html xmlns:og='' xmlns:expr=''> Lounging at the Waldorf: What's in a name.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What's in a name.

Around the age of eight or so, I began checking out baby name books from the library. I was fascinated by the secret meanings, the hidden histories, the little stories, directed to you and from you, all day and night.

Girl Reading Comic Book in Newsstand, Charles "Teenie" Harris, 1940

In the ‘80’s, if I told a young mom with a child named Zoe that I had grown up with a Zoey, they would look at me horrified and offended. I was just a kid and too young to realize what they heard was, “Neither you nor your daughter are particularly original.” After getting this odd, hurt faced response a few times, I knew I had to alter my words. I’d wait a few seconds before adding, “A boy named Zoey.” Then, they’d crumble. A boy? Why didn’t they think of that? 

And that, friends, is how I learned the importance of dramatic timing. 

Fuck You, Marion Peck, 2008

Dan was a cook. I was a waitress. Together, we would sing show tunes when the restaurant 
was slow.  

Oh, my god. You’re like a gay boy! 

That’s because Raina means ‘queen!’

Image by Lab Partners

Laura Wattenberg, author of "The Baby Name Wizard: A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby" (Three Rivers Press, 2005), conducted an informal survey on her blog to find the most disliked names in America. 

For boys it’s Jayden, Brayden, Kayden, etc. and for girls there’s Madison, Makenzie, Makenna, and so forth. 

Basically, they’re just the most popular names in America. One day you’re admired for your creativity, the next day your kid’s name is as out of style as pesto. You just can’t win.

In the movie Splash, a mermaid is so unfamiliar with the customs of life above water that when she picks a human name, it’s that of an avenue, the last name of a long dead president. You are meant to giggle at the innocent ignorance of the wide-eyed blonde who is just getting used to having legs and wearing clothes. I’ve never understood how and why this bit of comic relief, a girl called Madison, became so real, so beloved. 

On Wattenberg’s list, I noticed that what is peaking in the rest of the country, I’m going to guess the suburbs, is not what’s going on in the cities. In places like NYC and LA, it’s all about old man/old lady names such as Ruby, Hank, Oscar, Max, Clyde, Barney, and Hazel. Part of it is trend I’m sure. But it’s also a natural cycle. When you name a kid after a grandparent, you get a little baby with an old person's name.  Just as my husband, Murray.

In Brooklyn, you never meet kids named Brooklyn. 

Boys in Brooklyn, Danny Lyon, 1974

I was riding the 6 train when I heard someone say, "Raina, you sit there."  

I looked up and saw a mom hustling a girl, about age 8, in the seat next to me.  

"You're Raina?"  

She nodded.  

"I'm Raina, too!" I told her but I could tell she didn't believe me so I showed her my ID.  

Her face bloomed sunshine.

Raina and Raina.  Same spelling and everything.  I wanted to take a picture with her but parents are weird about that sort of thing so I didn't even bother asking.

Once a name goes feminine, it rarely moves back. Examples:  Carroll, Marion, Robin, Jody, Evelyn, Leslie, and now, I guess Madison. 

Topping Wattenberg’s list of most hated girls names is Nevaeh as in Heaven spelled backwards. Sadly, I have to agree.  That’s pretty bad. 

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