Saturday, September 22, 2007


Names. They're one of the first things our parents give us, and while we inherit our surnames and sometimes change them over the course of a lifetime, our first names are chosen just for us and stay with us until we die. Thought some people change their first names for various reasons, for the vast majority of us, what we are given at birth is buried with us at death.

Our parents choose our names from a variety of sources for many different reasons. Some parents like the tried-and-true classic names that everyone knows, that have been around forever, that are not considered "funny" names. Many times, such names are inspired by family members or friends and a parent bestows such a name to honor that person. Other parents like to jazz up a classic name with an alternate spelling. Many parents go for something trendy, either choosing from the pool of the names-du-jour of the year, as a relative did recently by naming her daughter Olivia, or choosing to give a kid a constructed neologism of a name so that they will be "unique". Naturally, such a child will usually end up going through their lives correcting the spelling and pronunciation of their names, but most kids with extremely unusual names tend to like their names just as much as more conventionally named offspring.

While most people either love their names or learn to like or at least tolerate their names, some people choose to change their first names entirely or decide to go by their more euphonious middle names. And, in some parts of the country, it's common for children to be called by their middle names from the beginning.

In my own family, my sister was named after one of our grandmothers who had, unfortunately, what most people consider an "old lady" name. My sister always despised this name and using her middle name wasn't really an option, as a favorite aunt went by that name. So, as an adult, she chose a name she felt was more fitting for her personality and went to court to have it changed legally. Most people in the family use her old first name, anyway, but I make every effort to use the new name. After all, she's had it for 20 years now, and secondly, I think it's plain rude to continue calling someone by a name they hated enough to legally change. Indeed, when she got married and changed her LAST name, no one in the family had any trouble adjusting to that. I don't see why learning a new first name should be any more difficult.

My father, and all his siblings, had always been known by their middle names, even as children. He was born and raised in the Deep South, where this practice was common at the time he was born and raised, though somewhat less common now. This was convenient for when my brother was born and was given a "junior" name, but could be known by his first name as my Dad was already using his middle name.

For most names, a standard nickname exists, that most people use informally with their family, friends, and coworkers. This is typically a shortened version of the first name, with or without a -y, -ie, or -i, with the dimunitive suffix found more often among children, though many times, particularly in some parts of the country, persists into adulthood.

For me, as with my siblings, my parents went the classic name/honor the relatives route. My first name, William, is after my mother's father, a name which I share with my uncle. Both of them were/are known as Bill or Billy, so my parents started using Will with me right away, especially as my Uncle Bill lived with us when I was first born.

People tried to call me Willy when I was little -- and sometimes when I was older -- but I never tolerated that. I figured if you're going to call me Willy, you might as well call me Penis. In the 90s, I also had to endure "Slick Willy" jokes ad nauseum, as you might expect. Of course, some women have called me "William the Conqueror", and I tolerate that much better, typically with a shit-eating grin on my face.

My nickname-of-choice, combined with my surname, the commonest surname in the English-speaking world, is that of a well-known celebrity. People laugh, telling me I have the same as he does, but I correct them and say that he has the same name as me -- I'm ten years older than him and I had the name first, thank you very much!

Feel free to tell me the story of your name in the c
omment box.


Patty said...

Well being married to a man with the name Abraham Lincoln, I'm not going to say anything about having the same name as someone famous or other wise.

My maiden name was Custer, but THANK GOODNESS, my parents DID NOT name me Georgetta or some awful name like that. In fact, I found out years later, I was given the name of a girl my Father more or less had a crush on. I can't imagine what my Mother most have thought each time she had to use my name.

Cyn said...

the nick for Cynthia is usually Cindy..which i loath as much as you do Willy. in real life its Cynthia. online its Cyn. the name itself from my maternal grandmother. and it was a popular name at that time. my last name also has some celebrity attachment..bored beyond tears w/ ..'oh, are you related to so and so?' and the look of astonishment when i say..'why, yes i am.' cuz most folks ain't.

Libertine said...

Well, at least I don't get people asking me if I'm related to my celebrity namesake, considering that he's Black and I'm not.