“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” So said Shakespeare. And it is true . . . or is it?
Well, if we called a rose by the name manure, and we knew what manure was, we probably wouldn’t get close enough to even see that the rose still smelled as sweet. We form opinions based on the names of things, of course.
What about people? I think we all know that we can tell something about people from their names . . . and mostly in this post, I am talking about first names, rather than last names. Last names tell us a lot too. Often, but not always, they give us clues to the owner’s nationality or race. Goldberg? Probably Jewish. O’Connor? Probably Irish. Himmelblau. Probably German. Rosetta. Probably Italian. Garcia. Probably Hispanic. Wong. Probably Chinese. Johnson. Maybe African-American.
A recent study found that people discriminate against others based on their names. This is not surprising. People discriminate against others based on all kinds of things: gender, sexual orientation, height, weight, accent, grammar (of course!), educational background, social status, job . . . and the list goes on.
I was listening to the radio a few weeks ago and heard the story about Raven-Symoné, one of the co-hosts of the television show The View. After the program played a YouTube video poking fun at inner city African-American names, she said she wouldn’t hire anyone with a “ghetto” name.
This remark obviously made the news. So, I started thinking about names and how certain things about our names do reveal things about us and help to create an impression of us, whether true or not.
First of all, what is a ghetto name? Generally, they are inner city African-American names. Here are some common so called “ghetto” names:
Ghetto names aside, what else can we say about first names?
You get two resumes, virtually alike in terms of experience and education. One applicant’s first name is Mary; the other’s is Trixie. Who might you lean toward without even meeting them if you are hiring someone to work in your insurance agency? How about your strip club? (My apologies to anyone named Trixie.)
Many celebrities have either completely changed or altered their names. Why? Probably for a variety of reasons. They want a name with more star quality. They want a name easier to pronounce and remember. They want a name without a religion or nationality connected to it. Here are just a few of the celebrities who have changed their names:
Eric Marlon Bishop – Jamie Foxx
Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor – Lorde
Carlos Irwin Estevez – Charlie Sheen
Onika Tanya Maraj – Nicki Minaj
Peter Gene Bayot Hernandez – Bruno Mars
Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta – Lady Gaga
Mark Vincent – Vin Diesel
Ilyena Vasilievna Mironoff – Helen Mirren (I wonder why she changed that one!)
Norma Jean Mortenson – Marilyn Monroe
Stevland Hardaway Judkins – Stevie Wonder
Terry Gene Bottea – Hulk Hogan
Robert Allen Zimmerman – Bob Dylan
Louis Szekely – Louis C.K
Cornelius Crane Chase – Chevy Chase
Lawrence Harvey Zeiger – Larry King
Frederick Austerlitz – Fred Astaire
Melvin Kaminsky – Mel Brooks
Krishna Pandit Bhanji – Ben Kingsley
Diane Hall – Diane Keaton (I don’t quite get this one, but now we know where Annie Hall came from!)
In addition to celebrities changing their names, immigrants have often changed their names (both first and last) whether to save their lives, avoid discrimination, or fit into their new lives better.
And then there are authors. Authors often use pseudonyms for a variety of reasons:
- When Susan Eloise Hinton wrote her book about gangs in the Midwest, it was the 1960s and she was only 16 years old. Her publishing company didn’t think anyone would buy a book abut gangs written by a 16-year-old girl in those days. So she hid her gender by using the pseudonym S. E. Hinton for The Outsiders. It seemed to work.
- It is decades later, but perhaps J.K. Rowling did the same thing.
- Often authors write in two very different genres and like to use two different names. For example, I write as myself when I write grammar books, but when I write chick novels, I use JoJo Baker.
- Some writers want to conceal their identity. For example, I wrote Trashy Novel using the pseudonym JoJo Baker because I didn’t want to reveal the book to my 7th graders!
Here are some interesting thoughts about names:
- Men named Dave make the best husbands.
- Strippers and showgirls often change their names to girlie names like Daphne, Honey, Trixie, and Lulu.
- Prudence, Mary, and Joanne wouldn’t make it as pole dancers.
- We often dislike someone at first because they have the same name as someone we disliked in our past.
- Teachers often fall into the last category, having students with the same name as a problem student of another year.
- Some people can get by with only one name: Madonna, Rhianna, Cher, Adele, Ringo.
Names also give us an idea of someone’s age. For example, let’s take my name. Hardly anyone names a baby Arlene these days (actually, hardly anyone ever named a baby Arlene!). But those people who are named Arlene are generally from my generation. And I grew up with Lindas and Debbies. Hardly anyone names her baby Linda or Debbie now. We know that a Bertha or a Gertrude is not going to belong to a young child these days. These names were popular even before Linda and Debbie.
Here are some popular names by decade:
- 1900 – John and Mary
- 1910 – Add William and Helen, Margaret, and James to those
- 1920 – Add Betty
- 1930 – Add Richard, Barbara, and Shirley.
- 1940 – Add Carol and Patricia (Boy’s names stayed more stable)
- 1950 – Add Susan, Deborah, Linda, Michael, and David
- 1960 – Add Lisa and Kimberly
- 1970 – Add Christopher, Jason, Kimberly, Amy, and Melissa
- 1980 – Add Jessica, Jennifer, Matthew, and Joshua
- 1990 – Add Samantha, Sarah, and Ashley
- 2000 – Emma, Hannah, Olivia, Madison, Andrew
Here are some popular names of 2015:
- Chloe, Emily, Aaliyah, Emma, Jennifer, Olivia, Hannah, Jessica, Sarah, and Lily
- Jacob, Muhammad, Shawn, Aaron, Daniel, Jonah, Alex, Michael, James, and Ryan
A couple of other things about names I would like to mention.
Celebrities like to give weird names to their kids: Scout, North, Suri . . .I guess they can get away with it, and their kids probably won’t be bullied because of it!
When you run into a child named Rainbow, Sunshine, Happiness, or Wednesday, you can be almost sure his or her parents were hippies!
Tune in next week for the Halloween post — and then back to our comma series.
New Car Sign! Watch out for me! New Business Cards!