A Rose by any other name...

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

In Sunday’s paper, two adorable little blondes in frothy blue dresses are seen rollicking in puddles after a rainstorm. They were at a Butterfly Festival, and could almost be taken for butterflies themselves.

The photo drew me in, but their names held my attention. The 5-year-old is Happy and her 2-year-old sister is Coco Bluebell. At least that’s what the cut-line says; I hope they are real. They are unusual without being cumbersome and should stand up to use for years.

Their last name(s) is a hyphenated name, the parents’ surnames. I’ve never understood how that works. In alphabetic lists, are the Leveson-Jones girls with the Ls or the Js? Is the maternal name always first?

Maybe that’s a good plan if their father’s name is almost anonymous, like Jones or Smith. Ron Linton’s wife is Carol Jensen-Linton. He said she kept her maiden name until she ran for public office some years ago, and decided to hook on Ron’s last name. Their son Adam has Jensen as a middle name, so that works with no need to hyphenate.

Our eldest kept her own last name when she married John Munnell. Friends secretly thought she was less than committed to the marriage, and were not surprised that the union did not last a full two years.

I was grown and should have known better when someone remarked that a woman is hardly expressing her independence by keeping her own surname, when her maiden name was a man’s name first, her father’s. At least that’s usually the way it works. In doing genealogical research, I came across a male child whose last name was his mother’s because she never married. Pretty gutsy in the 19th century.

The least parents can do is to keep that aspect of life simple by choosing first names that don’t need to be spelled or pronounced slowly for others to understand. Dave frequently uses his father’s first name, Branson, as a last name when it doesn’t really matter. But he needs to let me know that when I’m trying to pick up the pizza he ordered and I keep telling the guy at Pizza Hut Satterthwaite.

I very much favor naming children for beloved relatives or friends. Anne, my middle name, completes the honor of both my grandmothers, Sallie Mae Jacobs and Anne Dimmick. Wherein lies another snag: I have to spell both my first and last names if it’s important they are correct. Otherwise, I become Sally.

I thought we spared our daughters (Mary, Alice, and Jean) that inconvenience by forgoing my favorites, Catharine and Elizabeth, as too long and lispy to pair well with Satterthwaite. Still, Jean gets Jeanne occasionally.

The times, of course, reflect trends, literature, and well-known public figures, influencing for and against their names. For example, the German name Adolph bottomed out to near disuse in the United States about 1950 and never rebounded. No surprise there.

According to the Social Security Administration, the most popular name for a baby boy born in the U.S. in 2009 was Jacob. For a girl, Isabella.

Jacob is an English derivation of the Old Testament Hebrew name Ya’aqov-el (may God protect), and Isabella (originally Isabel) is actually a medieval form of Elizabeth.

To round out the Top 10 popular boys’ names in 2009 we have Ethan, Michael, Alexander, William, Joshua, Daniel, Jayden, Noah, and Anthony – all but four are Biblical.

Isabella leads the Top 10 girls’ names, followed by Emma, Olivia, Sophie, Ava, Emily, Madison, Abigail, Chloe, and Mia. Only three have Biblical roots. Most are literary.

Can anyone explain why girls can have boys’ names, but perish the thought that a boy might be named Sue? Even when the name is “feminized” by endings – like Dannee, Johnetta, Davida, Larri – girls get names that were formerly male only – Bruce, Glenn – far oftener than boys get girls’ monikers.

A few girls’ names given to boys apparently haven’t survived to the present day: Evelyn, Shirley, and Marion. One man whose given name is usually considered feminine is Congressman Lynn Westmoreland. He was first elected in a year that saw unprecedented success for female office-seekers, and I believed then that he avoided sending his mug-shot to the papers.

I’d like to know whether giving babies names like LaQueefa, Tayowanna, Lemonjello, and Ja’Darius doesn’t set them up for ridicule and failure. Does an obviously ethnic name like Mohammad or Eduardo skew the odds that human resources managers will be prejudiced by a resumé before the applicant has reached his office?

Names may be melodious and unusual, but what do they predispose? Has British actress Honeysuckle Weeks succeeded because of or in spite of her unusual but unwieldy name?

His name is the second gift parents give a child, after the gift of life itself. He can’t give it back. Keep it understandable and easy to spell, make sure it works with your last name, and beware of its implications.

A Rose by any other name would smell (perceive a scent) as sweet(pleasing to the taste, agreeable, fragrant).

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