TinyPrints, the custom greeting card/stationery company, has been a supporter of this site for a long time now. This is the first time they've asked me to let you know about a special offer, and I'm happy to do it because it's a genuinely good deal. You can make custom Mother's Day cards -- cards your mom (or grandma) will actually care about and show off to all of her friends, aren't you a dutiful child -- for cheap, or even free.
Here's a sample that my partner Jennie created for her mom, with a message many of us can relate to:
"I love you...even though you named me Jennifer."
You can have TinyPrints mail the card directly to the recipient, or even turn it into a gift by telling them to include a gift card to a store of your choice, or a donation to a charity. And yes, registering for TinyPrints also helps support your friendly neighborhood baby name site. We thank you for it.
Gather round, friends, and I will tell you the strange but true tale of a woman who lost track of her own middle name.
It all started innocently enough. She was a young woman with a very common first/last name combo, and she was engaged to be married. She decided to take her husband's less-common surname, and to use her single-person surname as a middle name. And so on her wedding day, Ms. First Middle Single became Ms. First Single Married.
The years rolled by, with business cards, credit cards and contracts issued in the name of First S. Married. "Middle" sank quietly into the realm of memory. Then one day, our heroine realized she had never received the Social Security Card she'd applied for in her married name. She requested a duplicate, and it arrived printed with the name First Middle Married.
In the United States, the Social Security Card is king. When Ms. Married moved to a new state, the DMV ignored her old driver's license and issued her new identification with the SSA's preferred name. Once those two primary IDs said First Middle Married, her passport had to follow suit. The die was cast. She had a new official name, one which she'd never chosen.
Which full name should she use now? Which was "correct"? Was there any turning back?
A funny thing happened: she found she didn't care. Single, Middle, whatever. She didn't use any middle name much anyway, and the new version did have nicer initials.
Did I mention that this woman is me?
It's quite the irony, a professional Name Wizard not knowing (or caring about) her own name. But the lesson I took away is that for me and many others, our middle names aren't really our names. If you don't use a name and don't answer to it, it plays a very different role in your life. It doesn't shape the impression you make on others. It's something attached to you, rather than your own self. You might take it out to look at it once in a while, but it's not essential.
I suspect many of you feel differently. Your middle name is part of your identity. If it were taken away by bureaucratic chance, you'd spring into action to rescue it! For some of you with middle names of special significance, that's doubtless true. But as one who's been there, I can tell you that the reality of the middle-name switcheroo was far less significant than I would have imagined.
I spend a lot of time telling people that first names mean more and say more than we think. Middle names, though, may just mean less.
I look at name trends as a window on our culture and values. Usually, my subject is human names. But can the names we give our pets also shed light on our society, human and otherwise?
I've been pondering that since I was sent a link to a scholarly research paper, titled "Parrots are 'more human' than chickens." The study, by Ernest Abel of Wayne State University, was a brief analysis of names given to birds by their owners. Breeds that normally live in the owner's home (e.g. parakeets, cockatiels, canaries) were more likely to be given common human names than outdoor breeds (chickens, doves, peacocks).
Discover Magazine recently reported on the study in a blog post with "ROFL" in its headline. ("Report" is a generous word, here...the research was published back in 2008.) I can understand the giggles, but I'm not ready to dismiss the research out of hand. Let's take a look at the broader pet name context.
Our image of dog names runs to Rover, Patch and Prince, but that no longer matches reality. The hottest names today are cozy antiques like Lucy, Bella, Max and Sam, and preppy surnames like Bailey and Spencer. In other words, we now name our pets a lot like babies.
It's a dramatic change from generations past. Bow Wow Meow, an Australia-based pet tag maker that tracks names of its animal customers, reports a huge shift toward human-style dog names over the past 20 years. Max has become the #1 canine name in the U.S. and England as well as Australia. Names like Lucy, Jake and Sam are similarly hot across the English-speaking world.
Now put the two findings together. Human-style names reflect a more human-style role for pets...and the use of human-style pet names is soaring. Does this point to a shift in the relationship between humans and their animals?
When was the last time you met a cat whose primary role was to patrol outbuildings for mice, or a dog trained to herd sheep? The typical American no longer encounters working animals on a regular basis. Even breeds traditionally bred for jobs like hunting, shepherding and guarding are increasingly likely to live as companion animals. My neighborhood is rife with golden retrievers, none of which are asked to do any retrieving.
I retraced the steps of the "parrots & chickens" researcher informally, looking at dog names in the same internet database. Human-styled names seem to be at least as common for the traditional working breeds as for any others. (Styles vary, of course. Bloodhounds are more likely to be called Maynard or Jethro, Dobermans Winston or Shelby. More to come on this!)
This naming shift may subtly affect our attitudes as well as reflect them. Have you noticed that if you bestow a human-style name on an inanimate object, you can't help but treat it more considerately? Now, how much more powerful must that impulse be when applied to a living, breathing creature?