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.


By Kristin (not verified)
August 18, 2006 3:06 PM

My name is Kristin, and I never got teased for it. There's not much to say about Kristin, but kids found a way to tease me about my last name instead. I was Lambert the Sheepish Lion or Lambchop. Point is kids will make fun of any name, and most of the time it's no big deal.

By Dorothy (not verified)
August 18, 2006 4:01 PM

I can't get over Rowan as a girl's name. I always think of Rowan Atkinson, "Mister Bean". And I knew a male Rowan in college, come to think of it.

By Christiana (not verified)
August 18, 2006 5:03 PM

People never made fun of my name (childhood nn, Christy) but the double Y's (maiden name Yates) caused a nickname. we played this game in PE called Crazy Eights and I'm sure you can see that Crazy Eights and Christy Yates sound similar enough to get Crazy Yates out of it. I much prefer my more "adult" name of Christiana.

That's also why I don't understand people, like my best friend who choose to name their kids the nickname version of the formal name (in this case, Abby instead of Abigail). She claims she'll never call her daughter Abigail, so why make that her legal name, but I like to look toward the future. What happens if her daughter chooses to work a very formal profession? Abby S______, Attorney doesn't look quite as serious as Abigail, does it?

By Jamie (not verified)
August 18, 2006 7:32 PM

My husband and I have this same discussion. I come from a family where we were named our names...Scott, Jamie and Lori (no real nicknames). My husband comes from a family that used longer names and used nn, Michael(Mike) and Christopher(Chris). He wants names that will have a "kid" nickname and an "adult" name, for when they get older. He's thrown out a lot of good names because of that way of thinking...kind of irks me sometimes.

By lizpenn (not verified)
August 18, 2006 11:38 PM

I agree that "Ginevra Kaitlyn Mary Alicia (pronounced Alisha) Owen Metz Husbandslastname" is absurdly long. All nice names, though -- just needs a little trimming.

And the person who named their son Wolfgang? Very very cool! I floated that name when I was pregnant and it was immediately shot down -- to be fair, it sounded goofy with our last name, which begins with a W too. As it turned out, we were having a girl anyway.

By Heather (not verified)
August 19, 2006 3:38 AM

KO - Shhhhhh! I love Matilda but I don't want it to go all Madeline. I like Joan but it doesn't really work with the (future) kid's last name.

By Heather (not verified)
August 19, 2006 3:43 AM

Actually, I just looked up Matilda in the NV and it is a perfect candidate for my question above - hasn't been in the top 1000 since 1950. So if the Ledger/Williams baby starts a trent it could be! Though I still think it is kinda out there.

By rachel (not verified)
August 19, 2006 6:46 PM

joan is just awful.

sounds so much like "moan". the whole "oahh" sounds draggy and depressing.

By Eva (not verified)
August 19, 2006 7:53 PM

Ok, ok. 6 or 7 names is a lot for a child. How about Ginevra Kaitlyn Alicia (pronounced Alisha) Owen. And it all depends on my husbands last name, but maybe we'll do a hyphenated last name, or we'll add my last name in there too. And my 2nd daughter (I want daughters!) will be 1st name Mary Lacy Porter. If it's a boy, he'll probably have the same middle names, too.

By Christiana (not verified)
August 19, 2006 10:34 PM

Guess I don't get the Porter/Owen thing, Eva, but it's your kid. :-)Is your last name one of those?

Rachel - I know a woman named Joan who would agree with you. She has chosen to pronounce it Joann in her adulthood.

By Eva (not verified)
August 20, 2006 5:51 AM

Porter and Owen are my Mom's and my grandmother's maiden names...

About the nicknames thing: If someone really wanted to find a way to make fun any kids name, they could. But they probably wouldn't want to...I can't think of anyone I know who gets made fun of by their name. Sometimes we'll affectionately tease, like calling a Claire ClaireBear or something. People call me Eva the Diva... Just don't name your child something like Gaylord. That's cruel.

By Margot (not verified)
August 21, 2006 2:25 AM

I know a Gahlord, pronounced like Gaylord. I wonder if the family name was Gaylord and the parents changed a letter to make it less... mockable?

I think the movie "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" made Clementine sound cool to a lot of people (it was Kate Winslet's character's name). Maybe it will eclipse those memories of "Oh my darlin' Clementine."

I like Ginevra. I think it was the name of a flirty girl in a Charlotte Bronte book, either that or Geneva.

By Abi (not verified)
August 21, 2006 6:50 PM

Matilda is becoming more popular in the U.K now, as in #88 for 2005, so according to the Europe to America trend you'll be seeing more of it, even though it sounds old fashioned to you now. Really popular names in Britain right now, I noticed on American based opinion polls, get bad reactions, mostly for being 'old fashioned' whilst names like Colin (which sounds like a boy from the 1940s to my English mind) are embraced. My predictions for future 'hot' names in America (based on current 'hot' names in Britain) are Alfie, Oscar, Freddie, Ellis, Owen and Leo for boys and Freya, Matilda, Jemima and ELeanor for girls.
Also, do you know another variation of Guinevere? Jennifer: it's the Cornish variant.

By buffy (not verified)
August 21, 2006 7:48 PM

Amy asked about people not fitting their name. One bonus of having a odd name is surprising people who have heard your name but never met you. My given name is Buffy and I really enjoy surprising people when they meet me. I am definitely not what you imagine a "buffy" to look like.

As for the professionalism of my name, I have gotten a few comments about it but then again very few people forget my name. I don't think my name has held me back. I currently work as an engineer, have a master's degree and attend law school at night and no problems.

The main thing I get tired of is telling everyone that it is my given name and not a nn. I joke that my name really is Buffy, "yes that is my real name", last name. :)

By julie (not verified)
August 21, 2006 8:09 PM


I think your calls for future "hot" American names are right on, with the possible exception of Oscar. I don't think many of us can get past "Oscar the Grouch" from Sesame Street! It's too bad; otherwise Oscar is a great name!

By Medbh (not verified)
August 21, 2006 9:46 PM

We have a 15-month old Oskar living across the street from us.

By Christiana (not verified)
August 22, 2006 12:58 PM

Buffy - While I'm sure that most people have the Bimbo Buffy image in their heads before they meet you (no offense), I think that Sarah Michelle Gellar's portrayal of Buffy the Vampire Slayer may have helped you escape that assumption. Sarah was able to portray a strong, smart, witty Buffy which put a hole in any preassumptions people may have.

I do have the desire to ask why your parents chose that name for you, but I'm not trying to be offensive. I think it's interesting considering your profession and what I assume your age to be. :-)

By Debra (not verified)
August 22, 2006 5:39 PM

I agree with Abi on the future hot names. Although, I think that Leo already is. I wanted to name a son that for about the last 3 years and due to its popularity already we chose Jasper for our now 3 week old son instead. I hope that Jasper doesn't catch on with the same vigor as Leo. I had heard it more and more and then saw the marketing people for Pottery Barn and Martha Stewart using it alot in their catalogs. If you see a name in one of those, you can be sure it will be popular!

For The Doctor: I also considered the name Lyndon for our son, but we had been calling him Jasper in utero since 20 weeks and we love that name so stuck with it. If I was going to have more kids, I would definately be naming a son Lyndon. It has the charm of being a classic name, but not over used. Good luck!

By buffy (not verified)
August 22, 2006 6:48 PM

Buffy the vampire slayer has been a blessing. Before then it was Buffy and Jody from Family Affair. :)

My parents chose the name because I have a very common last name and they wanted something different. Apparently my Mom had heard the name somewhere before and liked it. They did get alot of grief from family and friends regarding their choice. Most of my extended family assumed I would start going by my middle name as I aged, but I got used to it.

By Jamie (not verified)
August 22, 2006 8:31 PM

I really don't think that Jemima will catch on here in the states. Whenever I hear that name I picture the talking bottle of Maple Syrup...Aunt Jemima. I'd never name a child that...

By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
August 23, 2006 2:07 PM

A funny story about Aunt Jemima syrup: I have a friend who really didn't want gender specific toys for her daughter. Her daughter, of course, is one of those kids who naturally gravitates towards all things princess. One morning my friend caught her daughter (then three) cradling the Aunt Jemima bottle and attempting to diaper her! The little girl then asked to take her "doll" to school with her. My friend then caved and bought her a real doll.

By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
August 23, 2006 2:10 PM

Oops! Clearly I'm not thinking straight this morning. It was the Mrs. Butterworth bottle. And I don't think Butterworth is likely to creep up the charts anytime soon! :),

By Christiana (not verified)
August 23, 2006 5:14 PM

Elizabeth - That is too funny! Just shows that maternal instinct comes out no matter what you do!

By Stephanie (not verified)
August 27, 2006 7:09 PM

My first name is Stephanie, and the worst I've heard from it is Step-on-me. The only ones that have figured this out, however, are friends, so it's not a problem. My middle name is Jean, which I don't hear hardly at all. I've met Joans and a Joanie, but I've never encountered another Jean.

By Abi (not verified)
August 28, 2006 9:28 PM

My Granny is called Jean.

By Tansey (not verified)
August 29, 2006 6:30 AM

There seemed to be a lot of adult Jeans around in the mid 50's - several of my babyboomer school friends had mothers named Jean just as I had several school friends named Barbara(plus two of my three sisters-in-laws are named Barbara).

By CHristiana (not verified)
August 30, 2006 1:42 PM

I've got a great aunt named Jean and I know of a couple others from that genration (1930s births). I know 2 people named Barbara Jean that are younger.

By Zelie (not verified)
September 1, 2006 7:58 PM

I love the name Clementine but my huusband does NOT! So with around 2 weeks left we are down to Leila or Elsa. My husbands choice was Pippa but I said no.

By Christiana (not verified)
September 6, 2006 1:44 PM

Zelie - I like both those names, but am partial to Leila. Sounds so classic and ladylike.

By Tansey (not verified)
September 13, 2006 4:41 AM

Zelie - one of my aunts born 1900 was Leila - although I never knew her very well she was a real lady.

By Julie (Jules or JuJu) (not verified)
September 13, 2006 10:42 PM

Tansy - Leila is the one-eyed mutant from the show "Futurama."

Heather- Names that had fallen off the list but came back? Surnames as last names were very popular for boys before 1920. Many fell off the list, only to return in the past decade, like Hudson, Parker, etc.

For females, names that sounded too "country" in the go-go 20's got dumped until the connotation left them, like Amanda, Malinda, and Susannah. The song kept Susannah from coming back earlier, but the song "Mandy" brought back Amanda in a big way in the 70's.

Sophie peaked hard in the teens, Laura may know why, but disappeared completely from the list in the 60's, (probably from the "old lady" connotation.)

By Tansey (not verified)
September 15, 2006 1:48 AM

Julie - oh well, my aunt was first and the name is very old. One mutant cartoon character shouldn't affect the name much and really, if you like the name, who cares?

By Sescja (not verified)
September 17, 2006 2:11 AM

I named my little girl Caitlyn Ginevra. It was a compromise between two names my husband and I liked so I combined the two (Caitlyn Dakota and Ginevra Rose). My husband would not budge from "Caitlyn" and I wanted to name her after two of her great-grandmothers (Virginia and Ann Rose). I fell in love with Ginevra after seeing it in the Harry Potter books. The chosen name flows well with our last name and I get many complements when I say her full name, usu. that is very unique. I even had one person tell me it was "a very ancient and royal name".

By BAT (not verified)
September 17, 2006 2:15 AM

I was teased by my intials, usu. Bad Attitude for my very bad temper. Also there was a lot of BS with a Beth and Sarah and later a Beth and Steve.

By Clemi Van H (not verified)
September 17, 2006 8:49 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. You can't imagine how many people hate that name! 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 cannot believe you named your daughter adelaide instead of clementine!! I mean hello what is that!?!Im called clementine (clemmie or clem for short) and everyone thinks its such a pretty and unuasual name. Im 14 and ive never got any crap from the kids at my school about it. There's also another girl named clementine at my school but shes called minty instead. Your friends and family are just talking crap mate.

By clemi (not verified)
September 17, 2006 2:44 PM

PS: adelaide is an old lady's name. Just look at nanny mcphee!!!! Aunt adelaide!!! You'd get way more stick in the school yard for adelaide than you would clemmie

By Clemi (not verified)
September 17, 2006 2:46 PM

Ps adelaide is an old ladys name. I mean just look at nanny mcphee!!!aunt adelaide!!!!! you'd get way more stick for adelaide than you would clementine trust me.

By clemi (not verified)
September 17, 2006 2:47 PM

soz back again. just 2 say didn't mean 2 type that twice!!!!!

By Tansey (not verified)
September 24, 2006 11:49 PM

I was looking at a multinational naming site and in the French names found Clemence as a varietal of Clementine. What does everyone think? The inflection is on the second 'e' as 'klemOns'.

By clem (not verified)
October 6, 2006 7:44 PM

my name is clementine but most ppl call me clem. i never liked it that much but recently i realized that the great thing is that everyone seems to have heard about me because of my name, even if they havnt met me. and its very original, not like mary or sophie or something (no offense to any marys or sophies lol). hardly anyone ever forgets my name. and in response to those who complain about the song, i hardly ever hear it.. and when i do, its usually me who brought it up. so three cheers for 'clementine'! :D

By Tammy (not verified)
December 2, 2006 11:39 PM

Hi! I read on an above post about the name Leia and how someone thought of the name as a one eyed mutant character. I guess no one remembers "Star Wars" Princess Leia (prn.) Lay-uh! I think of a Princess when I see the name Leia.-not some type of weird mutant Character.

By Nuther Lucker (not verified)
June 13, 2007 5:33 AM

I don't see a problem with my name!!!