Friday, May 13, 2011

The Name Game

My son and daughter in law are expecting their third child (another boy) in early August, and he already has a name - Nathaniel Ray. Now, there is really nothing unusual about picking out a name for baby in advance. Linda and I had boys and girls names picked out for both of our kids well in advance of their births. In those "pre ultrasound" days, one had to chose both masculine and feminine names, since only God knew the gender of the baby in advance. Granted, many of the older ladies were quick to tell you what you were going to have, based on how the Momma to be was "carrying it", how bad the morning sickness was, whether or not she had heartburn on a regular basis, or the nature of the food she craved during a certain period of the pregnancy. Still, there were some brave souls were known to wait till the baby was born before picking a moniker for the little darling. Some of the reasons - "We're praying about it", "We just haven't been able to decide on a name" and the ever popular - "Let's see what it looks like before we pick out a name". (I never really quite understood that one...)
It has long been a point of interest for me as to why people name babies the names they do.

Of course there is the "family factor". I was named after both grandfathers, and called by initials so as to not offend either by calling me by the other's name. Both sides of my family have their share of handing down family names to succeeding generations. My oldest grandson actually carries the Roman numeral "V" after his name, since he is the fifth boy in the line with the same name. (Fortunately they just call him, "Quint" since he is the fifth successive Caudle Adkins).

Other factors include may include the parent's fondness for popular sports figures or entertainment stars, or characters from movies or television. I have a friend who named his son Ryne, after his favorite player on his favorite baseball team. The boy didn't grow up to play for the Chicago Cubs, but he did turn out to be a fine young man.
Bible names are often popular with both Jewish and Christian folks. Four of our (soon to be five) grandsons carry the Biblical names of Benjamin, Josiah, Asher, and Nathaniel. Even mythology can come into play when naming youngins. Yesterday evening two of my grandsons were playing basketball in the back yard with a couple of brothers named Zeus and Thor. I kid you not!
Back in the days of my grandparents, there seemed to be an interest in naming children geographically. There was a Memphis Tennessee Garrison, and I have heard of other ladies of that generation carrying names such as Arizona, Montana, Missouri, and Georgia. In fact, one of the most colorful Major League Baseball Commissioners of days gone by was named for a topographical feature in that same state of Georgia - Keenesaw Mountain Landis!

The "trendy" and "cool" factors cannot be ignored, either. Although my own given name is strange in its own right, I managed to escape ridicule by using my initials or my middle name, Jerry. Back in my grade school days, one could only feel sorry for the poor kids who got saddled with names like, Elmer, Henrietta, Delbert, Lucretia, Waldo, or Mavis. I know now, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with those names, but boy did those kids live hard back in the late 50's and early 60's!

My children grew up with a number of Scotts, Jays, Megans, Christys, Chads, and Leigh Annes. Their kids go to school with a spate of Bradens, Zachs, Bradys, Chloes, Madisons and Zoes.

The factors that impact children's names are forever changing. There are numerous books to help parents pick out just the right name for their little heirs. One resource is "40,001 Best Baby Names". If those are not enough choices for you, you might try the ever popular, "The Baby Name Bible". That one offers "50,000+ baby names"!

For anyone who doubts how names have changed over the years, compare this top ten lists of baby names from my birth year of 1950 to the current top tens of 2011:

In 1950 the top ten names for boys were, James, Robert, John, Michael, David, William, Richard, Thomas, Charles, and Gary. I went to school with EVERY one of these guys. The most popular girls monikers at mid century were, Linda, Mary, Patricia, Barbara, Susan, Nancy, Deborah, Sandra, Carol, and Kathleen. I knew all of them, too. In fact, my wife bears names numbers one and nine on the list.

The corresponding top ten for 2011 are as follows:

For the boys, there's Mason, Jacob, Liam, Ethan, Noah, Logan, Jackson, Aiden, Jack, and Ryan. The top female names are Sophia, Emma, Olivia, Isabella, Ava, Madison, Emily, Ella, Abigail, and Addison.

There is a lot to be said for unusual family names. My first name, Caudle, is also a somewhat common surname. It is also the given name of my father and grandfather (and my son and grandson). The word is derived from the name of a warm ale, consumed in the British Isles. I don't know how my grandfather came to earn that one, but our Adkins clan does go back to Wales, so maybe that played into it some way. I've had my share of adventures with the name. There is the usual reaction of, "What? Where did you get a name like that?", to which I have become quite accustomed. There is the typical spate of misspellings and mispronunciations that go with it. I have long answered to such variations as "Claude", "Caudill", and the ever popular "Claudell" (among others).

I got my first clue on the first day of first grade at Gallaher Elementary School. All of the incoming first graders were assembled in the gymnasium with our mothers as we were being informed as to which class we were being assigned. The principal, Mr. Lea, stood at the podium and asked one of the first grade teachers, Mrs. Donaldson, to raise her hand for identification. In his Ben Stein like monotone, Mr. Lea began reading the list as to who would follow Mrs. Donaldson to her classroom.

"Karen Adams... CANDLE Jerry Adkins..."

"Wow!" I thought. "That kid's name is almost like mine, but weirder."

Mom stood, took me by the hand, and said, "Come on, that's us." I was shocked. That's kind of a traumatic blow to a five year old in the midst of a bunch of strangers named John, William, and Richard.

One kind neighbor lady tried to sooth my bruised ego by saying, "He probably called you 'Candle' because you are so bright."

I wasn’t buying it. (even then)!

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