Names: changing, remembering

Archibald Leach

namesI’ve been thinking about names a lot. In my Bible reading, God’s often renaming people. “Abram, you’re now Abraham.”
“But, God, why would you make my name longer? Won’t take up more papyrus when people write about me in a few millennia?”
“Abraham, I created papyrus. Don’t sweat it.”

And when the Holy Spirit – ah – puts Mary with child, will she and Joseph have any say in the naming? They will not. Some angel shows up and says, “Mary, you’re gonna conceive, give birth to a son, and you’re gonna call him Jesus.” Joseph and Mary were thinking, “But we have no one named Jesus in our families.” They didn’t say this aloud, of course, because when angels show up unexpectedly, you tend to keep some of your thoughts to yourself.

The idea of changing one’s name is an old one. Popes always do that. I have no idea who Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin was, but I’m familiar with George Sand. Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, Dr. Seuss, John le Carré are all familiar noms de plume.

I’m fine with people changing their names when it’s their choice. Actors have been doing it forever. I used to be really good at remembering that trivia. Maurice Micklewhite? Michael Caine. Archibald Leach turned out to be Cary Grant at least five times in Jeopardy! clues. Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson. Would John Wayne be JOHN WAYNE if he were billed as Marion Morrison?

George Terebeychuk, a Ukrainian immigrant in Sudbury, ON Canada, changed his surname to Trebek, as his cousin Mike had done. George was Alex Trebek’s dad.

He’ll be back

Still, I was oddly pleased when a bodybuilder named Arnold Schwa…something-or-other decided to keep his moniker, which the so-called tastemakers thought was career-killing. Schwarzenegger, that’s it. According to Box Office Mojo, films in which he has acted “have grossed a total of more than $1.7 billion within the United States, and a total of $4.0 billion worldwide.”

I recall real antipathy in the 1960s when a heavyweight boxer changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He may have been revered upon further reflection, but in the day, some of his opponents would taunt him with “Clay! Clay!”

One of the terrible things that happened to enslaved people is that they lost their names. Likewise, indigenous people from the Americas to Australia experienced intruders who thought they needed a change in order to make it “easier.” Easier for whom?

Lots of people’s names were changed because of bad transcription, or willful changes at Ellis Island. Conversely, my Nordic ex took back her family name.


I’m rather bad with names. I am of the opinion that everyone should have name tags. This is especially true when almost everyone is wearing a mask. The last time I watched Grey’s Anatomy, the doctors wore picture IDs so you could tell who the heck was treating you under all that PPE. I could never be a teacher, learning new names every year.

Some folks are great with names. Former US Senator and basketball star Bill Bradley would go on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He’d meet the audience before the show and share all of their names. Likewise, my former Congressman Matt McHugh was astonishingly good at remembering not only people’s names but the names of their spouses and children.

The Name Game -Shirley Ellis
The Name of the Game  – ABBA
You Know My Name – The Beatles (Anthology 3)

G is for Green as a surname (ABCW)

“a medium light hue of greenish gray similar to asparagus, but lighter”

Mr. Green Jeans, Captain Kangaroo, 1960
When Green is your last name, you have heard every joke there is about it. “Mr. Green Jeans,” a character from the Captain Kangaroo children’s show, played by Hugh “Lumpy” Brannum, when I was growing up. Green tambourine, a song by the Lemon Pipers, a #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 for one week in early February, 1968. “Green, green jelly bean,” whatever THAT is, and others too mundane to repeat.

Kermit the Frog was right: it’s not that easy bein’ Green. “It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things.”

So when my wife and I were thinking about first names for our now-teenager, among the MANY rules I had was that it could NOT be a SHADE of Green. And there are quite a few of them.

Hunter Green – “a color that is a representation of the color worn by hunters in the 19th century” – terribly out of date, though in fact that there are at least three prominent people named Hunter Greene

Kelly Green – “the name derives from the fact that the surname Kelly, as well as the color green, are both popular in Ireland” – Besides being gender non-specific, my hangup at the time, the Kelly Song from the TV show Cheers was rattling around in my head

Laurel Green -“a medium light hue of greenish gray similar to asparagus, but lighter” – I’m not that fond of asparagus.

Olive Green – “the shade of dark yellow-green found on green olives. It has been commonly used by militaries around the world as a color for uniforms and equipment.” Give peace a chance. Moreover, Olive Oyl is Popeye’s lanky girlfriend.

Paris Green – ranges from pale and vivid blue green to deeper true green. It comes from the inorganic compound copper (II) acetoarsenite and was once a popular pigment in artists’ paints”

For ABC Wednesday

So You’ve Forgotten Someone’s Name at a Party

It is a “particularly elegant solution, because now you will never have to remember another name ever again.”

So You’ve Forgotten Someone’s Name at a Party is a purported humorous article in the New Yorker. It is actually my life.

“You’ve met four times. They definitely know your name. And yet . . . you still can’t remember theirs. Jamie? Janie? Or maybe it’s something crazy, like Beth. Whatever they call themselves, you’re ten minutes into the conversation, and at this point it would be rude to ask.”

It happens to me ALL the time. And I’ve done all those “how to remember names at a party” tricks , such as repeating their names as often as possible without being obnoxious. “Well, Sarah, I grew up in Binghamton…” It doesn’t work consistently well.

If I meet six people, it’ll usually work for the first and second. Maybe the third. But by the fourth, the second person’s name is gone. Yet I’ll recall details about them. “So when did you get your teaching degree?”

The article suggests these solutions: “Die.” Well, that seems extreme. It’s not that I haven’t said, “I just want to die,” but I didn’t mean that LITERALLY. You know LITERALLY literally.

“Build a Time Machine, Go Back to the Moment They Were Born, and Name Them Something Easier to Remember.” I’ve been wary of interfering with the space-time continuum ever since I saw the ill effects on some Star Trek episode. I change their name, they’re mortified by it, and they never go on to win a Nobel Prize in Physics. I just can’t bear that responsibility.

“Start Mimicking Them and Get So Good at It, Others Accidentally Start Calling You by Their Name.” Given all my fine qualities, I’m surprising not good at this. Besides it’s more rude than I choose to be.

“Persistently Call Them a New Name Until They Have No Choice But to Accept It As Truth.” As a librarian, I am keenly aware of false news, and I shall NOT be a purveyor of same!

“Pay an Arsonist to Set Fire to the Party.” Seem extreme. Well, I won’t do that if I’m otherwise having a good time. I don’t get out that much.

“Say Every Name You Can Think of Until They Respond to One.” I’m not going to add MORE stress, thank you.

“Draw a Scar on Your Head and Say You Lost the Part of Your Brain That Remembers Names in a Motorcycle Accident.” Mine would be a bicycle accident, but as the writer suggests, it is a “particularly elegant solution, because now you will never have to remember another name ever again.”

“Stage a Robbery to Gain Access to Their Wallet and Identification Cards.” Again, too much work; I guess I don’t hang out with the right crowd.

“Ask Another Friend What the Person’s Name Is.” That I’ll do, with increasing frequency.

Of course my real solution is that everyone needs to wear name tags, with at least 27-point font. That’s a minimum.

Names not the same, state to state

Ariza; Zyquavious; Kinnick; Khodee; Hudaifa; Petie; Autzen; Neyland; Korver (52 of 90).

There’s this website to which I subscribe, before it became a paid site. A recent email reads:

“Since 2010, 71% of babies named ‘Morrissey’ have been born in California (Californians really love the Smiths). Over the same period, 62 of the 99 babies born ‘Krymson’ entered the world in Alabama (where delivery rooms echo with shouts of ‘Roll Tide!’).

“These findings come to us through a rabbit hole of a query, which scours the latest Social Security Administration data for names where more than 50% of births are from a given state. Want to know which baby names are most characteristic of your state?”

There are an amazing 263 names for which at least half the people so named in the country were from the Empire State. Forty-eight names ONLY show up in New York, such as Trany (89 times) and Ruchel (82). Then there are those names that predominate here, such as Frimet (116 out of 118), Brucha (114 of 116), and Chany (337 of 344).

Other large absolute numbers: Malky (603 of 635), Gitty (714 of 805), Faigy (668 of 754), Raizy (556 of 628), and Yakov (548 of 707).

I figured California might have a lot of qualifying names; there were 63. It had eight names only found in the Golden State, including all seven of the people named Hovik. Also Hayk(85 of 100), Narek (111 of 153), Armen (108 of 174), and Curren (107 of 208).

Hawaii has 33 names where it predominates, including all 8 folks named Kiai and Kuhao, 31 of the 34 people named Hilinai. Mahina (85 of 143) and Nainoa (87 of 126) are well represented.

All 6 persons named Sanjuanita are in Texas, with a total of 28 names on the list. Other names specific to the Lone Star State: Brazos (89 of 98), Kinsler (181 of 247), Roel (252 of 369), and Debanhi (124 of 202).

Pennsylvania has 8 names listed, including Khayr (all 5), Coopar (13 of 14), and the distinctly Amish name Benuel (95 of 136).

All the 6 New Jersey names listed have between 50.5% and 57.6% of the country, including Brocha (74 of 134), Avrohom (344 of 663), and Binyomin (133 of 263).

The 5 Illinois names noted are Szymon (79 of 113), Augustas (5 of 8), Oliwia (44 of 82), Zuzanna (112 of 219), and
Kacper (165 of 325).

Two of the four Florida names are very similar: Dawens (6 of 7), Juvens (11 of 14), Marvens (84 of 118) and Marvins (10 of 19).

The three names from Louisiana: Jamyri (all 6), Jarden (5 of 8), and Amyri (44 of 82).

Massachusetts prefers Joaolucas (6 of 8) and Mariaeduarda (37 of 69).

These states had only one special name each. Arizona – Ariza (191 of 231); Georgia – Zyquavious (6 of 10); Iowa -Kinnick (202 of 257); Maryland – Khodee (5 of 8); Minnesota – Hudaifa (5 of 5); Missouri – Petie (5 of 5); Oregon -Autzen (6 of 8); Tennessee – Neyland (151 of 192); Utah – Korver (52 of 90).

Why I find this fascinating, besides the fact that the information exists at all, is that it is a reflection of the familial, ethic and social fabric of a given location.

The database also can track the most gender-neutral name of the decade. With Rooney, a baby with this name is only 0.29% more likely to be a baby girl than a baby boy. Other gender-neutral names include Clarke, Amory, and Cypress.

P is for popularity of names

“Roger” was the 31st most popular boy’s name in 1953.

roger_name My friend Arthur did this some time back, based on this TIME magazine article, which, not incidentally, is US-centric.

“The popularity of your name is likely far different today than it was the year you were born. Maybe you’re one of those men born in 1983 and named Michael, the most popular name of the year.

“Today, if you were given the most popular boy’s name, you’d be named Noah. The following interactive shows you which name had the same popularity in the past year and every decade since 1890 as yours did the year you were born, using [then] newly released baby name data for 2014.”

The premise is slightly misleading in that, early on, there was a paucity in the diversity of names. For boys, John and William were heavily used in the 1880s (89,951 and 84,881, respectively), well ahead of James (54,058). For girls, Mary (91,669) was even more dominant; Anna (38,159) and Emma (25,404) were far behind.

Still: “Roger” was the 31st most popular boy’s name in 1953. It was MOST popular in 1945, hitting its peak of #22, I dare say, because of World War II: “Roger that. Roger over and out.”

My name today would be Oliver, a name I associate with the TV show Green Acres, Charles Dickens, and Elvis Costello.

My 2000s name is Isaac, a good biblical name, son of Abraham (nearly sacrificed) and Sarah, and father of Jacob and Esau.
My 1990s name is Mark, my brother-in-law’s name, and the shortest of the Gospels in the Bible.
My 1980s name is Edward, my great uncle’s name on my maternal grandmother’s side.
My 1970s name is Terry. I knew a guy named Terry in the 1970s at college and worked with a woman named Terry in the 1990s.
My 1960s name is Alan. Not incidentally, the Social Security list does not combine spellings, such as Allan and Allen.
My 1950s name is Henry, the VIII, and Aldrich.
My 1940s name is Ernest, another great uncle’s name on my maternal grandmother’s side.
My 1930s name is Leonard, as in Bernstein, and Nimoy.
My 1920s name is Elmer, as in Bernstein, and Fudd.
My 1910s name is Eddie, as in the Renaissance Geek, though that’s not his given name.
My 1900s name is Alfred, as in Tennyson or Batman’s butler.
My 1890s name is Sam, promoter of Green Eggs and Ham, or the Sham.

“Name trends are provided by the Social Security Administration… This tool only searches for names of the same gender as what you entered at the top. Many names have drifted from being associated with boys to being associated with girls over the years, so it can appear as though female names are showing up in the male results.”

abc 17 (1)
ABC Wednesday – Round 17

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