Friday, October 16, 2009

What's in a name?

Yesterday was a big news day - a homemade weather balloon escaped from a backyard, with a six year old boy possibly inside it. My older son, home from school, announced that if he had parents like that, he'd be doing everything possible to escape from them, too. You see, the parents had named their son Falcon. "Who the heck names their kid Falcon?" my son asked indignantly. I answered, without knowing, that it had to be hippie parents from Colorado. And of course I was right.

You can tell everything and nothing by a person's name, everything about the family and not much about the person, because, after all, most of us have nothing to do with what our name is.

I like this idea from a historical novel by Deeanne Gist. The following excerpt from the book, set in the Washington Territory at the end of the Civil War, is a dialogue between a ten year boy and the novel's heroine:

"This here is Two."

"Excuse me? I didn't quite catch your sister's name."

"Two, we call her Two."

"I see. And what's her real name?"

"She hasn't decided yet."

"What do you mean?"

"We get to pick our own names when we're old enough. So I'm One, she's Two, my brother's Three, and the baby's Four."

"Now, now, no loving parent would ever name his children One, Two, Three and Four."

Well, I would have! I did not want to name my kids personality unknown.

Pregnancy and childbirth were snaps compared to the daunting task of selecting names. How nice it would have been to wait a couple of years to get to know my child before deciding his name. Without that option, I was paralyzed with uncertainty. I was not fond of most traditional names, not from a family that passed down names, and did not want to be too trendy. So my kids ended up with the rather boring names of Kelly, Lindsay and Brian. I admit to a little imagination with the naming of our second son Wiley - the sneaky little devil born six years after we took "permanent" birth control measures. Time will tell whether he enjoys wearing the name as much as we enjoyed naming him.

I do think it is important that a person like his name. How many times have you heard someone say "that's my name, but I go by.....?"

My mother is from a family where the kids were named Thelma, Thaddeus, Owen, Mildred, Gearldine, etc. Almost all of them picked their own nicknames as children, and those are the names on their tombstones. My mom legally changed her first name to Jo when I was in high school. I don't know why more people don't do that when they dislike their given name.

My husband's first name is Ricky, not Richard or Rich or Rick, but Ricky. Family legend says his sisters picked his name out of the phone book.

One day, after I finished a telephone conversation with him, my secretary came into my office to apologize. It seemed when my husband Ricky called, she initially hesitated to put him through, since she knew my husband's name was "Rick." He explained to her that no, he usually went by his name Ricky, but many people, including me, called him Rick. I was the one who ended up apologizing. After dating for over two years and being married for over six years, I hadn't bothered to find out he preferred his "real" name instead of a shortened version. I've made a point since then of asking people what they "go by" when there is any hint of ambiguity.

I believe I lucked out in the name department with Kerry. It went perfectly with my maiden last name of McCarley and goes fine with Balthrop now. It's gender neutral, which quickly allows me to toss as junk mail anything addressed to "Mr." I can identify my close friends as those who spell it correctly. And I think it will wear well in old age. But that's just me, Kerry Layne McCarley Balthrop.

1 comment:

Ricky said...

I thought my sisters named me after Ricky Nelson. We're all getting old enough no one really remembers.