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?
Thank you to everybody who has submitted questions to the new Ask the Name Lady column. The Name Lady's first response is up now over at ParentDish, give it a read! New columns will appear every morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time.
EDIT: Holy smokes, did I ever make a typo! That's supposed to read every MONDAY, not morning. Sorry to raise the hopes of any voracious name enthusiasts out there!
Surnames of the British Isles are classic source of American boys' names -- just ask any Russell, Douglas, or Warren. Today, almost any surname ending in -er or -n is a potential crossover target, for boys and girls alike.
Once a name crosses over in a big way, it paves a road for other names with a similar sound. Madison, for instance, gave a leg up to Addison, and Mason to Grayson. Are there any new families of surnames ready to make the same leap? Maybe one. I wrote recently about the rise of Finnegan for boys, and in recent months I've encountered more and more girls with names like Madigan, Carrigan and Merrigan.
The -gan names seem to have all the ingredients for popularity. Their jaunty Irish style makes them perfect siblings for a Kennedy or McKenzie. (Most -gan names are Anglicizations of Irish names which in turn came from diminutives of first names. E.g. Finnegan from the Gaelic Ó Fionnagáin, meaning "descendant of Fionnagán," a diminutive of Fionn, which means "pale." Got it? No? No matter. After all, who ever cares that Campbell comes from the Gaelic for "crooked mouth"?) The names also offer a rolling rhythm that feels comfortable in this age of Emersons and Donovans. And to top it off, many of them are nickname-ready. Parents of girls in particular flock to 2-for-1 names with a formal, androgyous full version and a cuddly girlish nickname. Addison/Addie, meet Carrigan/Carrie.
Here's my list of likeliest -gan candidates. As with -son names, the male/female potential is determined largely by the roots, so Brannigan is a likelier choice for boys than Nelligan.