Names, Names, Names

As a genealogist and an author a writer, names fascinate me. Consequently, when I saw this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge published by The Daily Post it ticked all kinds of boxes. I often look at the Daily Prompt and the Weekly Writing Challenges, but rarely do I take part (for the Daily Prompts its usually because I’m a day or so late). In a nutshell, the challenge is to consider the power of names and to look at my own history with my name.

As a child, growing up in the 1980s I never met anybody else with my name. Whilst perhaps not considered ‘exotic’ by many, I longed for a normal name. Toby would’ve been my first choice. I would’ve been happy with Steve. Ian would’ve been fine. (To put this into perspective I also thought that I was an android and/or adopted for a large part of my pre-adolescent life.) All of my brothers have ‘regular’ names. I had no idea why I had been singled out, so I asked my mother why she/they had chosen the names they did for the four of us.

She told me that she wanted to choose names that paired well with our Scottish-sounding surname (there was an assumption, based on the surname alone, that my father’s family were from Scotland, but research by me seems to suggest otherwise – in fact you can’t get much further away from Scotland than Dorset and still be on the same landmass). There wasn’t much thought given to the meaning of those names, but definitely to the way that the three names (we all have first an middle names) sounded together.

In turn, my brothers’ names mean ‘House-guard Unknown-Etruscan-word’, ‘Healer Stone’ and ‘Defending-men Of-Brix [a town in France]’. Technically my name means ‘Of-the-Lord Rich-guard’. I wasn’t born on a Sunday and my parents aren’t particularly religious. Clearly my first name was chosen purely for the sound and not the meaning. My middle name, however, was the name of my father’s stepfather who was gravely ill in hospital at the time of my birth (indeed, he passed away shortly after ‘meeting’ me), something I’m proud of (the naming for a family member part, not my face causing the death of an old man part).

As I’ve grown older I’ve pretty much made peace with my name. Its still fairly uncommon. I’ve only met or heard of a handful of people with the same name, and slept with some of them (as a side point – sleeping with someone who has the same name as you is a little weird, but not as weird as sleeping with someone who has the same name as a sibling or a parent). The Wikipedia list of notable people with my name is fairly short but is widespread across the worlds of media, politics, military, sports, the arts and the sciences.

As I say, I’m okay with it now. Its different enough to cause me to stand out and although I have suffered ridicule because of it (teenage boys – go figure), I am not ashamed of it. Which is good enough for me.

When I write and need to create a new character the choosing of a name is something I take very seriously. All of us carry particular prejudices and opinions about names. (Recently, I read an article regarding a number of people in the Middle East who were named Saddam Hussein after the Iraqi leader and who have subsequently found it a very difficult burden to shoulder.) But apart from that, I do like to investigate the meanings of the names I’m using. Luckily, in this age of the internet, I don’t have to have a name dictionary (although I do have one regarding surnames). My favourite site for this is Behind The Name.

During my years as a genealogist the reusing of certain names has become very apparent . The pool of names used for children varies dependant on national and local fashions of the time, religious beliefs, the level of education and also other familial names. The mother’s maiden name often becomes the middle name of one or more of the children. The name of a wealthy uncle could be passed on, in the hope of money following the same path.

There is an almost standard pattern for the naming of children:

  • The first son was named after the father’s father
  • The second son after the mother’s father
  • The third son after the father
  • The fourth son after the father’s eldest brother
  • The first daughter after the mother’s mother
  • The second daughter after the father’s mother
  • The third daughter after the mother
  • The fourth daughter after the mother’s eldest sister

Obviously not all families followed this, and some children could be named out of the pattern due to the death of a family member or perhaps a famous event, or the death of an older child leading to the same name being ‘recycled’ for a younger sibling.

Whatever the reason, the name a child carries generally says more about the parents than the child. At the end of the day. as W. C. Fields said: “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”

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12 comments

  1. Being a female version of the Defender of Men I did find it odd growing up through school with two male Alex’s in my class but never really responding to my name because it was often the teacher shouting at the boys and not so much at me.
    I’ve had people have a go at me for having a boys name, people mis-hear it and call me Alice or even Alan once.
    I do remember asking my parents why they named me Alex(andra), originally my Mum had been thinking that if I was a boy I would be called Ross and then Rosalind for a girl but seemed to change her mind once I appeared. My Dad’s boss at the time was called Alex but I don’t know if that came into it at all. Plus with my siblings both having names that began with A, perhaps it just seemed like a good plan to have a third A.
    I often wish that these days parents would give more thought to what names they give their kids, so many kids these days have been given such dumb names that they are being lined up to be bullied about it at school. Although mind you, perhaps they will end up in a class full of similarly weird named kids so it might sound positively normal!
    And I definitely get the weirdness of sleeping with someone with the same name having slept with an Alex before, and also having slept with someone with the same name as my Dad although thankfully not the same name as my brother (or indeed my Mum or sister!)

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    1. I can’t imagine you as a Rosalind … Obviously it would make quoting Shakespeare about you a bit easier.

      I know that I was going to be called Amy if I was a girl … Dodged a bullet there.

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      1. Yeah I think Mum wanted to shorten it to Ros, but yeah I am quite glad I didn’t get named that. I did used to wish my middle name was Amy (after initially thinking I wanted it to be Mary and then finding out that was my Mum’s middle name and changing my mind.) But perhaps I am ok with not having a middle name at all.

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