Peeping Toms and Bloody Marys
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.