Peeping Toms and Bloody Marys

Aug 10th 2006

A reader here recently took issue with the suggestion that Tom is a friendly, likeable name:

I personally cannot separate it from the term "peeping tom"-it has pervy undertones, which are not exactly likeable IMO :).

A peeping tom is certainly not an attractive image. But is that association really so much stronger than a tom cat, tomfoolery, Uncle Tom, or Tom Thumb? And are the unsavory connotations worse than what emanates from a Bloody Mary or Jack the Ripper? I'd go further, but it would be unseemly for a baby name blog to set off not-safe-for-work alarms. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to conjure up undesirable associations for names like John, Cherry, Patsy, Jack, Randy, Fanny, Rod, Willie, Peter, and Dick.

Lots of traditional English names, and especially nicknames, are loaded with slang meanings. Many are also common words independent of their name usage (ever feel like the phone company's trying to Rob you when you get your Bill?) But in most cases, the name can take it. Names like Jack have survived and thrived despite a plethora of dodgy meanings.

In fact, such a large number of different meanings tends to yield a blunt impact, even when many of the connections are negative. John, for instance, can be a jilted lover, a prostitute's customer or a toilet, but it's still a strong and viable name. Personally, I'd put Tom in the same category: the many associations tend to cancel one another out.

A name can face deeper trouble when a single strong connotation takes over. Even then a long, strong history as a given name can usually carry a name through the hard times -- but a name like Cherry is out of luck. It was the fruit and flower connotation that attracted parents to the name to begin with, so when the connotation shifted the name bowed out.

"But hold on a second," you might be thinking. "What about Dick? Isn't that a classic old name that's been killed off?" A very fair question, which I'll talk about next time.

Comments

1
By Christiana (not verified)
August 10, 2006 5:12 PM

I've always tried to keep the obvious popculture reference nicknames in mind when coming up with a name - including John and Jack, et al. But it is of course impossible to think of every cruel word some kid on the playground is going to use in association with your child's name. (My s-i-l, Joslin, was nicknamed Bossy Jossy for awhile) Another excellent topic, Laura! Looking forward to hearing what you have to say about Dick in the future.

2
By Nancy R. Callahan (not verified)
August 10, 2006 5:37 PM

"A name can face deeper trouble when a single strong connotation takes over." --This immediately brought Adolf to mind. It's not a common/traditional English name, so maybe it can't be compared to Tom and John, but still it has that one overriding connotation that makes it totally off-limits for people today.

3
By julie (not verified)
August 10, 2006 8:46 PM

My daughter, Pamela, was teased by being called " Pampers". She was in first or second grade when that brand of disposable diapers became popular. Kids can make fun of any name.

4
By Jamie (not verified)
August 11, 2006 10:45 AM

I was Lamey Jamie and my sister was Sorry Lori

5
By Jen (not verified)
August 11, 2006 12:05 PM

Well, I might be stating the obvious but here are some unpleasant connotations from the list Laura gave:

In the UK Willie and Dick are both slang names for the penis, Fanny is a slang name for..er, girly parts, Randy means the same as horny, Cherry makes me think of 'popping someone's cherry' and Rod - well, maybe it's just me but that sounds a bit phallic too.

I've no idea if these have any of the smae meaningt in the stes or elsewhere because I'm not well versed in slang terms of other countries so forgive me if that was obvious to everyone else!

6
By Jen (not verified)
August 11, 2006 12:07 PM

Excuse my awful typos there - I meant ot type 'I've no idea if these have any of the same meanings in the States or elsewhere...'

7
By Jamie (not verified)
August 11, 2006 5:22 PM

Yep Jen,

Pretty much the same meanings here in the states.

8
By Snow (not verified)
August 11, 2006 5:45 PM

When I got pregnant chosing the name was so important to me. I wanted my child to have an uncommon, but not unusual, name. I wanted it to be a name they could grow up with, that was powerful.

My sons name came to me in a dream, I was rocking a cradle and the baby was swaddled in blue, and someone asked me his name and I said it. When I told people what I wanted to name him I was told no, it was weird, people would make fun of him, it was too old fashioned. Now, 24 years later, it is one of the most common boy names you can find. Justin! At the time though, I had only met one other Justin in my life.

He is just glad he wasn't a girl. I was going to name him, Athena. :)

9
By jamie (not verified)
August 11, 2006 9:29 PM

I got Lamie Jamie too! (at some point just shortened to "Lamie"... nice.) :)

10
By Jan (not verified)
August 11, 2006 10:24 PM

Maybe because of our culture the names with sexual associations are more taboo?

11
By Tina (not verified)
August 13, 2006 1:11 AM

I wanted to name my daughter Bridget but my husband wouldn't let me because he said that she would be teased at school and be called "Bridget the midget".

12
By Katy (not verified)
August 13, 2006 8:14 PM

I think that kids are cruel and will make something up for almost any name. On the flip side, the most popular kid in elementary school was named Barth--did anyone ever call him BARF? Nope--he was way too cool.

Katy

13
By jennie w. (not verified)
August 14, 2006 12:29 AM

I have a son named York who is nine. I just loved the name York when I was pregnant, but really worried about the major teasing (York the dork, or if he's fat, Porkie Yorkie). I just came to the conclusion that kids will be teased no matter what the name. And teasing only last for a few years. So we went ahead and named him York. I just asked him a few days ago if people tease him about his name, and he says no one does. Go figure!

14
By Amy (not verified)
August 14, 2006 2:21 AM

How about this? Have you ever met someone whose name image does not match their actual personal image? For instance, do most women with very sexy names fight the image or become the image? Do people who do not match the ethnicity of any given name have a harder time being accepted into their own ethnic group?

15
By Linda (not verified)
August 14, 2006 11:15 AM

Tina, I have a friend named Bridget and she is, indeed, called "Bridget the Midget". However, she doesn't mind the nickname and I have always thought that Bridget is a cute name, especially with an Irish last name. Good luck!

16
By Christiana (not verified)
August 14, 2006 12:31 PM

Amy - Those are good questions. I especially like the one about the ethnic name... My name is Scottish, Russian, Spanish, Italian - some variants in spelling, but the pronunciation is the same. I can always tell the ethnicity of someone when they comment on the ethnicity of my name. If they don't see it spelled out, they automatically assume it is from the culture they are most familier with. I usually claim the Scottish as that is the closest spelling and my mother loves all things from Scotland. FYI the spelling variations are Christiana, Kristiana, Cristiana and Christianna, respectively.

17
By Howard (not verified)
August 14, 2006 2:02 PM

What sort of connotations you might perceive is inevitably personal. I don't think of Peeping Tom at all when I meet a Tom. But I conceed you might, and might not want to use it for your child if that is the case.

It does seem almost impossible to think of a name that would have absolutely no connotation for anyone. Whenever discussing possible names, some friend will always say "Oh, I wouldn't use that name. I had a girlfriend with that name in high school and she was crazy." or something. You try to ignore that and choose something that works for you.

In the end, I don't think it makes much difference. Most people do grow out of grade school name calling eventually. Having names like Bush and Dick didn't seem to hold back the US president and vice president too much(no political commentary suggested).

I was Howard the Coward. Then, after the famously awful late 80s movie of the same name, Howard thd Duck. I got over it.

H

18
By Hannah (not verified)
August 14, 2006 4:40 PM

My cousin's daughter is a petite little blonde girl with green eyes, her name is Camilla and last Friday she came home crying because the kids started calling her Camilla Gorilla (she is 5 and just started kindergarten!)

19
By Rachel (not verified)
August 15, 2006 5:06 PM

My 8 year old Mary gets called "Mary Christmas" (and asked if she's married to Santa Claus) ALL THE TIME.

There is no name so simple, basic, or familiar that a determined child can't make fun of somehow.

20
By Debra (not verified)
August 15, 2006 5:52 PM

I agree, that kids can up with a way to make fun of every name. I think the best way to deal with it is to prepare them for it and to make them laugh about it before it happens. Our entire family came up with a 'rap' for our daugher who is almost two and we've been singing it to her ever since she was about three months old. She loves it and laughs the whole time. It has more verses, but starts out "Mika, la freak-a, she is totally unique-a".

I was only teased a bit in high school/college with the "Debbie does Dallas" thing, of course the first time someone said it, I had no idea what the movie was.

21
By Christiana (not verified)
August 15, 2006 6:05 PM

Playing devil's advocate I ask, so does that mean that you can name your child anything you want without regard to names that will obviously get picked on?

22
By Julie (not verified)
August 15, 2006 6:19 PM

Christiana-

In my opinion, all names will "obviously get picked on."

How do you suggest we help our children? I'm tempted to teach my daughter to respond to the inevitable "Amelia Bedelia" by offering to call her playmates "Sarah Bearah" and "Olivia Bolivia!"

23
By Wendy (not verified)
August 15, 2006 7:08 PM

Julie writes:
In my opinion, all names will "obviously get picked on."

I disagree. Some names take alot of creative to use for teasing. Other names are just waiting for it.

Remember the legends about Ima Pig?
And my father who was Dick was adamant that no son of his would be called Dick.

That said, Kids can always find something to tease someone about.

Just don't give them ammunition.

24
By Christiana (not verified)
August 15, 2006 7:35 PM

Are you going to name your kid Wilfred? Jenny Jumps? Peter Piper? How many children were named Ursela in the aftermath of Disney's The Little Mermaid?

I agree with Wendy - what's the point in helping the playground bullies pick on your kid?

I had a customer at my first job whose name was (and I saw his driver's license) Rhett Butler. His parents thought it would be cute. Nevermind that he was blonde and skinny and more likely to be stuck behind a desk with a pocket protector and calculator than rescuing some souther damsel in distress, why set your kid up for the teasing?

Yes, if they try hard enough, any name can be made fun of. (My husband is Chuck, as in Up-Chuck, Ground Chuck, How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?, etc.) However, Im also not going to name my kid Bing (last name Crosby) just because it sounds funny.

25
By Jamie (not verified)
August 15, 2006 8:17 PM

I live next door to a Bing...it's a nn for Blyden...

26
By Abby (not verified)
August 15, 2006 10:50 PM

I was Abby Flabby. Or Snortin' Horton (my maiden name.) I also got a lot of references to Horton Hears a Who. The flabby thing was worst, though. As a girl, it set me up for ALL KINDS of problems as a woman - the last thing any girl needs. Of course I'm okay now. Maybe it made me a stronger person in the long run!

27
By CRT (not verified)
August 16, 2006 12:28 AM

I enjoyed Amy's post on ethnicity. I have a very caucasian-sounding maiden name (Richie), but have been discovering for the past year that my married name (Tavares) carries a much different connotation (it's Portugese)! People who hear my name before they meet me are surprised to find a pale, blue-eyed girl! I am more amused than anything.

28
By Char (not verified)
August 16, 2006 7:03 AM

I was the commentor who mentioned "peeping Tom" in the other post. I feel special. :)

I concede that most common names have many slang versions (though note that nearly all of the Tom ones mentioned are negative to some degree, heh). It's just one of those names I always think badly of-I guess I'm just biased.

As for kids and teasing, I agree with Wendy. While it is inevitable, some names require more work and thought to make fun of. I'd at least make it a bit difficult.

BTW my brother's name is Richard and he is occasionally called Dick. He doesn't care for it, but still prefers even that to Rick. He despises that name.

29
By Dana (not verified)
August 16, 2006 2:06 PM

My husband's name is Bart B---. He got so much teasing as a kid but grew into his name and it fits him now. He's a teacher now though and kids think they are the first figure out what his name rymes with. The difference now? He can put them in timeout, tell them it's mean to make fun of people's names, and maybe just a little bit, relive his childhood but he's in control.
He insists that if a name can't be played in the name game our child doen't get the name. His best friends agree--Mitch and Chuck.

30
By Christiana (not verified)
August 16, 2006 2:39 PM

Dana - My husband Chuck would like that idea! Though having the name Chuck never bothered him (though I'm not fond of it, personally other than it's his name). I prefer to call him Charlie.

Never understood people who go by the name Dick in this day and age. Used to work with a man named Richard who prefered Dick. I just couldn't bring myself to call him Dick. Seems more like an insult than a name or nickname. When did that word get it's negative connotation? He was in his late 50s in the mid to late 90's, so maybe he used the name before it became negative.

31
By Jen (not verified)
August 16, 2006 6:00 PM

"How many children were named Ursula in the aftermath of Disney's The Little Mermaid?"

Don't know about that, but have you seen the way Jasmine takes off after the release of Aladdin?! I don't think I'd ever heard of the name before that.

32
By Heather (not verified)
August 16, 2006 6:32 PM

Laura, I was pondering the flip side of your previous post about Top 1000 names that have disappeared. Is there a name that re-appeared after being out of the top 1000 for a substantial time (say, 20 years?) It seems like many of the "revival" names dropped in popularity but never completed left the top 1000. The name I was thinking of in particular is Clementine - it hasn't been a top 1000 in over 50 years, but I know some left coasters are starting to use it - is it possible that it would once again come back to the top 1000? Or is a name too "out there" after that many years out of circulation?

33
By Abby (not verified)
August 16, 2006 8:09 PM

My dog's name is Clementine. She's almost 2. My husband is a Churchill fanatic.

34
By Christiana (not verified)
August 16, 2006 8:25 PM

Clementine seems like a pet name to me - nn, Clem? I know I've heard it on a human before, but I can't really get behind it, even with the revival of old fashioned names. Most of the old fashioned names that have come back seem to have a bit of sophistication (Sophia, Olivia).

35
By The Doctor (not verified)
August 16, 2006 10:58 PM

I was searching for a new baby name and ran accross this blog. I have a 3-D picture of my un-born son amd ask for suggestions on names. It is really tough ...

36
By Amy (not verified)
August 16, 2006 11:51 PM

I love the name Clementine. I had considered it for my third child. I chose not to use it because Claudia Schiffer had used it for her daughter. I was worried that it might "catch on" in the next several years. Plus, my mom thought that people might call my daughter Clemmie. In Grandma's mind it sounded to much like clammy.

37
By Amanda (not verified)
August 17, 2006 12:32 AM

I agree that parents-to-be can overthink the potential for teasing. Any kid can get teased for anything. Unless you're naming your kid Nuther Lucker, you probably just have to accept it as mostly beyond your control. Besides, who here wasn't teased? Isn't it--to some extent, at least--just part of growing up?

38
By Jennie w. (not verified)
August 17, 2006 12:58 AM

My daughter, who was born last year, was named Clementine for a week. I thought it was so cute, and sang "oh my darling Clementine" to her from day one. I'm not one to cave into peer pressure, but after several days of rude comments from everyone we knew, we reconsidered the name. Even my mother begged us not to use it. She said everyone in her women's group wanted to know how we could be so mean as to name our daughter Clementine. You can't imagine how many people hate that name! A couple of people liked it, but most were very strongly opposed to it. So after taking crap from everybody for a whole week, we begged the hospital to let us resubmit our paperwork and she became Adelaide instead. We've gotten a much better response to that name. I was distressed to see it break into this year's top 1000, though.

39
By Rebekah (not verified)
August 17, 2006 6:02 AM

My niece and nephew name's are Michael and Isabella. Very popular I know. But I have met another family with children with the same names and have read about another family with children with the same names. I am just curious to see how many people have come across this? When I told my sister-n-law she said "See, I knew they sounded good together!" LOL

40
By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
August 17, 2006 1:36 PM

I suspect the Clementine surge is coming because Clementine oranges are now available in the winter here. Added to the natural phenomenon of the older generation with that name having died off (thus removing the "old lady" connotation) and the character on PBS's "Caillou", you've got a trend.

41
By sls (not verified)
August 17, 2006 5:40 PM

Jennie--how incredibly rude your friends and family are! I can't believe they would pressure you like that. I came so so close to naming my daughter Adelaide, but Clementine was on our list too, it just didn't really go with our last name. It is a strong name with a lot of character, and shame on the people around you for not supporting your decision.

Before my son was born, people gave us a lot of trouble about the name we liked for him (Wolfgang) but now he is 5 and we ONLY ever get positive comments--all the other kids think it is really cool, and so far anyway, it has been tease proof, maybe because it is so tough.

42
By Jamie (not verified)
August 17, 2006 8:52 PM

That's horrible that you felt you had to go back and change your daughter's name just because of what people said. Your friends and family should be ashamed.

43
By KO (not verified)
August 17, 2006 9:38 PM

Heather, in response to your post, how about names like Joan/Maude/Matilda? I'm especially interested in Joan because she was a staple on par with Mary, Anne, and Elizabeth for a few hundred years before dropping out, then experiencing two renaissainces (in the late 1800s and again in the 1930s).

Just a case study I suppose.

44
By Tansey (not verified)
August 17, 2006 11:51 PM

Jennie, I'm truly sad for you - Clementine is such a graceful pretty name with a hint of tenacity about it - perfect for a 21stC woman.
Regarding the name Jasmine, its been popular here in NZ for almost 30 years to the point it is overdone now. Unfortunately Jasmines tend to be called Jas or Jaz, which to my mind hardens it.

45
By Valerie (not verified)
August 18, 2006 4:04 AM

A friend of mine has just had a baby boy this week, a brother to their little girl Rowan. I was trying to guess what they would call him, and kept coming up with nature names like Sage, which my husband thought were terrible! Well, I found out today that they've called him Oliver- a pretty standard name in the UK (where the Dad hails from, as I do), but I think rarer out here. I love the name and my husband (American) hates it. He can only think of Oliver North and Oliver Stone. So, do you think Rowan and Oliver go together? I actually think they're a nice combo, even though I was surprised at the choice.

46
By Valerie (not verified)
August 18, 2006 4:05 AM

PS I love the name Clementine, but (guess what!), my husband hates it. Baby naming is a challenge around here...

47
By Eva (not verified)
August 18, 2006 6:19 AM

I just wanted to know what everyone here thinks of the name Ginevra, to go by Ginny. It's the Italian version of Guinevere, and it's Harry Potter!! When I have a daughter (in around 20 years or so) I'd like her to be named Ginevra Kaitlyn Mary Alicia (pronounced Alisha) Owen Metz Husbandslastname.
Just a questions...my sisters name is Alicia, which we pronounce Alisha. I've never heard anyone else with that pronunciation. Do you guys think that it's a nice name? How would you rate it in likeability?

48
By Michelle (not verified)
August 18, 2006 8:08 AM

I've always thought Alicia was a nice name, although I had a bad experience with a girl called Alisha when I was in primary school so I'm not particularly fond of that spelling. ;) I've actually never heard Alicia pronounced any way other than 'a-leesh-a', how else would you pronounce it? 'A-leesh-ee-a' or something?

49
By Jamie (not verified)
August 18, 2006 11:25 AM

I love love the name Ginnie...but I'm hoping to use it one day for a shortened form of Virginia. She would be the younger sister to Cordelia, nn Cordie

50
By Christiana (not verified)
August 18, 2006 12:10 PM

Valerie - I like Rowan and Oliver together - they both sound a little different (Oliver is well-known, just not used much today) but not over the top.

Eva - I love the name Ginevra ( I recently read a historical fiction book and the main female character was named Ginevra). But are you really going to give your kid 6 names? That's an awful lot for a kid! Also, Alicia Silverstone pronounces her name Alisha as well. And for both Michelle and Eva there are 2 OTHER ways of pronouncing Alicia. Ah-lee-shah and Ah-lee-see-ah.

Jamie - I went to school with a Virginia, nn Ginny. It's a cute nickname for a more formal, distinguished name. I love the name Cordelia with either Cordy or Delia as a nn.