I love the name “Ishmael.” I love the look of it and the sound of it and the feel of saying it. Our individual names help point us out among the millions of others around us. Many are, unfortunately, rather bland (“Joe,” “Jim,” “Sally,”) and those possessing them must work a little harder to distinguish themselves from all the Joes and Jims and Sallys around them.
Some of us have not only the names we were born with, but special names of affection by which our friends and loved ones refer to us. To my mother, especially when I was a child, I was “Punkin” or “Beaner.” My mother has been dead for over 40 years now, and yet even to think of those two names fills me with warmth and longing.
To my beloved Uncle Buck, I was “Guggenheimer.” To the rest of the world I was always either “Roge” or “Roger” (though to my non-related Uncle Bob I was “Rogie”) until I began writing books, from which point I have largely become “Dorien.”
Names have always fascinated me; their very sound create mental images: from the masculine crispness of the “K” sound, as in “Keith” and “Kurt” to the soothing softness of feminine “S” names—“Sarah” and “Susan” and “Shirley.” I have noticed in the writing of my books that I seem to have become strongly attracted to male names beginning with the letter J—“Jonathan,” “Joshua,” “Jared,” “Jake;” I'm going to find a place to introduce a character named “Jeremiah,” one of my current favorites.
It's possible to tell quite a bit about a person just from his/her name. Names tend to be faddish, and it's possible to fairly accurately tell a person's general age—or social status, or ethnicity—by the name they were given. “Millicent,” “Priscilla,” “Patience,” “Prudence,” “Chastity” have largely fallen out of popularity, perhaps because of the Victorian times the names evoke. Of course, like trends and fads in fashion, name popularity is somewhat cyclical. “Amanda,” “Emily,” and “Amelia” among them seem to come around regularly in cycles. Some names very popular today were largely unheard of until the latter half of the 20th century—“Amber” and “Ashley,” for example.
Ethnicity and national origin are fairly easy to determine in some names; it's hard not to miss the ethnicity of “Letitia” or “Jamal” or “Luanna” or “Hymie” or “Mitzpah,” or the nationality of “Serge” or “Vladamir” or “Svetlana.” Unfortunately, in their attempt to set their child apart by giving them an exotic-sounding name, they condemn the poor kid to a lifetime of standing out when they may have wished to blend in. Naming a child “Le-ah” (pronounced “LeDashAh”) or “MoonBaby” all but hangs an invisible neon arrow over their head.
But ours is a culture in which, it seems, people go out of their way to be trendy or exotic, and like the tides, they come and go with surprising regularity. I suppose it's somewhat akin to the socioeconomic desire to “keep up with the Joneses.” For some reason I do not understand, boys' names, while also trendy, do not seem to be quite so trendy as girls. For 2013, the top names for boys are “Liam,” “Noah” (the biblical influence), “Ethan,” and “Mason;” for girls, “Emma,” “Olivia,” “Sophia,” and “Isabella.”
In 1900, the four most popular boys' names were the solid, no-frills or fru-frus “John,” “William,” “James,” and “George”; girls were “Mary,” “Helen,” “Anna,” and “Margaret.” All are still common today, but hearken to a less name-status past.
I personally tend to prefer full names over contractions: “John” over “Jack,” “Richard” over “Dick” (though strangely I could not imagine the protagonist of my Dick Hardesty mystery series being called “Richard.”)
The discussion of names could go on indefinitely, but time and space here are limited. Oh, and we haven't even touched upon the meaning of all these names. And therein lies the topic for another blog...or six.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1).