That traditional favorite, Jack

Jan 27th 2009


Every January you see a raft of news stories chronicling the year in baby names.  This year, the favorite theme is parents "returning to traditional old favorites" like Jack, Ava and Olivia.  I've written before about the questionable antique status of Ava and Olivia (part 1, part 2), but it's hard to question Jack.  It's an old and storied English name.

But you do realize it's an old and storied nickname, right? Surprisingly, many people today have no idea that Jack was originally a pet form of John. In the lands where Jack now reigns supreme (#1 in England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, etc.), you'd be hard-pressed to call Jack a traditional given name at all.

The English Census from 150 years ago lists 363 entries under Jack. Chances are that many of those were actually christened John, but let's take the number at face value: 363 solid, traditional Jacks. And the number of Johns in that census? 1,257,079.  That's 3,463 given-name Johns per Jack. For perspective, in America today there are only 101 Jacobs born per...Elmer.

Modern British parents flock to given names like Alfie and Tilly, but in generations past the idea of using those names at christening time would have seemed downright inappropriate.  You can catch a glimpse of that perspective in a human-interest piece that appeared in the New York Times in 1876.  The article, entitled "Curious Christenings," was a collection of bizarre and humorous stories of christenings gone awry.  At least, they were bizarre and humorous by 1876 standards. (The tale of the white minister who named the black slave boy "Jane" doesn't exactly tickle us today.)  Here's the relevant excerpt:

As an example of the way in which parents will insist on curious names, a gentleman says that he was visiting a clergyman of the Church of England, and one evening as they sat together after dinner a summons came to the rector to go and christen the child of a gypsy couple that were encamped with their tribe in the parish. The gentlemen went with the clergyman to the camp, when, ascending a short flight of steps, they found themselves in the four-wheeled covered wagon that served the gypsies as a house. The babe, four or five days old, was presented, and the mother, already recovered from her confinement, stood up as one of the godparents.  The clergyman asked by what name he should call the child and she answered Jacky. "John?" said he, somewhat surprised. "No, Sir, Jacky," she replied. "But you surely don't want him christened Jacky. You mean John, do you not," said he. But the mother insisted on the name she had chosen, and the child was christened Jacky.


Jacky!  Oh, those wacky, wacky gypsies.

So "tradition" does't seem to support writing Jack on a birth certificate. Just as with Ava and Olivia, though, we're not wrong to call Jack a traditional, old-fashioned name.  It's certainly an old and familiar name, not a newly invented one.  More importantly, it's traditional in theme and intent, sounding like a link to generations past.  If those generations past would have insisted on a different name at the christening time, well, that's their problem.

Comments

201
By J&H's mom (not verified)
January 31, 2009 9:04 PM

Liz-I think there are at least a few of us who hang out here because we love to talk about interesting names even if we wouldn't use them.
I love your son's name, of course.

Elaine-I love Samuel and Andrew. Quite the opposite of your friend, I adore Nate but not Nathaniel.
At any rate...How about Anders, Max, Connor or Issac.
I know a Jackson and Jefferson sib set.
A bit much for me.

Joni-Maybe we should develop a secret bat signal for when we're all out and about!

Take care, all!

202
By Penelope (not verified)
January 31, 2009 11:12 PM

J&H's mom - One of the names, you mentioned, "Anders", is the name of a friend of mine. He is from Denmark and his name is pronounced "Ah-nis", not like how it is spelled. I'm wondering if you meant the Danish way? I have never seen it mentioned before, I was happy to see it.

203
January 31, 2009 11:20 PM

I always wonder about parents who choose names like Andrew and Jackson for their kids. Are they deliberately picking names as a tribute to the president (in this case)? Or is it that they aren't consciously thinking of the famous forebearer at all but know instinctively that the names go together? I suspect the latter. At any rate, Elaine, tell your friend that if she names her second son Andrew, that she better brush up on her American history because she's bound to get lots of comments!

204
By Whitney (not verified)
January 31, 2009 11:28 PM

As far as double names go, I've lived in various parts of the south (Texas and Tennessee) and known several women with double names. None of them have had another mn; they are just called by their fn and mn together.

Some of the double names I know are Mary Charles and Mary Alexander, so to me, Mary Bradley doesn't seem odd at all. But Bradley by itself definitely seems more masculine.

205
February 1, 2009 1:00 AM

Andrew 'Scrury' is defining while Andrew 'Drury' is confining...
I thiknk Andrew Scrury is easier than Anders Scrury. BUt then I have never heard it pronounced Ah-nis... hmmm

I would not let my friend name her boys Jackson and Andrew without making sure she was aware of Andrew Jackson.

To whomever liked Gethin till I brought out the lsip factor... I must tell you it was very hard to hear his name. He was a very polite, calm young man. I thought maybe it was bc he seemed to talk a little quietly. But then I realized that I understood everything else he said with perfect clarity and decided that the name is hard to hear. I could not blame it on noise around us either. Trivia, just trivia.

206
By Liz & Louka (not verified)
February 1, 2009 2:00 AM

Elizabeth T - I don't know about cases like Andrew and Jackson, but I do know a couple of schoolteachers who named their twin boys Dylan and Thomas, apparently without being aware of the poet. I guess they just thought the names went together!

207
By Guest (not verified)
February 1, 2009 3:27 AM

Here in the South I have known old men called Lacey and Whitney. One of the Laceys has a grandson, Thomas Lacey, and one of the Whitneys has a granddaughter Whitney.

I don't think many people realize these too were masculine names at one time, especially Lacey.

208
By Guest (not verified)
February 1, 2009 8:30 AM

In the city I live, we have a website with all of the county jail inmates. It has a whole section devoted to people arrested in the last three days. It's really gotten out of hand and become a local obsession, the site has over a million hits and a whole Facebook group dedicated to it, and now some locals are coming out with a "Jailbirds" newspaper just in case anyone in town isn't already checking it obsessively every day. It's fun to see people you went to with high school with, LOL.

Anyway, just thought I would add my two cents about criminals and weird names. I have noticed a lot of boys with girls names like Kelly and Tracy and Stacy and Courtney, etc. on this site. Also, some unfortunate last names, the worst being Ariola. But a guy on there this week just takes the cake. He's in for hot checks and I am not kidding you his name is Lucifer. Lucifer in the Bible Belt, you know that couldn't have been easy. Imagine having that on a resume! Although this gent didn't look like the type who would ever need a resume. Maybe if his parents had named him Jack it would have turned out better for him???

As far as double names go, oh good Lord, they are all the rage in the south. To the point that when I went to my daughter's preschool Christmas program I really considered changing her from a just Hannah to a "Hannah Beth" (her name is Hannah Elizabeth) just so she would fit in better. But my mom told me that was silly and I got over it. I'm trying to remember offhand some of them since I put the program in a box: Evie Rose, Ginny Grace, Ava Kate, Mary Catherine, Joy Anna...really that was probably about all, but five is a lot for a pretty small preschool.

209
By Riot Delilah (not verified)
February 1, 2009 12:09 PM

Hi - I actually really like the name Temple Taylor, I don't think the alliteration is too much and Temple on its own is a terrific name. I first heard of it due to Temple Grandin and I remember thinking what an unusual clever choice. So please go for it!

Taliesin - I've lost track of where it was mentioned previously but it's a boy's name in Wales, not a girl's. There was a famous bardic poet named Taliesin so it's got connotations equivalent to Shakespeare in Welsh culture. It's used sometimes these days, I think.

Jackie - as I've mentioned elsewhere on this board, two of my nephews have this as a middle name in honor of their grandfather, who was named John at the christening font and then called Jackie everywhere else for the whole of his life. But frankly, there are so many people named Jack these days in the UK I'm over it now.

Ann Bradley -- there was a girl at my school who had a very, very similar name. The name which wasn't Bradley had a similar sound and was a family name. So everyone, her family and everyone at school, called her Brandie. A nickname suggestion which isn't everyone's style, but I liked it. This was a school full of girls named Tucker, Dabney, Ashby, Reilly and the like, so she really didn't stand out.

210
February 1, 2009 12:59 PM

Here is my analysis of the local births for Jan:
Boys-most common letter to begin name=J
Girls-most common letter to begin name=A

Duplicates for Boys-
Joseph x2; Logan x2; Mason x2; Nathan x2; Noah x2; and Xavier x3

Duplicates for Girls-
Brooke x2; Emma x2; Sierra x2

4 of the babies could not judge sex
3 boys and 2 girls listed as Baby

211
February 1, 2009 7:15 PM

Zoerhenne: do you get mn too? I am curious what kind of name leaves you clueless as to gender. (maybe bc I just can't fathom doing that to my child but...Curious nonetheless)

212
February 1, 2009 7:34 PM

Jessica- no I don't get middle names. It's the hospital website. They list baby first name and last initial, time born, height, weight, and mom's first name and initial. They also have pic of baby. The ones dressed in white, green, yellow and who have similar background colors are hard to tell if they are boy or girl. Obviously blue and pink are a bit easier. The hospital could make it even easier if they formally printed gender but they don't. Plus, we have a high population of non-white people in the city itself. That also makes it hard to guess as I am unfamiliar with some names. Kre8tiv spellings abound. Here are the ones I was unsure of:
A'Lyra-prob a girl
Sanieya-prob a girl based on similar names seen
Shally-have no clue!!
Jessie-tempted to go with girl based on sp but still hard to tell

213
By Guest - Betsy (not verified)
February 1, 2009 8:56 PM

Patricia -- Thanks for your compliment! I like to think of it like Betsy Ross and colonial America too! It comes up as a cow name way too often though. I think people are thinking of Bessie, but I get it a lot nonetheless. It was rough in elementary school (I probably would have gotten fed up and changed it to Liz or Elizabeth if I had been even a little overweight!) but its just humorous to me now.

214
February 1, 2009 9:30 PM

Ummm, the traditional cow name is Bossie, derived from the Greek bous and the Latin bos, bovis (think bovine). And then there's Elsie, the Borden trademark cow. So Betsys and Bessies should be in the clear cow-wise.

215
By Aybee (not verified)
February 1, 2009 9:43 PM

I agree we should be in the clear Miriam, but we're not when it comes to teasing!

As a Bess-middle name, I got a lot of "Bessie Cow" jokes when I revealed it, prompting me to use only my middle initial on official docs through high school.

As an adult, I like my middle name.

216
By Maria (not verified)
February 2, 2009 2:23 AM

Hey Guys,
I found a great new site that lets you browse through names of every country and their meaning. I could not believe how many names they had to choose from. I found it to be a really useful when I chose my baby's name. Hope it helps,
Maria.

http://www.kidspot.com.au/BabyNameFinder/search-names.asp

217
By bill (not verified)
February 2, 2009 3:29 AM

i also have a cousin named Elizabeth Ann who is always Betsy, and never anything else. mid 20s.

i am warming up to Temple.

Braden is the only way to spell it afaic. no superfluous letters. it is still nmsaa. (how many more acronyms can i shove into here?)

218
February 2, 2009 3:45 AM

Apparently, Borden Dairy's Elsie the Cow used to be named Flossie the Cow and Bessie the Cow.

Here's a link to a whole page of Famous Cows:

http://www.aurochs.org/cows/famous/#elsieTheCow

If you google "Bessie" and "Cow," you'll get a lot of hits.

219
By Anne with an E (not verified)
February 2, 2009 10:30 AM

What is the general opinion of Jemima? I should mention that I live in the US, and so far literally every response irl has been (with a horrified face) "Like the syrup???"

This has created a sort of a contest with my husband to come up with a normal name that provokes the worst responses from people. Obviously names like the Lucifer mentioned above, or Adolf or Pinochet are too far out, because I would never ever ever use those, but Jemima is a name that I actually kind of like, that apparently everyone else I know hates, which has created this silly game between us!

220
By Anne with an E (not verified)
February 2, 2009 10:31 AM

Oh and @Tirzah #218, do you remember some cows in a Chex marketing campaign in the late 80s? I don't remember if they had names or not?

221
February 2, 2009 10:34 AM

Anne with an E, how about Elmer? I would react badly if someone asked me what I thought about that name. As in Fudd?!

222
February 2, 2009 12:14 PM

Excuse me for being white as bread and not getting the horror of A. Jemima. I know it has been talked about here before. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I love shaped/sculptured glass jars. As a kid we used real maple syrup exclusively. I loved the A. Jemima jar and wished we could use it. And I loved the darling grammy aura I saw in the apron and handkerchief. Reminds me of my grandma. Whatever...

I know a girl in KY who is planning to name her baby Jemima. I think she is due in May... I'll have to let you know when it really happens.

223
February 2, 2009 12:17 PM

Anne with an E-Jemima creates a very stereotypical image in my head of someone resembling Aunt Jemima. I like the name but the image is too strong. Are you looking for a name for a currently conceived child or something in the future or just having fun? I missed that part.
If you need a real name how about Jemma which is close to Jemima w/o the disturbing images arising. Other names to avoid imo would be any current cartoon figure like Dora, Diego, etc.

224
By Heather RC (not verified)
February 2, 2009 12:37 PM

Jemima is a Bible name for one of Job's daughters. It is also the name of the girl in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and of a Beatrix Potter duck (Jemima Puddle-Duck). Apparently it means Dove.

225
By Amy3
February 2, 2009 12:55 PM

Anne with an E -- I *love* Jemima. For me, the association with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is much stronger than the syrup bottle (and all the baggage it drags along behind it). This is a name I desperately wish would be rehabilitated in the States, but I wonder if it ever will. I think it's got such a great sound and the meaning is lovely.

226
February 2, 2009 1:26 PM

Um, the syrup bottle lady is Mrs. Butterworth. Aunt Jemima is pancake mix. Oddly Jemima has been offlimits as a name because of the racist stereotype, but Uncle Ben on the rice box is the exact male equivalent, and no one stopped using the name Ben.

227
February 2, 2009 3:06 PM

I think the difference between Jemima and Ben is the frequency of usage of the names. Jemima was not very common, hence the strong association with the image of Aunt Jemima. Ben has always been much more common, meaning that people have lots of associations with the name, Uncle Ben only being one of them.

228
February 2, 2009 3:28 PM

Benjamin was my grandpa's name. He was mostly known as Ben or Benny. I never remember ANYONE referring to him as Benjamin.
I also know a 4yo Benjamin that is also mostly called Ben or Benny. Why in the age of lengthening (more formal) names does this one get shortened?

229
By Anne with an E (not verified)
February 2, 2009 3:36 PM

Miriam--Aunt Jemima is definitely a syrup too.

http://www.auntjemima.com/aj_products/syrups/orginal.cfm

zoerhenne--I'm just having fun. I like the name a lot, because of a kid's book called Time Enough for Drums where the main character is named Jemima, and called Jem. But sadly I think the syrup/pancake associations are too much to overcome...sorry Amy3! But I do like Jemma/Gemma too.

Heather RC--I forgot that Jemima was a Bible name!

Elizabeth T--I agree with Elmer!

230
By Flyinghorse (not verified)
February 2, 2009 3:59 PM

I am due with my second baby this spring. My husband and I like the name Nathan and are thinking of using Nathaniel as a "formal" name. Nathaniel goes well with my daughter's traditional name but I thought was a bit of a mouthful for a little boy. My husband actually liked the idea of a longer formal name because he has a short seventies name and always wished he had a more professional name to fall back on. Since it was already brought up in this post....what do people think Of Nathaniel with the nn Nathan?

231
February 2, 2009 4:21 PM

I know a Nathaniel who was called Nathan as a child, although later he became "Nate". I think Nathaniel "Nathan" -- or Nathan whose full name is Nathaniel (depending on how you look at it -- works fine. I've also seen "Nathan" as a nn for Jonathan. Jon(athan) Stuart (The Daily Show) has a son named Nathan.

232
By Eo (not verified)
February 2, 2009 4:22 PM

I also like Jemima very much-- for its Biblical usage, and the aformentioned Beatrix Potter character, Jemima Puddleduck.

For anyone who loves "Jemima", I would hope they would confidently reclaim the name from any associations with slavery. There were many such great names, both Biblical and Roman (plenty of Roman "-us" names were given to slaves.)

Both slaves and free people bore the names, often with distinction. Brits have reclaimed some and there are already prominent British Jemimas, who increase the number of associations with the name.

Another lovely, under-used Biblical, is the name "Keturah", which to me has a somewhat similar vibe to Jemima. Means "incense" and was used by the Puritans onward from the 17th century...

I heartily recommend other "Peter Rabbit" names for children-- I'm always telling people you can get such wonderful inexpensive prints of the Beatrix Potter characters, usually with the name right on the print. Great for decorating the child's room!

It will be a sad day (coming soon) when I'll have to take down Banks' "Benjamin Bunny " prints in his room. (Benjamin was Peter Rabbit's lovably reprehensible cousin-- the one who's frequently pictured in the oversized green hat.)

You're in luck with 'named' Potter art prints if your child's name is:

Peter (Rabbit)
Benjamin (Bunny)
Samuel (Whiskers)
Jemima (Puddleduck)
Jeremy (Fisher)
Cecily (Parsley)
Johnny (Town-Mouse)
Timmy (Tip-toes)
Tommy (Brock)
Tom (Kitten)

Even Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter could have a print, as there is the "Appley Dapply" character...

233
By Eo (not verified)
February 2, 2009 4:29 PM

Flyinghorse-- In the nineteenth century, "Nat" was a frequent nickname for Nathaniel. So you have that as an option as well as "Nate" or "Nathan". "Nathaniel" is an especially distinguished name, and to me seems less rustic than Nathan, so I like the idea of you having it as the formal name, even though Nathan can certainly stand alone.

As far as the full name being a mouthful, Banks has an eight year old friend who is ALWAYS called by the full Nathaniel, and it suits him wonderfully!

234
By Anne with an E (not verified)
February 2, 2009 5:14 PM

That's funny, my two brothers are a Benjamin and a Nathaniel who goes by Nathan. (My mother has fought a vigilant battle against "Nate" and "Ben", although I have to admit that a lot of people do automatically try to shorten Benjamin's name, much to her dismay.) So Benjamin is occasionally called 'Benj' within the family, but is Benjamin everywhere else.

My brother Nathan on the other hand, was only ever Nathaniel when he was in trouble! :)

235
By MM (not verified)
February 2, 2009 5:45 PM

We have a family friend named Jamila. It suits her quite well. You reminded me of it when you mentioned Jemima.

236
By MM (not verified)
February 2, 2009 5:52 PM

New baby alert:
Keir@ Cami11e

The interesting part is that when the parents initially announced her name, it was E1sie Cami11e. A few days later, they sent an email alerting everyone of the name change. I don't have a copy of that email, or I'd paste it here.

Other kiddos I know under age one:
Kitk@ A11esandra (nn Kit)
Drew (b)
Lily Gai1
Jack Andr3w
Samuel Timothy
Hannah Elizabeth
Timothy Grant
Taylor (g)

237
February 2, 2009 5:55 PM

Of course, Nathan and Nathaniel are separate formal names with different (though similar) meanings and borne by different biblical men. Nathan was an Old Testament prophet and the name means "gift" or "he has given". Nathaniel was an apostle in the New Testament (the personal name of the apostle Bartholomew) and means "gift of God" or "God has given". (The spelling used in the Authorized Version of the New Testament is Nathanael, but this is in much less frequent use as a given name in the English-speaking world.) I personally prefer Nathaniel to Nathan, and with several young grandsons called by their 3-4 syllable names, I don't think Nathaniel is too long a name for a young boy. And there is always the option of using Nathan, Nate or Nat as a nn if a teenage Nathaniel wants a shorter name.

238
February 2, 2009 5:57 PM

Flyinghorse-I believe both Nathan and Nathaniel are "formal" stand alone names. To me they are different names though I'm sure in reality they stem from the same root. Nathaniel just has a different flavor/feel to me than Nathan. What is your dd's name if I might ask?

Anne with an E- There are 2 other names I wouldn't use that have strong associations. Benji (like the dog) and Bart (as in Simpson).

Eo-How sad that Benjamin Bunny must soon come down off the wall, yet how fun that Banks is growing up and entering a new phase in his life. Space, vehicles, or dinosaurs are always good boy themes. Btw, I have to say that whenever I here you talk about Banks it always conjurs up Mary Poppins (as in Jane + Michael Banks)!

239
February 2, 2009 6:03 PM

LOL Patricia we were posting at the same time.

MM-Laura did a thread on this topic of switching names and alerting friends and family after the birth. Here is the link:
http://www.babynamewizard.com/archives/2008/9/namers-remorse

240
February 2, 2009 6:13 PM

Sorry for posting again so soon but just caught this in the news-
(Feb. 2) - You've heard of videotaping the birth of a child, right? Well, how about Twittering one? That's exactly what R&B singer Erykah Badu and her rapper boyfriend Jay Electronica did over the weekend while welcoming their first child together, a girl.
According to Badu's Twitter page, "we named the baby twitty milk." Yes, she may be joking, however this is an artist with kids named Seven Sirius and Puma Rose.
"Twitty" is the singer's third child and first with Electronica. She hasthe two kids from previous relationships with OutKast frontman Andre 3000 and rapper The D.O.C.
The singer released her fourth studio album, 'New Amerykah, Part One (4th World War),' last year. "Part Two" will be released this month.
http://twitter.com/fatbellybella ---- http://twitter.com/JayElectronica

241
By Knee Coal Peay (not verified)
February 2, 2009 6:19 PM

Re: Jemima... I can't believe folks are seriously supporting this name here in the US! Are you kidding me? I suppose I can understand those who identify as "white bread" and overtly Caucasian, and who do not truly want to acknowledge the existence of racism in certain areas of life. Many of us desperately want to believe racism doesn't exist anymore in the US. However, let's be real -- it most certainly does.

The "Mammy" caricature is one of several negative stereotypes attributed to African-American women throughout history, which is hurtful whether you happen to "get it" or not. Think this through with me... can you see how Jemima is still used commercially by evoking the "Mammy" stereotype of African-American women? If you still don't get it, I encourage you to read this:

http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/mammies/

Why anyone would wish to give a child a name that pushes the "race" button so obviously is beyond me. Honestly, the name Jemima is a completely irresponsible name to bestow on an American baby girl. Let me be completely candid just in case people IRL have been shocked into silence at the suggestion: I think anyone who chooses Jemima risks being marked as either ignorant, or as harboring some unconscious racist tendencies.

I apologize for being so alarmist. (But someone needed to say this for heaven's sake!) I'm frankly shocked that so many here seem to looove a name with such awful, hurtful associations; shocked to the point that I actually wonder if this is still the best place for high-level, nuanced name discussion and advice.

To our UK & Commonwealth friends here - my diatribe does not necessarily apply to you. I understand the name Jemima has an ENTIRELY different connotation in the UK than it does in the US. Just think twice about it if you ever anticipate spending much time in the US.

242
February 2, 2009 6:25 PM

@Knee Coal Peay - Excellent comment about Jemima. Really makes me think. Thank you for raising our awareness.

FWIW, I don't think anyone here is a racist, and I'm pretty sure that's not what you meant. I do think people here are very well-meaning but sometimes get carried away at the idea of a name, and forget how some names will actually play out in real life!

243
By MM (not verified)
February 2, 2009 6:42 PM

Zoerhenne, I did see that post when Laura posted it, so I thought I would put out another very recent example! Sorry for the confusion, I should have mentioned it in my post!

244
By Anne with an E (not verified)
February 2, 2009 6:43 PM

@Knee Coal Peay-you had a much stronger reaction than most people I talked to irl, but I think the general consensus irl agrees with you (in my unscientific surveying over the last few days).

And to clarify, I love the name based on a book character (a Revoluionary War era girl), but wouldn't actually give it to a child because of the stereotype and the potential misunderstanding involved. Besides, if I have more than one kid any Jemima would someday probably actually be an Aunt Jemima, which precludes using it at all...

245
February 2, 2009 7:20 PM

Eo- how do you pronounce Keturah? KET-yur-ah or ket-YUR-ah, or....??

246
February 2, 2009 7:49 PM

In today's mail, a birth announcement for Rosemary Emma ("Rosie"), pictured with her big sister Elisabeth Adelaide....

247
By Melissa C (not verified)
February 2, 2009 7:57 PM

Valerie: I believe its pronounced Keh-ter-ah

Also 2 babies born in my neighbourhood this week. Baby Landon and baby Sebastian... Sebastian has an older sibling Evelyn.

248
February 2, 2009 8:05 PM

I think Ket-ur-ah.

I find the comments about Jemima so interesting, not something that British people would ever know about. If I'd had a second daughter she probably would've been Jemima!

249
February 2, 2009 8:47 PM

Knee Coal Peay-I bet that most people (and many on this board) agree with your assessment of Jemima. Your words were strong but well put. There are still stereotypes in America despite what we'd all prefer. Not to get political, but if my neighbor named their kid Obama, or going back a few threads-Adolf, I'd of course think of the most obvious namesakes of Barack Obama and Adolph Hitler. This is because I know no other people named Obama nor Barack, Adolph, or Jemima. This would not happen of course with a Michelle, Malia, or Sasha. So in my mind an association with one person and one person only is a stereotype whether it be good or bad. (Think Joe the plumber!)

Anyway, as far as a high-level name discussion goes, I think we can still debate the qualities of the name Jemima w/o the attached baggage. It is a pretty name to me because of the J, nn of Jemma and ends in an -a, etc. SO, if it didn't have baggage it'd be a nice name imo. Adolph not so much as I don't care for 'F' in names with the exception of Jeffrey. Barack has too harsh an ending sound for me. Obama is not that bad but leans toward a girl name because of the O beginning and the -a ending.

250
February 2, 2009 9:11 PM

Knee Coal Peay -- Thanks for sharing your viewpoint about American parents naming a daughter Jemima and for the very informative link. One of my sons, a college professor, is a presenter in the annual White Privilege Conferences, usually held on college campuses, and having discussed racial issues with him at length, I can understand where you're coming from in your post. I agree that the name Jemima can represent the racist image of the stereotypical African American "Mammy," and as such is probably not an appropriate name for an American girl. And yet, I wonder if avoiding using the name Jemima might not help perpetuate the association. If the name Jemima came to be perceived as a more usual name, then maybe that would help break down the Aunt Jemima stereotype.

I just looked at two American baby name books by well-respected baby name experts to see how Jemima is presented:

Baby Name Wizard - "Alas, lovely Jemima is still buried under the image of a kerchiefed "mammy" figure dashing out pancakes... It's a big hurdle, but this biblical classic is so perfectly lovable in every other way that it could be well worth taking the plunge."

Baby Name Bible goes even further and stars and highlights their Jemima entry as a "best bet": "JEMIMA. Hebrew, "dove." This name of a strong and beautiful Biblical daughter of Job has long been among the chicest choices of aristocratic Brits. Unfortunately, it's still linked in this country to the stereotypical smiling Aunt of pancake fame, which we think is a pity. It's time to liberate this excellent name, with its peaceful meaning."

I wonder what an African American baby name expert might say of this name. I would guess that black parents have avoided the name for a long time.

I just checked SSA stats: it looks like hardly anyone has been naming a baby girl Jemima for a very long time: the last time Jemima made the top 1000 list was in 1897.