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Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Naming of Cats is a Difficult Matter

Baby Smiling in Back Seat has had two Thoughtful Thursdays recently that asked about baby names. In the first, she asked when people chose baby names and in the second, she asked about people scooping your chosen names.

I was about to answer this in her comment section, but it sort of deserved a larger space to stretch out. The fact is, I started thinking about names back when I was in college. I went to a lecture about naming children given by an Israeli professor and the gist of the lecture was that names originally reflected a person's culture and language and that we shouldn't do away with cultural names in order to blend with one another within America. The other idea is that children should only have one name--it can be in many parts (first name, middle name, last name), but a single name to be used in all places.

Which feels like a no-brainer to some, but American Jews are notorious for giving an English name to be used in day-to-day life and a Hebrew name to be used for religious purposes. And listening to that lecture, I decided that when I grew up, I would give my children one name; a Hebrew name that was accessible to non-Hebrew speakers. So they could have sort of the best of all worlds--a name that merged with the surrounding American culture that was a single name known in Israel too. It sort of narrowed down the list for us.

But there were more requirements: We paid close attention to the meaning of the names because I wanted the names to become a phrase when you put their full name together. And I wanted them to bring in elements of different stories connected to the people we wanted to honour. So their names are these complex weaving of stories and nouns and ideas that connect us to people in our family.

I came up with the Wolvog's name when I was closing a suitcase. We had been trying to conceive, but didn't know we were infertile. I was zipping up the suitcase at Josh's aunt's house and I said his name aloud--the first and middle name--apropos of nothing. Josh sort of shrugged and agreed it was a pretty rockin' name. The Wolvog also has a second middle name which we didn't put on the birth certificate. It's his secret name and it's his choice whether or not to share it with people. The second middle name has a great story attached to it and we thought it sort of spiced up life to having this secret name, this trapdoor of a name, that only some people will ever know.

The ChickieNob had her first name long before she was conceived. We had a different name chosen for a bit, but it rhymed with the Wolvog's name and once we found out we were having boy-girl twins and we'd have to use one name or the other, the Wolvog kept his name and we gave the ChickieNob the other contender which meant the same thing. The problem was that we didn't have a middle name.

We threw out a lot of possibilities, but none of them felt right. So we went one night to a Borders and I told Josh that I was going to stand until we chose a name. I was pretty far along and standing was fairly uncomfortable so we moved quickly through the list, reading aloud every name possibility (we had a letter we wanted to work with) until at one point, I said her middle name and we both looked up at each other and said at the same moment, "that's it!" and closed the book and sat down to have coffee.

And her middle name works perfectly with her first name to complete a phrase that also speaks to the birth order.

The ChickieNob also has a secret middle name; a second middle name. And she sometimes uses it and sometimes doesn't and I guess it will always be interesting to me when I see who she has told and who she hasn't.

All of this work to choose the most perfect names in the world and I never use them. We have gone through a boatload of nicknames--it sometimes changes daily. In fact, just this morning, Josh was called Carmine Fancypants for about ten minutes. I'm not sure why we never use their perfect, wonderful names except to say that nicknames hold an intimacy that given names do not (unless you have a secret trapdoor name like our kids). And the ChickieNob and I share a nickname that we both call each other which I feel marks her as mine and me as hers.

I have two names--my English name, Melissa--is used in most places. By which I mean that I usually go by Mel. But I also have a Hebrew name, though Josh is the only one who uses it anymore. In Hebrew, our letters also serve as numbers. Alef (the first letter) equals one. Bet (the second letter) equals two. This goes up to yood (the tenth letter) which equals ten, and then the numbers after that equal increments of 10 (20, 30, 40, 50...) until it reaches 100 and the last four numbers have a value of 100, 200, 300, and 400 (sofit letters can be used to go up to 900).

The idea of counting the numbers associated with your name is part of gematria. Which I'm not that into EXCEPT that my name literally has the most perfect value in the world. It is so perfect both in how the numbers fall and their total value that I always thought that I must be the most special girl in the world to have a name like that.

I really think my parents did it by accident--simply chose the name because they liked it and it honoured someone they loved--in the same way we chose the twins' names. But that just makes it more magical--to have this perfect, symmetrical name which is so incredibly fitting because I need everything to be perfectly symmetrical in my life.

I like the name Melissa, and I am fond of how it shortens to Mel. But I absolutely love my Hebrew name and I would make it my only name except that it's sort of my trapdoor name and I'm glad that it isn't used by everyone. I sort of wonder if I'd love it as much as I do if I heard it every single day from everyone I encounter--from Josh to the grocery store cashier.

Strangely enough, I have never added up the gematria of the twins' names. I simply don't want to know.

How do you feel about your name? Do you love it? Hate it? Wish you could change it but feel too sentimental or worried that it would offend your parents? Have you changed your name? Only used a nickname? And if you chose a new name, how would you pick it?


Heidi said...

Growing up I was not a huge fan of my name. Heidi just isn't a normal name and growing up with 7 Jennifers and 8 Sara(h)'s I felt very out of place.

Now that I am older I love my name. I often wish that I had the full German name (Adelaide) because I miss having a nickname. Therefore any future child will have a name that can be shortened to a nickname.

I do sit around sometimes and think it is weird that the name for me is Heidi. Just like the name for this thing I am typing on is a laptop...or that thing out the window is a flower. I am a Heidi.

a Tonggu Momma said...

I do like my name, but it is unusual... and it gets tiring having to spell it out and pronounce it for people. We put a lot of thought into our daughter's name and had the added dilemma of whether or not we should even name her at all (we adopted her at almost a year old from China).

Barb said...

My first name I really don't like much at all. I don't really like how it sounds on the tongue. It's not pretty written, and it doesn't feel like it fits my personality or age, and my father seemed to pick it kind of on a whim. My Mom agreed b/c she was young and eager to please. Now it annoys her b/c she wanted to name me after her Grandma. My middle name was both what my Dad wanted to use, AND fit perfectly with the fact that my Mom wanted to honor her Mom by using it. It's also simple and pretty. So I like my middle name. Both of them together? Not so much.

Barb said...

All of this makes me want to think very carefully before naming my boy. :)

Mrs. Gamgee said...

I have always had a love/hate relationship with my name. I could never imagine an adult with my name.

My mom thought she would be cool and give me a first name that can be either male or female, and a middle name that can sound like a male name if you don't say it/hear it correctly. It is easy to assume on paper that I am a boy. When I was a child, I had to share a hospital room with a boy (very traumatic for a 4yo) and put on a boys baseball team.

When I got a little older, I changed the spelling of my name to a more feminine form.

This has greatly affected my choice in children's names. We have chosen names, that fit a particular pattern and that are very gender specific. There will be no wondering if our (future) children are boys or girls.

FET Accompli said...

I'm not especially fond of my name - it's okay - perhaps you could say that I'm neutral. Hubbie and I have been thinking a lot about the names for our boy-girl twins due in late November/early December, gcd willing.

We bought some baby naming books, like the massive "The Comprehensive Dictionary of English & Hebrew First Names" by Alfred Kolatch, which is now extensively tabbed, as well as some older books like "Beyond Sarah and Sam" by Linda Rosenkrantz. (Hubbie would like a hebrew or Jewishy name). We had some rockin' names picked out - but then realized there were a few issues with the middles names, like the initials weren't quite right for our boy: E.L.F. (And I am a small one...) I posted about it here:

So the middle names we've now picked aren't our first choice, but they are still nice. The boy's name can also be used as a hebrew name (apparently it can be frum, which I recently discovered, but it's also pretty cool and versatile as a secular name), and the girl's name sort of can be used as a hebrew name, but we don't like the direct translation so we've added some letters for a beautiful name.
We were thinking of having two official middle names to avoid the E.L.F., but we're not sure about that.
I agree that naming takes a lot of thought!

HereWeGoAJen said...

I've always liked my name, but not how common it is. I always got tired of being one of many and getting asked "and which one of you will be Jenny?"

Delenn said...

I love hearing about the secret names. My husband is Jewish, but they do not hold that tradition (although I knew about it).

My name, I have grown to tolerate. I hated it growing up. I get jokes from people all the time (how many times do you think I have heard that unoriginal joke,eh?)

But, by now, its my name and I can deal with it. If I was able to come up with my name on my own, I think I would go with some sci-fi name--perhaps Delenn?

My children--well, my son's name was in honor of my husband's father who died suddenly at 51. As soon as he died, we knew that our first son was going to be named after him (that was 4 years later). So, our son is named (first and middle) in a more traditional family name way (first name from his family; middle name from my family). Willow is our sci-fi geek name...I wrote her name in an envelope 4 years before she was born. Her middle name is in honor of my beloved Grammie.

T Lee said...

I adore my name. As a child, I wasn't a fan. Not so much because of it being different, but because no one could pronounce it- and what 9 year old wants to stop playing to explain things to an adult, lol.
So far as I know, I am the only Tasjaana (Tah-sha-nah) there is (at least with that spelling. I have found similar, but not the same.). My parents took the Dutch (Mother's lineage) name 'Sjaan' and added the first letter of my Father's name (um, plus some random a's...), and made my name. I have always loved the originality of it- and someday I'll hopefully get to pass the tradition of a truly individual name onto my children...

battynurse said...

Interesting about names. I remember as a child picking out names for my children, and as a teenager etc. It's probably a good thing I didn't have children young or they may have been named after rock stars. I've always been mostly ok with my name but when I was younger I HATED the spelling. It's Michell with no e on the end. I could never find cool stuff with my name on it and it always got pronounced wrong (Michael or Mitchell) which was mortifying as a kid. Now I just don't care although I don't get why it's so difficult.
I also have sort of my own naming rules for kids. I don't like boys names for girls or girls names for boys. I also don't really love things shortened. Funny thing is that if I do have children I will likely end up giving them somewhat uncommon names that they will never be able to find stuff with their name on it. They will also likely have some sort of nickname that may or may not be related to their actual name.

loribeth said...

I have made peace with my name as I've gotten older. I went through a phase when I was about 10, wishing that I was named Laura instead (like Laura Ingalls in the little house books), or at the very least, spelled Laurie. I actually signed myself that way for awhile until one of my teachers made a comment & I got embarrassed.

Lori is such a 60s name, like Cathy or Debbie or Terry. You just don't see parents naming their kids those names anymore. I was one of three Loris, two Lauras & one Laura-Ann in Grade 8. And when I was in high school, there was a girl in the next grade up whose name was Laura, middle initial also B., last name the exact same as mine (no relation, so far as we knew). The principal would call one of us to the office & we'd both show up because it often wasn't clear which one of us he meant, lol.

And of course, when I was in jr high/high school "Happy Days" was a huge hit on TV -- & here was Ritchie's girlfriend named Lori Beth. I always used to tell people that I had the name first. ; )

My mother wanted to name me Julie & my grandmother wanted to name me Emily Pearl (!). My dad is apparently the one who came up with Lori; not sure where the Beth came from. If I was a boy, I would have been Brian.

jenicini said...

With the name of Jennifer, I always had at least two people with the same name in my classes. To me it was/is one of the most generic names ever! Then again, it was #1 in the five years around when I was born. I hated it when I was a kid. Now, I've accepted it as tolerable.

Knowing this, I wanted to name my kids something unique and exotic. However my friend who has a difficult to pronounce name cured me of that.

So now, if I ever get to have a child, I'm looking for something out of the ordinary but not too strange!

Anonymous said...

My mother always intended me to be called one name but worried that it didn't sound grown up enough. So she picked a name she felt was more mature, and from which what she would call me could be a natural derivative. So, since birth, I have been called by my nickname except by some of my mother's siblings, and when I was in trouble.

I love the name by which I am called. However, I don't care for my "real" name and I can't stand my middle name.

In terms of the name of my daughter and my future children, I prefer a first name that is distinctive, but also feel that when it's the right name, you know it right off the bat.

Distinctive names do mean pronunciation challenges and not being able to find off-the-shelf personalized items, but neither myself nor my daughter would change our names just to be able to get a mug with our name on it more easily.

Jamie said...

This post makes me desperately curious about your little ones real names!

I like my name, it's fine. I can't think of another name that would suit me better and I have made some friends due to my name -- we started chatting because we share the same name. I guess in a way I'm disappointed that my mom simply chose a name she liked and that it doesn't really have any meaning behind it -- I've really thought through all of our children's names so they are family names with a lot of meaning.

Minta said...

I have always loved my first name, but hated my middle name. My first name is a traditional Welsh name and was also my great-grandmother's name. I like that it shortens to a less odd sounding name. Growing up with two very unusual names has caused me to spend a lot of time contemplating names. I have two girl and two boy names in the wings. They all have Welsh roots, and family ties without being overtly "ethnic" (or sounding like something straight out of Tolkien). Unfortunately, at this point it doesn't look like I'm going to be able to use them.

Sonja said...

I love my name :-)

What caught my eye about the post was of course the word "cat." My cat's name is Alexandra.

Bean said...

Oh, I hate my name. Always have, always will. I'll spill the beans here, real name is Min.dy. My "real" name is Melinda, which I like better, but no one has ever called me that. I tried a couple times in my life to go by Melinda, but I never went far enough away from home and as soon as any new friend heard someone call me Min.dy that was the end of Melinda. When I was little Min.dy was pretty uncommon and I was a shy, quiet kid, so people always asked if I'd said Wendy. Then came M.ork. If I had a nickel for everytime someone said "Nanoo Nanoo" to me. Sigh.

Carrie said...

I never really loved my name growing up but I didn't hate it either. Now I like it... and don't know any other Carrie's personally.

Two cute stories:

1. Mom wanted to name me Caroline Elizabeth but Dad said it was "too snooty" so they shortened it to Carrie Beth.

2. My dad's middle name is Okey, named after his grandfather. Dad likes to tease and say he wanted to carry on the tradition and pass that name on to me as well... so I'd be Carrie Okey. Get it? Karaoke. hardy har har. He thinks he's hilarious.


Cassandra said...

Ooh, thanks for the shout out!

My name is frequently complimented once I say it, but it is impossible to spell and impossible to pronounce. If I changed a couple of letters it would be pronounced the same but much more accessible to the rest of the world. I'd never change it, though -- that ship has sailed, and anyway, it's my name, for good or for bad. When people criticize the difficulty of its pronunciation or spelling, I tell them to take it up with my father.

When I'm in countries of my name's origin (or talking to native speakers in that language), I pronounce it differently.

One of the first encounters DH and I ever had involved him misspelling my name. I corrected it, and then he thought he'd screwed everything up and I didn't like him.

My middle name is fabulous (unusual and lovely yet easy to spell and pronounce), yet rarely comes up. Life would have been easier if my first and middle names had been switched -- but then I wouldn't be me.

I also have an ethnic trapdoor name that is on my birth certificate but has been dropped from other legal documents. It's really ethnic. Even when speaking to people from that ethnicity or when in countries that speak that language, I use my regular name.

Lavender Luz said...

Now I'm wondering about everybody's names, middle names, secret names, trapdoor names.

Ditto what Loribeth said. It was quite common back in the day, but hardly anyone has used my name in decades. My name will be the "Edna" of my generation. Not evergreen.

But I like it. Suits me.

I want to know more about gematria.

Mrs. Spit said...

My real name is actually 2 hyphenated names. All the women in my family have 2 first names and then a middle name. And for years, I found 2 first names, to be pretentious. It makes me smile, to those few people who know me by both names, who have known me for so many years.

And when I found myself pregnant, I found myself choosing a hyphenated first name for a girl.

We had names chosen for Gabe, before we knew what his life was going to be. And we changed our name, to his name. And while I like the name we had chosen out for a boy, I cannot imagine Gabriel as anything other than Gabriel.

edenland said...

Cats: The Musical. One of my (rare) favourite family memories was seeing that.

I am HANGING to find out your lovely ones names ... I love this post.

I like my name. It's probably the best thing my mother ever gave me. I have a whole post brewing about the naming of my guys :)

angie said...

I am fine with my name. It is just Angie. Not Angela. Not Angelica. Not Angelina. The story behind my name is that I am an identical twin. My father is Irish-American, and my mother is Central American. So, my sister--baby A--was named for the Irish side of my family--KellyAnn. And I was supposed to be named for the spanish-speaking part--Esperanza or Cristina. But my father claimed he couldn't pronounce them properly. So, I was named for the Rolling Stones song Angie, which was popular then. I always have my name lengthened rather than shortened like most people. I sort of get sick of correcting people. I asked my mother if she would be offended if I changed my name to Angelica, and she said, "No, it would have been better if I got to choose my own name back then. They didn't know what they were doing." Which made me laugh, because I am positive at at age five, I would have named myself LaLa.

VA Blondie said...

I love my name. It is sort of an "old lady name" (as my gerontology instructor put it). But I like it, anyway. I always insisted on going by my full first name, even as a child. I was named after my grandmother, who was named after her grandmother. My mother named me everything she wanted to name me, so I have two middle names I could have used had I not liked my first name.

My mother and my sister both went through informal name changes. My sister was named after my paternal grandmother, and eventually she shortened the nickname to her name, and that is what she goes by now. My mother apparently hated the name she was given, but it took her until adulthood to get up the courage and self confidence to change it.

All this talk of names makes me want to do a post on naming on my own blog. I am having doubts about what we are planning on naming our baby. Maybe by blogging about it I can work through it.

Chickenpig said...

I don't like my name. It is terribly common among my age group, although not so much now. Both my sister and brother have names that aren't so common.

I only had one special name before I got pregnant, a boys name, because it was the name of a little boy who showed me that I might actually cut it as a parent after all. When we found out we were pregnant with twin boys I was thrilled. Naturally, baby A got the special name. My husband got to choose baby B's, although I had veto privilege. I didn't know what N's name was until my husband stated it in the delivery room. It was nice to have a surprise. My husband and I picked out our daughter's name after looong deliberation. I think girls names are harder.

Rebecca said...

I'm sooo curious now about all these secret names!

I like my name. Rebecca Anne. It just rolls off the tongue. When my sister and I were born, my parents had no idea that Rebecca and Jennifer would become two of the most popular names on the planet for our age group. I have always gone by my full name, Rebecca. NOT BECKY! I can't stand when people want to shorten my name without asking me!!! I do go by Becca in my circle of friends, and for some reason at work, they've known me as Becca for so long, I just can't shake it.
I've had names for my "someday" children picked out for years...sadly, I have no idea if they'll ever exist...

JamieD said...

I am okay with my name. I don't hate it, but it is so ordinary. This may sound weird, but I feel like I am an ordinary person because of it.

When choosing a name for our son, I wanted him to have something really original - Hubby and I are both ordinary people with ordinary names. I truly feel like our son would live up to an extraordinary name. A lot of pressure to put on a kid, I know.

I like the first name we came up with, but I ~really~ like the middle name. The first name isn't as extraordinary as I would have like (I was really pushing for d'Artagnon!) but it will be good.

Tash said...

I was named from a book, which my mom then lent to the lady down the hallway, and she named her daughter the same. Wasn't a fan of my name as a kid, but grew to love it. It took a Russian violin teacher saying it during a quartet session while trying to get me to play something differently, though, that really sealed the deal. My middle name is French, and the silly people at the records place left of the -e at the end which makes it feminine, so my middle name is masculine. I've grown to love that too. So much, that I kept my last name when I got married in part because I couldn't imagine the whole thing being said any other way.

Brandy said...

I never liked my name growing up (Brandy). I loved my middle name (Shea), but didn't know that I had the choice of using that as my name. Had I known, I would have made people call me Shea. I still don't like my name, but I've gotten used to it.

Anonymous said...

I'm OK with my name, but it has given me nothing but headaches, because I am a Jr.! My parents were planning to have my mom's name as my middle name, but when they asked for my name in the hospital, my dad secretly switched the two names. No one expects mother-daughter to have the same full name, so every single doctor's record, bank account, mailing address has been hopelessly complicated. Until I got married and changed my last name! I will still randomly get her mail every few weeks.

I do go by a shortened version of my name (ending in -y), and my parents always urged me to start going by the full version because it sounded more adult and professional. I remember calling them on my first day of my first job after college, and happily telling them that my bosses names were Katy, Annie, Chrissy and Barbie!

From Here To Maternity said...

I hated my name until my teens when I realzied that because it was unique, boys remembered it. My middle name I hate. I wouldn't change my first name now even if I could go back in time. I chose my daughter's name to aviod the whole unique issue, and it is not the name I originally picked. That name was very unique but I realzied that her name was about her not me. Besides she's saddled with her great-grandmother's name as one of her middle names, so she'll be mad about that I'm sure. There was one other name I loved, but my sister wanted it and so I didn't use it. In the end she didn't use it anyway. Names are a minefield.

areyoukiddingme said...

I'm not especially fond of my name, but I find it amusing how it came about. I have three older sisters... The oldest has an A name, the next two have J names. So my 8 year old sister, who was staying with my aunt when it was time for me to come along, sent my parents a letter telling them that they had to give me an A name. She offered several suggestions, one of which was my name, but with a different spelling. Fortunately, my parents chose the more common spelling.

I am not a fan of unusual names, and yet my husband got to name our daughter something unusual. He liked his name, but I was only willing to use it as a middle name. Then we selected a common name for her first name. Then I noticed that the flow of the names worked better with the unusual name first and the common name I gave in. Now, she will be forced to spell her name constantly throughout her life. Sigh. But it is a pretty name, and it suits her. Also, only two people have ever recognized the source of her name, although most everyone has probably seen it (it's biblical).

Coffeegrl said...

Wow this is so thoughtful. I always wished I had a nickname (I don't). But I never dislike my name and the older I get the more I like it. It's not all that unusual but it's not even in the top 1,000 most popular names (as listed by the Social Security Administration). So--unique. I may post about this as there's more to this naming business than I originally thought.

Vee said...

I have just written a "name" post on my blog. I hated my name as kid but had a complete turn around when I was in my late teens then loved it for the same reasons I hated it.

Eve said...

I have a very unique name, though everyone's heard of it and it's easy to prounounce. My formal name is 'Evonne'...which I could've done without. I DREADED the first day fo class when I had to explain to the teacher (with all eyes glaring at me) that I preferred to be called 'Eve'.

I've taken a fair share of kidding (albeit good-natured) for my name over the years. But, as someone else said, no one forgets my name...even decades later.

In naming our son however, we tried to go a little bit more mainstream because we happen to have a very unsual, quirky and hard to spell last name. Just didn't seem fair to give him a tough first AND last name!

Adriane said...

I hated my name growing up. I wanted one of those keychains at the mall with my name on it, and of course, could never find one. And now, I love my name. I was named after my Mom's best friend.

I wish I had given a little more thought to naming my girls. we just liked the names and they don't have any meaning behind them.

Shelli said...

Always disliked my name growing up. I had an extremely common name for the time.

Being one of many "Michelle"'s(born in the late 60's early 70's) because of the Beatles song made me wish my parent's picked their back-up name (Rebeccah).

That's how I got the nickname "Shelli". When I started Kindergarten, there were EIGHT Michelle/Michele's in my class and the teacher demanded nicknames.

And now? I live on a street with 8 homes in close proximity. THREE of my neighbors (similiar in age) are Michelle's.

I can't escape it!! Even at 41!

Kristin said...

I like my name and the way it fits into family history. Luckily, I am fairly laid back about it though because EVERYBODY spells it wrong.

The Steadfast Warrior said...

I love my name. It was however one of the most popular names the year I was born as was evidenced by the fact that in high school there were four of us Lindsays and at any given time I had one of them in most of my classes.

I don't think I'd ever want to change my name. I have had moments were I have thought my middle name would be cool to go by but coincidentally it's my Mother-in Law's name, so, no go there. That would just be... weird.