One last holiday leftover
There was Holly and Ivy and Noëlle and Joy,
Merry and Carol, and Nick for a boy,
But do you recall
The least famous Christmas name of all?
During the holidays, I renewed my annual acquaintance with the name that represents the season best to me. This name calls to mind generations of families around the world, celebrating with those little family-specific traditions that carry the most cherished memories. The name is Tammis.
The funny thing is, Tammis isn't part of any tradition of mine. In fact, I don't know much about the name, though I quite like it -- it's a female name, simple but chic and very uncommon. The holiday link comes via a lovely household I visit each December. One of the family-specific traditions in that home is an old Little Golden Book of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, laid beneath the tree each year. And therein lies our tale.
This Golden Book was first published in 1958. It was written by Barbara Shook Hazen, and illustrated by the great Richard Scarry. I was raised on Scarry's Busytown books, which used cartoonish animal illustrations to present original stories from the practical (What Do People Do All Day) to the bizarre (The Talking Bread, Schtoompah the Funny Austrian.). But before Busytown, Scarry spent years at Golden Books illustrating other writers' works in a more conventional picture-book style. His drawings for "Rudolph" took the material totally straight, with one exception: names.
In a key scene, Santa holds a long scroll naming all the "good boys and girls" on his delivery list. Little John and Mary and Peter and, yes, Tammis are destined to be happy on Christmas morning. Here's the full lineup:
(You can see the original image, courtesy of a random flickr user.)
Every year I pore over the names, reading Tammis, Huck and Carlton and wondering about the real meaning of Santa's list. It's not mentioned in the text of the story so I assume it was Scarry's own contribution, a shout-out to all the "good boys and girls" in his own life. I like to imagine that Tammis could refer to Tammis Keefe, a great textile designer of the same period whose animal prints could have done a Golden Book proud. (Check out some of Keefe's handkerchiefs with crocodile, circus and exotic animal motifs.)
Whatever the real story behind the names, the list speaks across time. It's a moment of connection, a glimpse of quirky humanity in an otherwise sanitized setting -- like a family tradition passed down to us from the Scarry household. And Tammis is a pretty nifty name, too. Maybe one to add to your own list of "good little girls"?
UPDATE: Since I posted this, readers have joined me hot on the trail of the elusive name Tammis. Theories abound, but evidence seems to be mounting that its roots are in Celtic variants of Thomas, and that it can be used for boys and girls. Close relatives are Tam (the Scottish version of Tom) and Tamsin (a Cornish contraction of Thomasina which is now widely used across the U.K.). Thanks, everybody!