Saturday, January 10, 2015

“It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to.” ~ (W.C. Fields)

Names. Our own special "labels". Husband occasionally draws my attention to names of young people in some team or school class mentioned in the local newspaper. I don't know whether it's a peculiarity of our town or an Oklahoma peculiarity, but some of the names are unusual to our eyes, unusually spelled too. Changing "C" for "K" is a common occurence (Karol, Kora, Karrie-Ann), using a surname as first name comes up frequently, which can be reasonable - or peculiar, crying out for abbreviation. Under a photograph in our local paper not long ago was a list of cheer-leader team names including: Wyatt, Micaila, Ashtyn, Kenzie, Kodee, Kiyana, Ali, Tayor, Rion, Bailey, Sydney, Chyan, Tori, Bailie, Karson, Hailey, Paige.

Names, like fashions in clothing, drop in and out of favour. A fun time for names, I thought, came just after the "love-in" hippie era of the 1960s when babies emerged called River, Leaf, Rain, Apple, Summer and suchlike. Then there'd be a swing to biblical names and many Joshuas, Sarahs, Rebeccas, Elis, Matthews, Marks etc would fill school registers.

Friends and relatives often shorten (or occasionally lengthen) the first names of their...friends and relatives. Why this became a custom is something of a mystery; maybe part laziness (can't be bothered to enunciate the full name), part wanting to appear affectionate or "one of the in-crowd" in respect of said friend or relative. Necessity for clarity is occasionally the reason for short-form names. At around age 14, in my school class, we had three Jennifers. They agreed amongst themselves that they'd be known as #1 Jen, #2 Jenny and #3 Jennifer. Mid-term yet another Jennifer joined us - if memory serves I think she agreed to be known by initials: "JP".

How shortened names such as Richard morphing to Rick came about is easy to understand, but a change to Dick not as easy. Was it due to a bit of rhyming fun, or because a few people found pronunciation of "R" difficult (as children sometimes do)? William becoming Will or Willy/Willie is obvious enough, but...Bill/Billy? Rhyming again, as Rick/Dick... Will/Bill?

I've no idea how John became Jack. My Dad was Kenneth John but nobody ever called him anything but Jack. At this point in my keyboard scribbles I went to look for an answer to the John/Jack question, found an article on this very topic of shortened names at Mentalfloss: The Origins of 10 Nicknames. I wouldn't count shortened names as true nicknames, though I realise these do come within that definition. I'd define a real nickname as something quite apart from one's given name, whether in long or short version; something perhaps related to appearance, or talent, surname or profession (or both): such as "Nobby" once often used as nickname of anyone whose surname was Clark, because clerks in the old days wrote, using pen and ink, for hours on end, causing knuckles and finger joints to become...knobby.

My mother and grandmother used to tell me that in "the bad old days" any female who had the misfortune to work as a servant to a wealthy family was often called Mary by her employers, whether that was her name or not. Marys were sometimes called Polly too (my father's mother was an example of this), possibly via the old (southern) English habit, that still survives: putting 'L' at the end of an abbreviation in place of 'R'. I noticed in an interview between John Cleese and Eric Idle, just the other day, that John Cleese referred to Eric as "El". Terry, already an abbreviation of Terence, is sometimes further adapted to Tel. So: Mary/Mol/Molly/Polly? And Dorothy/Doll/Dolly.

Online, these days, we can choose for ourselves the names we're known by - if the chosen name is not "already taken", and as long as we are willing to make it unusual enough not to be obvious to would-be impersonators. In a fantasy future, either dystopic or utopic, I can imagine the restrictions we now find in choosing online screen names applied in real life - a population where no two people can bear the same first name, and where census takers are faced with recording individuals as Janetx742*/0, Berniee00*017, etc. Census takers, over their morning vitamin and mineral shakes, would tell each other tales of golden "olden days" when people had "real" names like John and William and Mary and Ann.


mike said...

I'm the recipient of "Michael", but I far prefer the less formal "Mike". My mother selected that name, but she preferred calling me by my middle name, "LeRoy", to which my father called me "Roy". Mom would always pronounce the moniker as Leeeeeroy, but took pride in designating the word French for "the king". Go figure!

Your post reminds me of an incident when I worked at an inner-city, indigent-care hospital many years ago. A woman gave birth to a girl and thought a word she read on her medical chart was beautiful, to which she named her daughter. She named the girl SyPhylis...pronounced Si-Phylis. The medical staff was diligent in convincing the mother to a name change ASAP...LOL. The name does sound nice, if the connotation is not considered.

There are a number of old world names whose pronunciations can throw me, such as Persephone, which I originally thought was pronounced Per-se-phony. It's a bit like guessing the pronunciation of "Worcestershire", which isn't at all like it's written. I lived in Boston for a number of years and it took several years for me to realize that the place the locals called "Wooooooster" was actually Worcester, MA.

mike (again) said...

P.S. - Not only are there the monikers of given names, there's also the resonance between first and last name. Texas' "The First Lady of Texas" is Ima Hogg:

Twilight said...

mike ~ Mike's nice and staight-forward - or even Mick(y) (as long as not Irish or a mouse). LeRoy though! :-) Reminded me of that song "Bad, bad LeRoy Brown"- ...And if you go down there
You better just beware
Of a man name of Leroy Brown.

LOL - yes there are some great tongue-in-cheek made-up names or name+surname. Occasionally one does come across a person with the misfortune to actually have to live with one of them. Helen Bach is a good one. (Ima Hogg....LOL! How very Texan).

Blame Worcester's mangled pronunciation on the obtuse English - there's also Towcester - pronounced Toaster; Cholmondley pronounced Chumley, and countless others.

LB said...

Twilight ~ My name's *very* unusual, doesn't show up on any of the baby name lists and gets mispronounced all the time.

I have *heard* of several other women with the same name but have only met two of them. One was a woman who'd just ordered flowers from a local florist and was about to pick them up when I arrived ~ the florist knew me by name and told me, so I waited to meet her. She was around my age and very attractive, an artist.

The other person is my sister, the child my mother gave up for adoption at birth. Though her adopted parents changed her name once they adopted her, it still showed up on birth records, which is how I found her.

As a child, my mother's nickname for me was "Jezebel"! Thankfully, at the time I didn't know why. Names can make a difference.


mike ~ My husband is from Boston and says "Wooooooster" too.:)

mike (again) said...

LB - Hey, long time, no hear! Woooooster is pretty much a suburb of Boston now. I lived just north of Boston for six years and commuted to Cambridge (across the Charles River from Boston) every day for work. I very much enjoyed my time there. Boston proper is easy to walk, with lots of good, inexpensive, varied ethnic foods...always something to do and see there.

I'm glad that you have a unique name. Do you like it more than I don't like LeRoy? My mother didn't bother with euphemisms when she was angered...curse words became nicknames at those times...LOL.

LB said...

mike ~ So in our mothers' eyes, you were a king and I was a princess?

I love my name and appreciate how unique it is. Actually, I like the name Leroy too, though better you than me!.:)

LB said...

Sorry, meant to type LeRoy with a capital R. Thought I did, maybe it self-corrected.

Rossa said...

Names are interesting as they are always 'given' by someone else. Parent(s) of a child or the first person to see something, like a new comet or asteroid. Meanings of names are also a study all of their own.

My real name means "white girl" in Gaelic while my moniker refers to the colour of my hair. My sister was given Marice a welsh long form of Mary which she didn't like because people couldn't spell or pronounce it properly. Changed it by deed poll to Marisa.

I wonder what would happen if we were all given a name until aged 18 and then all had to choose one for ourselves.

Place names in England as you know Twilight are fun for visitors as well as locals. Near me we have Appletreewick which is called Ap'trick.

There are a few in my family. Ughtred, Ileone, Fynvola, Fleetwood as first names. As for surnames, a lot have either biblical origins or connections with work as in wainwright.

It is interesting to consider why we need to label anything. Why is a chair called a chair? Who made the first one and why was it called a chair?

Twilight said...

LB ~ Hmm princess....does your namesake wear her hair in such a way as to keep her ears warm? Lovely name if that's the one. :-)

Twilight said...

Rossa ~ Yes, study of names, whether labelling people, places or things, their origins and meanings is a topic all on its own about which numerous books have been written.

I suppose we need names of people, places and things to aid communication.

A few grunts, signs and signals by our earliest ancestors in different parts of the globe morphed into specific sounds, and the sounds became words, which early academics,
in what became the worlds first civilisations, managed to turn into written language... Maybe that's how it went - off the top of my head before first cup of coffee!

You have some interesting names in your background! The one I like best, unearthed as I was researching our family history was Petronella - my 9th or 10th great grandmother.

mike (again) said...

Interesting essay regarding Jupiter-Saturn 20 year & 200 year "element" cycles:

LB said...

Twilight ~ Hope I understand what you mean. In case I've confused you, my given name doesn't mean princess (I don't think).

What I was referring to in my princess comment was the nickname my mother gave me, "Jezebel", the not-so-nice princess from the Bible.

Or maybe I've misunderstood your comment?

Now I'm curious. Which princess were you thinking of?

Twilight said...

mike ~ That was a good read - many thanks.. I remember Adrian Ross Duncan's stuff from years ago - he's always a worthwhile read - English, but I'd lost track of his writings until now.

The only query I have about what he proposes for 2020 onward - is:
Is it really Age of Aquarius or just some kind of sub-era maybe dominated by Aquarius.

If we are to believe traditional astrology the true Age of Aq doesn't come about until precession brings it around - a few centuries to go yet.

Also, though Aquarius, the sign, has some admirable enough keyword characteristics, it has some negative vibes also, maybe due to its traditional ruler, Saturn, or maybe due to the inconsistency of its modern ruler Uranus. I'm wary of painting any Age, or era, of Aquarius as all that's wonderful.

I do agree with Mr Duncan though that 2020/25 will be a point of some kind of change - have said so many times. Whether the change will be all for the good ...or just a fairly short-lived era of relative relief - nobody can tell with any certainty.

Twilight said...

LB ~ I was thinking of Princess Leia.

LB said...

Twilight ~ The Star Wars character did wear her hair braided around her ears, didn't she?

It's a beautiful name, but not mine.:)

Vanilla Rose said...

I kblame the Kardashians for the Knames beginning kwith K.

Vanilla Rose said...

Kvanilla Krose is not kimpressed kwith Kardashians.

Twilight said...

Kvanilla Krose~ Me neither! :-)