lost its connotations of elderly aunts smelling of lavender, and will become trendy again. Where are the glamorous supermodels called Elsie, Edna and Ethel? The hunky stars called Horace and Percy?



4 thoughts on “Whatsisname Smith

  1. This is a fun post, Cat. My mother’s name was Edna. She hated it. I still can’t believe that Gwyneth Paltrow named her daughter Apple. I would probably have picked (pun intended) a specific apple like Winesap or MacIntosh. 🙂

    • And my mother is Elsie – which does seem to be slowly coming back! Maybe Gwyneth Paltrow is planning a fruit bowl – Apple, Pear, Banana – The Geldofs already have a Peaches!

  2. I think this is a very interesting topic. Some “celebs” and other nutters seem to give their children odd names, almost out of arrogance, and I often wince when I think of how they will deal with it when they get older. I love that Bowie’s kid changed his name to Duncan Jones. I dodn’t know that, and I don’t blame him.

    • Some very egoistic parents around. As David Bowie was in the news today – it’s his 66th birthday, surprise surprise! – I looked him up. I didn’t know his real surname was Jones, so his son only had to add the name Duncan to the others.

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