Sorry, What Was That? I Couldn't Hear You Over Your Name.

Mar 5th 2009


Once upon a time in a career far, far away, I designed employee benefit enrollment software.

Are you yawning yet?  The job was actually a lot of fun, but I know the score: understanding the difference between an HMO, PPO and POS isn't hot cocktail party material.  Sure, every November at open enrollment time a few friends might call up to ask whether they should take the optional long-term disability upgrade. (Yes, they should.)  But most of the time, the expertise I gleaned stayed in its own little box. It was work to leave at the office.

Today, I don't have an office.  It's just as well, though, because my work would never stay there.  That's the nature of names: they're everywhere, on everyone, part of everything.  And I can't ignore them.

It's my own pathetic superpower -- I can hear names talking.  Oh, do they talk.  Turn on the radio, open the newspaper, and the names just chatter away, distracting me from the real subject matter.  A while back, I tried to record a typical morning in Baby Name Wizard land:

News story says: Barack Obama nominates New York housing commissioner Shaun Donovan to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Laura hears: Shaun? We have a cabinet secretary named Shaun? OK, it's official, my generation is full-scale grownups. Maybe I should do something responsible to mark the occasion.  No seriously, Shaun??

Jokey Hanukah song on the radio says: "Melvin and Martha are coming over to say Happy Hanukah."
Laura hears: Martha is supposed to sound like a stereotypical Jewish lady? This song stinks.

Theater review says
: In one of the multiple interlocking story lines, a young man names Billy enlists in the Army and heads to Iraq to escape his disapproving father Austin.
Laura hears: Hold on...the kid is named Billy and the father is named Austin? What world does this play take place in again?

Did I say pathetic superpower? Make that a low-level curse, like always having to stir your coffee with a fork.  But I suspect you understand.  As a Baby Name Wizard reader, you probably hear names whisper at you from time to time too, when you're supposed to be paying attention to, say, your doctor's medical advice rather than her name tag.

So for those of you who hear names talking, what are they saying?


By Amanda (not verified)
March 6, 2009 12:00 AM

I was a substitute teacher a few years ago, and in a kindergarten class, I had twin boys named Sal and Vinny. Now that made me do a double take!

By Heather DollarStoreCrafts (not verified)
March 6, 2009 12:08 AM

That happens to me too! Specifically when names are anachronistic, as in example #3.

I think there's some TV show where the President of the US (a female) is named Sydney? It just didn't ring true for a 55 year old woman.

By Yolanda (not verified)
March 6, 2009 12:24 AM

Just yesterday I was watching a Sesame Street podcast with my toddler. Elmo was going around the table and asking a series of child-looking muppets what their names were. One of them said, "Jan." To which I said, What preschooler would have a 50-year-old woman's name?

By Am (not verified)
March 6, 2009 12:47 AM

I get distracted from the things the Pottery Barn Kids catalogue is trying to sell me because I'm focused on all the monogrammed names. I'm curious who picks the names to appear in the catalogue? And are they representative of popular names? The Easter issue has Ryan and Jill on the cover. Inside you'll find Caitlin, Emily, Annie, Hailey, Patrick, Sam, Spencer, Noah, Ethan and so on.

By Luckymomma (not verified)
March 6, 2009 1:05 AM

Yes! There's a new series on TNT called Trust Me. It has two late-30ish guys who work in advertising and their names are... Conner and Mason! Makes me crazy.

By *Madeline* (not verified)
March 6, 2009 2:53 AM

Grey's Anatomy... enough said.

Everytime a new character is introduced I cringe for 20 minuted every time their name is used until I decide I have to let it go... again.

By Clumsy Kisses (not verified)
March 6, 2009 5:47 AM

A friend of mine just had a baby and named him Charlie... which is cute now, but when he's 15? Or 20? Or wants to be a lawyer, or a doctor? Maybe not so much... but things are changing, I guess

By Guest (not verified)
March 6, 2009 8:22 AM

This is an interesting topic. There is a character on 24 who is probably 60ish, named Ethan. It really doesn't sound like a realistic name for someone that age.

March 6, 2009 8:25 AM

@Yolanda: A lot of the muppets, with the exception of Zoe, have names that are very anachronistic - so much so that we often associate them only with the muppet - think Elmo, Grover, Ernie, Bert, Oscar... Try running the name voyager on these. With the exception of Oscar, which is finally starting to come back despite the guy in the trash can, all of them have basically the same trend.

By Eo (not verified)
March 6, 2009 9:26 AM

The giving of anachronistic names to TV and movie characters IS funny, but also a wee bit depressing. It's one more indicator that the "creative" people in Hollywood are so firmly stuck in their time and demographic. Many of them haven't the imagination to conjure other worlds and mindsets markedly different than their own...

Interestingly, "Sydney" on a Boomer age woman isn't necessarily "out of tune", Heather DollarStoreCrafts. I've even known a "Cydney", breezily known as "Cyd".

Way back when Bill Clinton was President and making Cabinet appointments, there were a spate of news articles on the then "modern" sounding "Boomer" names of his generation, including Zoe Baird, and Kimba Wood, not to mention Lani Guinier. (sp?), and of course Hillary C.

At first glance, you might have expected those names to belong to later generations-- but there has always been a substantial subset of Boomers with this type of name.

Hazarding a guess, I think the post-World War II parents of these women were influenced by many factors, including the wider world exposure that the war brought.

And some of the parents were that first, authentic wave of Fifties "hipsters" that we've talked so much about. My suspicion is that they were as eager to distinguish themselves and their children by bestowing anomalous names, as today's hipniks are...

That said, it's true that the Zoes, the Ninas, the Marins and the Hilarys were still vastly outnumbered by Susan, Deborah and Christine!

March 6, 2009 10:28 AM

I know a 25 year old Abe (short for Abraham) with a 24 year old girlfriend, Shirley. I love it!

By KBee in Philly (not verified)
March 6, 2009 10:49 AM

My husband and his sister's name has always freaked me out anachronistically- Allan Richard and Ruth Helen. These people are in their 30's. What was my MIL thinking? She made her children sound like Boomers when she was the Boomer. How odd!

By Anne with an E (not verified)
March 6, 2009 11:00 AM

A few weeks ago I was listening to a story on NPR which referenced White House Counsel Greg Craig. I completely lost track of what the story was about, because I was so amazed at the name "Greg Craig". If your last name is Craig, why name a child Gregory? Surely you can see where it might lead??

And speaking of funny names, I work in a bookstore, and find great amusement in the really obvious pseudonyms that people use. For ex: "Joe Buff" (mystery writer), "Gennita Low" (romance writer), and one of my favorites-- G.M. Ford. :)

By Deb Morrissey (not verified)
March 6, 2009 11:04 AM

You want one that sounds anachronistic - I have an aunt named Heather. She's 62. Not quite the 30-something that name usually conjures.

Then again, my grandmother didn't go for common girls' names: my other aunts are Gay, Laurel, and Coralie.

By Alicia (not verified)
March 6, 2009 11:04 AM

I do the exact same thing.

That last example I've done exactly.
I was watching a movie with my husband, and the mother's name was Rose and the little girl was named Sharon. I mean, that'd be fine if we were watching a movie from the 50's or something, but this was only a couple years ago.

The worst instance was probably when I was in church! My husband and I were visiting a church, trying to find one to attend regularly.
Well, the church we visited had no pastor, they were in the process of trying to find one. So, in the meantime, they had a retired pastor "filling in." That pastor then began to tell a story about a little girl named Susie. And I was just like: "Susie, really? You realize there's a greater chances a little Kaylie would be doing the action of the story, rather than a Susie." His story then continued to involve another little girl, and the two got in some sort of argument. He then used Susie as the name for both girls. Unless of course he meant to indicate that the one Susie argued with herself (which I know he didn't). I assume the mix-up could be blamed on his aging brain. But, I still thought about "Susie" and her friend "Susie" the rest of the service.

March 6, 2009 11:19 AM

Anne with an E- Love G.M. Ford, that's great
And Nikki- Abe and Shirley that's such a cute pairing.

I was watching tv the other day and was totally distracted by a 2-year-old named Trease which sounded at first like Trees before they had it written on the screen. In the meantime I stopped paying attention to wonder why you'd name your child the plural of Tree (if you're going to go there at all). Of course I think it's actually more like a combo of Theresa and Reese which makes more sense to me...

Also at work we have a 40 year old male James who goes by Jamie, a 30 year old female Jaimie and a 25 year old female Jamie. So whenever I'm contacting one of them I get to thinking about how interesting it is to end up with 3 of them across genders and with some different spellings (and yet where is the Jaime??) (As an aside, we also at one point had a Megan, a Meghan, and a Meaghan...)

By Heather RC (not verified)
March 6, 2009 11:33 AM

At Eye Masters while waiting for my glasses, I noticed some awards framed on the wall. One was for Jasonia and the other for Talton. I made sure to remember the names. I guess Jasonia is a female form of Jason (or a joining of it and Sonia). I rather like Talton, except it fits right it in with the current -n style (though this owner of the name is obviously from an older generation).

Also, at church during the singing, I noticed on the powerpoint slide the name Dallan as credited for the song "Be Thou My Vision." (I've since looked it up online: This name sounds like a good option for those who want a name that ends in the -n style yet one which has not become quite as popular as Aidan, Jayden, etc. It also fits with the recent popularity of Irish names. It could be a more unusual alternative to Dylan. (However, from all I could find, the name means "blind." A not-so-flattering definition hasn't stopped certain other names, though, so I think Dallan is still feasible.)

I also scan credits of movies just for the names. ;-)

By JN (not verified)
March 6, 2009 11:43 AM

I frequently find myself predicting how others will react to a name. Yesterday I heard of a baby born just days ago named Canon. So many associations swirled in my mind. I wondered if the boy's name could rise above associations, or whether it will be a constant annoyance.

March 6, 2009 11:57 AM

So I just had a phone conversation that I had to share. The woman I was speaking to (probably 60s) was named Lillian, which I think is interesting-- not totally unexpected but I would expect that from a woman born around 1900 or now, not a boomer. (I wonder if she was named after her mother?) She complimented me on my name, said she had a daughter named Jen and asked me my mn. I told her it is Leigh and she said, "Oh my goodness, I wanted to name my daughter that! But the Catholic Church wouldn't let me, so she's Jennifer Anne." She commented on how things have changed, but I pointed out also that I'm not Catholic and Protestant Churches tend not to have name restrictions (at least in my experience). Isn't that interesting? Does anyone know if the Catholic church still srongly suggests certain mn's? Two 20-something sisters I know both have the mn Mary.

By Melissa C (not verified)
March 6, 2009 12:01 PM

I am also always paying attention to names. Everywhere I go I make note of the names I hear. I am noticing that times are changing.. different is in. Whether it be names that are strikingly different i.e. Nevena, Neladia, Tuff,Araiylia, Zephyn or common names with different spellings Madalynne, Kole, Madysyn, Kodie.

Also a friend of mine had baby Charlotte yesterday. That name seems to be popping up everywhere in my area (Ontario, Canada) in the last year.

March 6, 2009 12:06 PM

The other day while reading news stories on AOL I came across a name Jasmina Anema. It was a sad story about how this young girl needed a bone marrow transplant. But I just kept returning to the name. Does her last name rhyme and sound like Ah-nee-ma or does it sort of sound like Enema?? In either case I thought it was odd to give her a first name like that!
PS. If anyone thinks they can help out this girl here is the link.

March 6, 2009 12:11 PM

As an aside, I was thinking about Louise who posts here. She was expecting her baby soon and I think went into the hospital early. I just wanted to say that I hope things are okay.

By Melissa C (not verified)
March 6, 2009 12:12 PM

Also just heard another baby name this morning.. friend of a friend had a baby this week named her Arbor Grace.... thought Arbor was different but pretty.

By Amy3
March 6, 2009 12:18 PM

zoerhenne -- How strange. I just saw a flyer about Jasmina. I'd be inclined to pronounce her ln Uh-neigh-muh (assuming it's a Spanish name).

I'm often distracted by names. At the playground, I'm ever so busy eavesdropping and trying to link up sibs with each other. I try desperately to remember them all, or write them down very surreptitiously so as not to appear all stalky!

I have a friend who has twin daughters--An4stasia Wr3n and Lili4n G3orgia. The full names have always seemed an odd match to me, but their nns--Ana and L1ly--work perfectly well together.

March 6, 2009 12:23 PM

Along the lines of Abe and Shirley, I met a Leroy in his 30s. I thought his name was an awesome anachronism. Of course he was also very nice. I wondered where he was from and whether there was a story behind his name, but I reined myself in.

Actually, yes, that is the biggest problem for me. I want to engage everyone in conversations about names, especially if they are expecting or if they have an unusual or anachronistic name.

I also worry that people will think my interest is creepy; talking about names can get to personal info pretty fast.

March 6, 2009 12:27 PM

Thanks for the morning chuckle! I know exactly where you are coming from, Laura.

March 6, 2009 12:46 PM

On the topic of the anachronistic couple Abe and Shirley, I know a set of twins with the names Leon and Arlo who are in their mid-twenties. Leon seems like such an older and stodgier name to me. In fact, my grandfather is named Leonard. Arlo, on the other hand, seems so "new" and fresh; I feel as if I would be more apt to see it used in a kindergarten class.

March 6, 2009 12:51 PM

Jenny L3igh, it's not a matter of the Roman Catholic church strongly suggesting certain middle names. The requirement was for a canonical baptismal name, and by canonical they meant a biblical name, a saint's name, a Marian name (like Rosary, Concepcion, Dolores, Mercedes), or other specifically religious name (like Cruz), If the parents wanted to name the child something that was not canonical, they also had to choose a canonical name. For example, when I was a child, our next door neighbor, a Catholic, was called Craig, but his name was really John Craig, because Craig is not a canonical name. Now whether the requirement that a baptismal name be canonical has gone the way of fish on Friday, I don't know, since I have had no reason to keep up on all the changes since Vatican II.

By Birgitte (not verified)
March 6, 2009 12:56 PM

RobynT, a Leroy in his 30's would have been born right at the time of the Fame-craze (movie and TV-series). There was a troublemaker of a dancer called Leroy in it.

By Guest (not verified)
March 6, 2009 1:07 PM

To the people surprised at anachronistic names on TV and in movies: I think those choices are deliberate. I'm guessing that the late 30-ish guy named Conner is also unrealistically handsome and well-dressed compared to the typical dude with a 1973 birthdate.

By Aybee (not verified)
March 6, 2009 1:24 PM

On Abe, Shirley, Leroy, my friend's little brother Billy, recently started dating his girlfriend, Kathie. They are 16, and sound 50 to my ears!

I watch a "Baby Story" on TLC just to hear the names, and they TOTALLY distract me from whatever story line there is. You named a boy Teagan? You named a girl Griffin? Whyyy?

By Jessi Ronan's Mum (not verified)
March 6, 2009 1:39 PM

Violet on Private practice, gimme a break.

Charmed was the worst for men having toddlers names Cole,Finn,Leo,Dexter and Drake.
Drives me mad.

By knp (not verified)
March 6, 2009 1:47 PM

I think choosing an anachronistic name, on that is out of style, is just a different way to be unique and try not to connect time/age with name-- a name has to work for your whole life.

By Prairie Dawn (not verified)
March 6, 2009 1:48 PM

I grew up knowing two boys with names that I found impossible to take seriously: Thomas Thomas and Daniel Daniels. They both went by nn's-- Tommy Thomas and Danny Daniels. I could never, even as an eight year old, get past their names, which I considered ridiculously funny at the time. I always wondered about those parents. Did they just really like the fn's they chose, or did they choose them specifically for the double fn/ln effect. My guess is the latter.

I, too, am constantly thinking about names. One funny incident occurred several years ago during a job interview. I was being interviewed and the woman interviewing me (my future boss) was named Marie. I couldn't help myself and asked her in the middle of the interview if she had changed her name to Marie from something else. She had! She was in her 60s and I just felt like Marie wasn't a name for a 60 year old woman. Her given name had been Blanche or Myrtle or something more age-appropriate. Lucky for me, she didn't take offense at my curiosity and I got the job!

By Jessi Ronan's Mum (not verified)
March 6, 2009 1:53 PM

So guess what M.I.A. decided to name her new baby boy with fiance Benjamin Brewer?

Ickitt! Yup, the the baby's name is Ickitt!

I love M.I.A but this,this is not good.

By Joni
March 6, 2009 2:06 PM

I am so glad you feel the same way about names! I just want to stop people and ask them, but I think it's a bit invasive to ask that of a perfect stranger: "hey, what's up with your unusual name?" But I can't help but notice - it's the verbal equivalent to 80's neon. NOTICE ME!

There is a gal on local news station who does the traffic reports named Sprince. I can never pay attention because I am always wondering about her name...

By Joni
March 6, 2009 2:18 PM

Am wrote "I get distracted from the things the Pottery Barn Kids catalogue is trying to sell me because I'm focused on all the monogrammed names." LMBO, I do the SAME THING! In magazines too - like Family Fun and Parenting.

Amy3 wrote "At the playground, I'm ever so busy eavesdropping and trying to link up sibs with each other. I try desperately to remember them all, or write them down very surreptitiously so as not to appear all stalky!" Haha, me too. And at the Dr's office, the store, church... I have to be able to remember them to share with my name nerd friends. ;)

By GirlRandolph (not verified)
March 6, 2009 2:54 PM

On fictional shows, I always notice the names. It's like nails on chalkboard when they are off. Children's shows tend to be better at naming.

There's a show (I like) called Privileged about two very wealthy heiresses and their tutor. The girls' are Sage and Rose. Sage is a great for the name of a daughter of wealthy parents. Interesting and original without being too weird. But Rose is completely off. It sounds horrible with Sage. Normally that wouldn't matter, but characters are ALWAYS refering to them as 'Sage and Rose'. Plus, it doesn't work on a girl who is 16 in 2009. Lily would have been a better classic name to pair with the more outlandish Sage.

In Sandra Bullock's Hope Floats, the daughter's name is Bernice. What kind of small town former homecoming queen/housewife names her daughter Bernice? I love old fashioned hipster names, but even I draw the line at Bernice.

I have a friend who is my age. Her early Boomer mother is a JENNIFER. I always do a double take when people refer to her mother as Jenn. The father has one of those youthful sounding boomer names that retained some steam in my generation. They should be about my age. I can't seem to bring myself to call her Jennifer or Jen. It just seems wrong.

She must have been the only girl named Jennifer in her class.

RE: Sharon - That combo is in my family, but it is elderly woman and her boomer daughter.

That being said I've know several Sharons who are my age (GenY/MTVgen). It seemed to retain a certain amount of steam amongst Jews because it is a Hebrew name that wasn't Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca or Leah. (Ruth seemed to be right out the question) Plus it sounds modern and it's a place name rather than a biblical character.

March 6, 2009 3:05 PM

Guest brings up a good point about "today's" baby names being given to older characters on TV. I guess producers/writers/etc are not as concerned with giving accurate names as hip ones. It also usually doesn't bother me so much because I figure there surely was at least one Connor (for ex) born in 1973 even if the name was much more popular later. I guess it's more when you have a whole unlikely cohort that it's jarring.

By Elaine (not verified)
March 6, 2009 3:08 PM

I always read people's name tags. There is the sweetest postal worker whose name is Pilgrim. I just had to tell her how much I liked her name before I could move on with business. Also, I saw a doctor once named Promise. Again, I couldn't concentrate on what she was saying b/c I was too busy focusing on her name. I'm starting to really fall for virtue names.

March 6, 2009 3:15 PM

It's so nice to be understood!!! :*)

We know a 50-ish mom named Krystle (that spelling) with a 10 yr old daughter named Sharon. I reverse their names constantly!

Our school district's new (and FABULOUS) superintendant is named Cyndi... she is in her late 50s.

Prairie Dawn- I'm with you on the double names. I know a Roger Rogers, Matthew (Matt) Matthews, and William (Bill) Williamson. Seriously folks.

March 6, 2009 3:25 PM

psst...The Name Lady has weighed in with some thoughts on Ickitt:

By hyz
March 6, 2009 3:31 PM

I agree with RobynT on the anachronistic names not being such a big deal, except when grouped together in an unlikely fashion--I think I know at least one of every person with the names people have objected to as being anachronistic for their ages (60s Marie, boomer Lillian, 30ish Connors, Dexters, and Coles, etc.).

I do stalk doctors' offices, playgrounds and school cubbies, PB catalog, etc., though, for names.

When I was a kid our plumber was John Johnson.

By Amanda (not verified)
March 6, 2009 3:42 PM

It doesn't usually bother me when TV shows give 'popular' names to adult characters, but it REALLY bothers me when the siblings don't seem to match up. A couple of teenage patients on Grey's Anatomy were sisters named Holly and Emma. Holly is so 90's compared to Emma. Her sister should be Kristen or Stephanie or something.

By Amy3
March 6, 2009 3:48 PM

I was scouting the names of the peer mediators at my daughter's school today. These would be 4th and 5th graders:



By Coll
March 6, 2009 3:53 PM

Jenny L3igh, Catholics are no longer required to have a canonical name at baptism, though many still do because of tradition, family naming, and religious feeling. My middle name is Marie because it was my godmother's name (she was born in the early 20th century). My second-in-line sister is named Shannon K3lly, with her middle being my mother's maiden name. It wasn't a problem that neither name was biblical or a saint's name. Now the church simply stipulates that a child's name not be actively atheistic or sacrilegious. No Beelzebubs or God-is-Deads will be baptized.

GirlRandolph, my mother (born in 1951) was named Jennifer. Like your acquaintance, she was the only "Jenn" around growing up.

New baby, born today: Reid Parker LN

On the subject of fictional characters: why aren't there more 30-something men on tv and in current movies named Jason? Doesn't it seem like half the men you know in that age cohort (which is my husband's age) have that name?

By Sarah P (not verified)
March 6, 2009 4:09 PM

When I was in law school one of the authors of one of my text books was "Mack A. Player". I did terrible in the class. I just spent all my time thinking, why would he use that name? Especially on a law text book? Why not use some other version of it or something, unless you're a porn star. Weird.

March 6, 2009 4:25 PM

Laura hears: Shaun? We have a cabinet secretary named Shaun? OK, it's official, my generation is full-scale grownups. Maybe I should do something responsible to mark the occasion. No seriously, Shaun??

Oh hi, my country elected a man named KEVIN as its Prime Minister.

March 6, 2009 4:29 PM

There is a young (early 20's) couple in my sunday school class who have 2 children. Their daughter (age 2) is named Ruth. Not what I would of expected from their personalities, but as very bible-based people (and it's also a family name)it's not crazy. When they got pregnant with baby #2 they announced their name choices - Malachi for a boy (again, Bible-based, though a little more unusual than very traditional Ruth) and Nevaeh if it's a girl. I was like, "really? you're going to have kids named Ruth and Nevaeh?"

My SIL named her child Jessica Michelle last year. I kept thinking "wow, she sounds like a child of the 80's, doesn't she?"

March 6, 2009 4:31 PM

Oh and has anyone noticed the producer names on the show NCIS?There's two that I question, but I can only remember one right now - Frank Military. I keep wondering if it's a coincidence or a joke.