Monikers

Growing-up in white-bread Middle America, the child of black-bread-eating German refugees, I wanted a plain name. And so, on the first day of fourth grade I told my teacher that I used my middle name, Ruth. Since I was horribly shy, I never answered to it (or probably to any name) and so she figured out pretty quickly that wasn’t the case and Monica I still was. My parents meant well; they just wanted to give me an interesting name. Today Monicas are ubiquitous and far more interesting names are the norm. See John Tierney’s article, “Bad Baby Names – A Boy Named Sue, and a Theory of Names” for more on this business of names.

I immediately welcomed the Boy Named Sue paradigm, although I realized that I might be biased by my middle name (Marion). Cash and his ambiguously named male collaborator, the lyricist Shel Silverstein, could offer only anecdotal evidence against decades of research suggesting that children with weird names were destined for places like San Quentin.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Monikers

  1. Pooja

    What constitutes a “weird name”? In some places, ethnic/foreign names are considered weird (which *may* be tied up race/immigration issues). The Times is looking at this through a very narrow lens–as usual.

    When folks made fun of my name when I was a kid, I didn’t know how to respond. When, today, adults make some sort of comment about my “unusual name,” I have a stock response. (“It may be unusual to you, but it’s probably one of the most common names in the world.” This is usually accompanied by a condescending look.)

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  2. Pooja, very good point. I now teach in NYC where people seem much more accepting of an enormous variety of names. But growing up, things were quite different.

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  3. matrayback

    Hey. I’m the author of the book the NYT is talking about, Bad Baby Names, and I agree with Pooja’s point. In the book, which examines interesting names found in census records, I avoided clearly ethnic names (like Asian or American Indian) names since clearly, their naming conventions are different than ours. But when you have a white, middle-class American named Pants Agers, it makes one wonder. Thanks for posting about the article and hence about my book. Want to see more? Check out my blog at http://www.badbabynames.net.

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