February 18th, 2005

A Difficult Matter

Names are weird. Most people have three names: first, middle, and last. That’s considered “normal.” Parents choose a name they like for the first name, then sometimes “honor” someone in the family tree by using their name as a middle name. This is why, I believe, most people are shy about telling you their middle name. It’s usually something like “Fogbert” after their great-great-great-great-grandfather on their mother’s side who fought in the Civil War. My middle name is “Allen,” which is also my father’s middle name. My older brother has my dad’s first name as his middle name, which makes me wonder what would have happened if we’d had another brother.

Some people go by their middle names because their first name causes problems. I have a friend named David William who named his first son David Winfield. So far in his life, the younger David has been called Winfield. Some people don’t like their first name, so they go by their middle name. Maybe it’s an attempt to sever ties with that first name person and start over with the second name person – kind of like a second lease on life, maybe.

Some people have two middle names. President George Herbert Walker Bush (the first President Bush) is a prime example. While the giving of two middle names generally seems high-falutin’, it isn’t necessarily so. Consider “Mary Jo Anne Pinefield,” a name I just made up but gives more of a Southern flavor than a high society one.

There are some people who don’t have middle names at all. After struggling over a first name, the parents just said, “Forget it. It’s too much work. No middle name for you!”

Other variations on the standard are having two first names, or a first name that is all one word, but sounds like two words. “Marianne” might look like one word, but that’s two names, and I don’t really know what kind of con you’re trying to pull, missy.

When you get rich enough and famous enough, you can drop all those extra names and just go with your first name, even if it’s one you made up. Madonna, I’m looking at you. Sting, you’re also on my list. Bono – well, you just confuse me. Is that a first name? a last name? What is a “Bono” anyway?

(A side note: at one of the middle schools I where I used to work, one of the secretaries there was named “Madonna.” She is in her late 50’s or so, so I don’t think she was named for the singer/actress?/jewel thief.)

If you’ve got a name that’s got too many syllables in it, prepare to have a nickname. People don’t want to yell “Hey, Strazcinski!” at you when it would be much easier to call you “Zinc” or “Ski” or something easier. (Another side note: when you’re naming a pet, use the two-syllable rule. It’s much easier to call them if you’ve got two syllables to work with. One feels foolish, and three or more will just get shortened to two, anyway.)

These are all things you aspiring parents should consider. Don’t give your kid a name that will get him or her beat up. “Percy” is a horrible name for a kid, whether or not your great-uncle Percival discovered a new element. Also ask yourself, “How will this name sound on them when they are a grandparent?” “Grandma Brittany” certainly seems wrong, doesn’t it? Trendy names will be an embarrassment to the human race should we ever have to entertain aliens:

Aliens: “Take us to your leader.”
Us: “That’d be President Tiffany.”
Aliens: *snort*
Aliens: *guffaw*
Aliens: “You will all die now.”

Of course, I don’t care what your name is, because I’ll have forgotten it two seconds after you’ve told me. I really try to remember names, but I just can’t seem to do it. Once I’ve been introduced to you four times and I’ve embarrassed myself by having to ask you your name two other times, I might get it, but there’s no guarantee. I’m fully in favor of all citizens having to wear a photo ID with their name emblazoned on it. For now, though, I’m associating new teachers I’m meeting with what computer problems they’re having. “Ah, yes, Miss No Email. How are you today?” Isn’t that how English-speaking people got their last names anyway? “Johnson” came from “John’s son.” “Smith” is because the patriarch was a blacksmith. “Selleck” is from the root words for “awesome stash, man.”

I think we should start over with last names and modernize them a little. We’ll have Johnny Nascar, Jennifer Webmaster, Jeffrey Psycho, Tonya Kneecapper, Winona Swifthands, and – well, you get the idea. And maybe it isn’t such a good one after all.

But if you don’t like your name, you can always change it legally. People are always doing this in an attempt to get a better name, but you never hear of anyone picking “Jeremy L. Smithenston” or “Faith S. Wynnsong.” No, they’re always changing it to ridiculous things like “Optimus Prime” or making a joke with their name like “Warren Peace.” You might as well stick with what you’ve got, because elementary school kids are going to make fun of your name regardless of what it is.

Me, I’m changing my name to “Max Power.” Middle name: “Imum.”

(The blog entry title is from T.S. Eliot’s “The Naming of Cats.”)

(This blog was by request, though I’m sure she regrets it now.)

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