What IS in a name?

When we were deciding names for our daughter, we agonized over the decision. We wanted to be sure to select a name that would be distinctive and cute, traditional but a little bit different. Something that would coordinate with our last name nicely and not spell a bad word in its initials. Since we named her Melody, two more friends have named their daughters Melody. Choosing a child’s name is really a difficult decision for some parents. It can have repercussions through grade school if it’s weird or unusual – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called Aunt Martha by my peers! – and really, I don’t get the strange spellings we are seeing these days. I joked with Tara that we could spell my daughter’s name Melo’Dee. It was a joke though, don’t worry!

The middle name for some people is just as important. We settled on Rae, simply because we wanted to honor her grandfather Ray who will never have the joy of knowing her. Other old family names have been used in my family. John’s family seems to go with names new to the family. My friend really wanted to name her son Joaquin but her husband objected so that fell to the middle name.

Coordinating the first and middle names is difficult enough, but you have to look at how it all goes with the last name. You don’t want to wind up with a funny word spelled out in initials! One of the names we considered was Emilie (an old family name) and the middle name Grace, but John pointed out her initials would be EGG. Off went those names to the recycle bin. Rosemary Angela Gibbons? Nope! Henrietta Alice Gibbons? Uh, no. Francis Andrea Gibbons? Never! You get the picture.

Today I read an article expressing outrage – outrage I say! – that women change their last name upon marriage. Wait, back up a second…what? The author was seriously irritated that women give up their identity when they change their names after marriage. I really need to think about this, because personally I never thought of my last name as my identity, or even that changing it would change me. I always figured that when I got married, the act of combining my life with another person would be the big change. My name change is my badge of pride in being the wife of who I am married to! Our daughter shares our name too, and we are a family identified on paper by that name.

But again, that doesn’t make us who we are, does it? It’s not like we are the bin Laden family – that poor family is forever linked to Enemy #1, just like the Hitlers were. As a mere peon, doesn’t what I do in my life shape who I am rather than a name?

The article mentioned things like “would you want to listen to songs by Barbara Brolin? (Barbara Streisand)” Well, personally no, because I don’t care for her, but aside from that, I think this is a poor example. A person with an established media name becomes that commodity. If Barbara Streisand had really become famous as Barbara Apple Pie, we’d find that the norm and Barbara Streisand the tongue twister. It’s rare for a celebrity to change their name after marriage because it’s their trademark – and many times it isn’t their “real” name anyway, lending creedence to the trademark concept in the first place. Who wants to buy records by John Deutchendorf? Well, no one, but they sure lined up to buy them from John Denver, and I’m pretty sure the masses were not really interested in going to see Stanley Eisen front a band, but the minute he walks out on stage with a big black star painted over one eye, everyone knows Paul Stanley of KISS.

So, who we are…is it defined by our names? Or by how we live our lives? Or by the lessons we learn and teach?

If you ask me, I don’t think changing my name caused me to give up my identity. My name doesn’t make me, the same as my career or my choice of home town do not make me.

I make me who I am.

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4 thoughts on “What IS in a name?

  1. Great post as usual, I couldn’t agree more.
    However, I think another reason many celebrities don’t change their name is for convenience. In most cases, they would just have to change it back a couple months later anyway. LOL!

  2. Loved this. Some naming traditions have deep origins that have been forgotten in modern times. It is now the ‘ME’ generation. You go girl.

  3. Great post. In college I became friends and later room mates with a girl whose name was my first name, my sister’s middle name and her last name was two letters different from mine (Patterson vs Peterson). We couldn’t have been more different. I joked with my husband before we got married that he should change his name to mine so he could get an easy to spell name. Guess what didn’t happen. We agonized over names for our girls. What do we like, what has meaning for us, isn’t hard to spell (because it’s tough enough to deal with our last name) and goes with our “ethnic” last name. I have the same initials a my eldest daughter by happy coincidence and Grant has the same initials as our youngest. When we were in a conundrum about her name, it helped push us in the right direction. That’s a special connection we share with our girls, just like our last name. We are a family and our name signifies that. I don’t particularly care what I’m called so long as I get to be called Mommy, Sweetheart, Friend and Wife and all the other names that mean ME when spoken by those I love. I’ll take a life time (and hopefully longer) of spelling my “new” name and not missing that I never had to spell my “old” name as long as that name signifies ME to the person speaking it.

  4. Kat you are so right about forgotten traditions. Just imagine reusing a name these days if your child died, as they did a hundred years ago. People would be so uncomfortable with it, as if it’s a jinx. And using the mother’s maiden name as the middle name of the second child, while the first child gets the father’s first name as his middle name…so complex. Maybe I’m glad we don’t follow those traditions anymore, lol.

    T you are right! Could you imagine Britney Spears Alexander Federline on a record? LMAO!

    And Diane, you captured it perfectly. I love being called Mommy, Mar, friend, wife, daughter, mother… That makes ME me, too.

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