Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What's In a Name

Warning: I am on cold meds. I feel terrible and I'm really rambly and I have thrown away my letter opener seven times accidentally today. Please, remember as you read this mess that I am just not all there. Please, someone send me a meme or something so I can post something more coherant tomorrow. Consider yourself warned, and boy am I sorry...
I'm fascinated by what I call the psychology of naming. It's a huge responsibility naming someone. Even yourself.

As many of you know, I picked really unusual names for my daughters because I had a really common name and I didn't like sharing it with so many. Which means, my kids will grow up miserable because they don't know anyone else with their weird names and name their kids whatever is the height of fashion. In 1978, Jessica was the 3rd most popular name in the U.S. In 2004, Brynna was the 330th name in the U.S. (only spelled Brenna). In 2008, Maren was the 965th most popular name in the U.S. My poor girls.

I've been surrounded by the issue of self naming lately, though. The choices we make at those moments when our identity is in flux. Like marriage.

I always thought of myself as a hyphenating girl. But I never really liked my last name and I never really liked my father and I didn't know his family. So, when the time came and all the hyphenated versions looked silly, I opted to take The Husband's last name.

I had always seen taking on another person's name as an act of submission. Like slaves used to have to do. But, when it came down to it, I saw it more as an act of alliance. Who do I want to be associated with? My husband or my father. I chose my husband.

But what if? What if I had a normal name that sounded good with a hyphen? Or a healthy relationship with my father? I don't know the answers to those questions because I can't separate myself from my own circumstances.

Many of my friends have changed back to their maiden names after they were divorced. I wonder if I would do that. I think I would want the same last name as my girls. Beyond that, though, I just don't know what I would do.

Our names are a piece of our identity. They don't just reflect who we are, they help to define it. Certainly, I am me, no matter what I choose to call myself. But, would I be the same me if I had been named Zoe or Mathilda or Catherine? Who knows. I think we grow to fit our names in much the same way our names become the descriptors of us.

Undeniably our names say something about who we are and how we choose to use those names says even more. I may be named Jessica, but don't ever, EVER call me that. I am Jessi, thankyouverymuch. And Jessi is a much better descriptor of my personality, my presence. Hyphenating says something. Taking your maiden name back says something. Choosing to stay where you are, or follow the status quo says something? Going by a nickname or insisting on your full name being used says something. Spelling says something. Perhaps something different for each person, but something all the same.

How do you choose names? Those of your kids or yourself or even your dogs. (I once had two cats named Skye and Morgan for Skye Vodka and Captain Morgan Rum. They were an homage to dogs I had as a child named Whiskey and Tequilla.)


Orlandel said...

You also had dogs named Chevy and Dodge and another named Geronimo. Wonder what a therapist would think of that?

Suze said...

Daniel...well, that's obvious, isn't it? But other than paying hommage to my dad, we wanted a name that 1) has no ambiguity when it comes to spelling because that drives me nuts, 2) doesn't have any unfortunate nicknames, and although my son is only "Daniel" to me, not "Dan" or "Danny," at least those nicknames don't bug me, should he choose to go by one or the other later in life, and 3) doesn't sound like a last name. Because my husband's last name is just as easily a first name and people get his names all mixed up all the time. Daniel's a fairly common name, but it's classic, too, so that's okay.

As for Anya...we just like it. Some people out there might think we named her after a certain capitalist vengeance demon from Buffy, but that's not exactly true (even though we're Buffy fans). Anya just seemed like a good name, for all the reasons listed above, plus there aren't a million other Anyas out there, just a few. And the happy thing is, it fits her just right.

Anonymous said...

I am completely torn about my last name when I get married. My son has my last name and I want him to always have that connection to me, but the children of my future will end up having the husband of my future's last name, and there's that whole connection thing again. Hyphenating it would make for a mouthful, but might be my only option.

I had a horrible time choosing a name for my son. So horrible, that I didn't even choose name him.

My son's father and I argued about what we were going to name him through the whole pregnancy, and we couldn't agree on anything.

My brother ended up telling me to name him Alexander, the night before he was born, because it was such a strong name.

The children of my future are already named. The son I know that I will have will be named after his father and the daughter will have a Romanian name with my middle name (I know one cannot control the sex of the child, but I enjoy wishful thinking).

Tina said...

Not only is it hard to chose a child's name, but with our last name we have to be careful! Not many names go with it and there are a lot of horrible nicknames that can go with it. When Ron and I got married I had a hard time deciding on what I was going to do in terms of a last name. In the end I decided similar to you. My dad wasn't the greatest and I had that name long enough!

Jessi said...

Suze - I had no idea you were Buffy fans!! Have I mentioned here ever that I am completely obsessed? That Bob wouldn't let me name Ethan Xander because of my complete obsession?

Also, I understand about the first name-last name thing. I really like the names that sound like last names, especially for girls, but I have a weird last name that no one would mistake for a first name, so it would have been okay. Unfortunately, the whole trend is popular, so I couldn't do it anyway. :)

Sara - Love the name Alexander and would have actually named little Xander Alexander and then just called him Xander.

Mom - I don't remember those dogs. Just Tracker.

Tina - It is very hard when your last name is a word.

Suze said...

Oh my yes. Love everything Joss Whedon has done (well, I could live w/out the Angel series but it wasn't bad). We own all the Buffy DVDs and have watched them multiple times. Ditto Firefly. Oddly enough I think it was my piano prof here that got me watching, that and an NPR interview I heard after the whole series was done.

What's your take on Dollhouse? Have you watched it?

Jenn-Jenn, the Mother Hen said...

Jessi, I feel your pain. From 1970 to 1983, "Jennifer" was the #1 most popular girls name. That means I meet a whole stinkin' LOT of other women with my name. This is why I chose to give my son the name I did. So he then promtly turned around and insists on using the oh-so common shortened version of it. So, he'll grow up and name his kids something boring... excuse me, popular, then they'll grow up to name their kids with unsual names, and on and on and on. :-)

Jessi said...

Suze - I have watched it and I seem to be missing it this season. Need to figure out when it's on now. It's okay. I don't think it's as great as the previous series, but I'm willing to give it a chance. The first season of Buffy was not the best thing ever, either. (Although Firefly was the BEST THING EVER!!!)

Jenn - My great-grandmother and grandmother were both Eleanor's and my mom was supposed to be, but my grandmother hated the name. I've often thought that it would have been better if we had just kept the tradition going. I would have been a decent Ellie. Or Nora.