There Are Superheroes All Around Us

Aug 6th 2010

Today, I am in a place where everyone has an alter ego. A woman you meet might answer to Kim or Michelle in her everyday life, but she has another identity -- an identity marked not by an ordinary name, but by a title that reflects her special powers: Allergic Girl. Lady M. Naked Jen.

I'm at BlogHer, the massive conference for women who blog. A sample snippet of conversation: "I'm supposed to meet Momfluential for drinks." A sample introduction: "I'm Mary, Weird Girl." (Or, to be fair: "I'm Laura, The Baby Name Wizard.") It's like a Marvel Universe convention for reject superheroes.

At first it felt weird. The more I get used to it, though, the more I like it. Special powers are so much more diverse than x-ray vision and super strength, so why should the boys in tights have all the fun?

Think about it for a minute, and I'll bet you have a super power of your own. What's your secret identity name?


August 6, 2010 5:37 PM

Heck, I've always thought that we should add names as we move through life. Get ourself a moniker that matches our passions and accomplishments.

Myself, I pick up so many little bits and live on the outskirts of so many groups, that I don't stick to one name... I've been Math Kid, Mr. Coupon, Mr. Cocoa, InVinoVeritas, Linnaeus... My name is whatever it needs to be at the present time.

(It's one of the reasons I enjoy RPGs. You get to wear all sorts of masks and names whenever you want.)

Although, I must admit, I still like my pen name: The Enigmatic Miguel Montevista.

August 6, 2010 5:56 PM

I've been thegrimtuesday for quite a while now. I've found that it suits, but not the way it might appear to on the surface!

Initially, it started out just as a complete rip-off of a Garth Nix book that I really enjoyed (The Grim Tuesday in the Keys to the Kingdom series.) I liked the character, even though he was the bad guy. Over time, it morphed into something that just ended up fitting pretty well.

Pretty well if you take into account that 'grim' has definitions beyond the dark and the dire. For me, it is more about my unyielding, stern, and fierce side.

And fittingly enough, I was born on a Tuesday. A Tuesday that also happened to be Halloween!

August 6, 2010 6:15 PM


I completely agree with your assessment of my dh in the last post. He's tried to humor me in the name game, but he's not really a plan-aheader like I am. It'll be different when a name is really needed.

By annalee (not verified)
August 6, 2010 6:32 PM

i'm annalee, otherwise known as annaleeper. being named annalee and being born on leap day kinda go hand in hand for the obvious choice of my lifetime nickname.
as for the subtitle of my blog- out on a whim, my family loves to point out how i mess up catch phrases on a regular basis. this was one of those instances, but the more i thought about it the more i decided i really do go "out on a whim" a lot more often than i go "out on a limb" so the blog name came to be.
i LOVE your blog and all the interesting things you make me think about when it comes to names. i hope you have a great time at the conference.

By Joni
August 6, 2010 9:00 PM

This is really interesting! I wonder if Bakerella is at that convention?

I have a group of online friends, several of whom I only call by 'nicknames'. I am now friends with them on FB and it's kinda strange to try see them with their "real" names. Ceyanne, Taffy and Beans are just more... interesting! Were we to meet in real life, how could I ever call Elsabelle anything other than that? Even if her "real" name is completely different.

August 6, 2010 9:32 PM

I have a friend on a game site I frequent. When I decided to meet her in real life last year, she had a hard time calling me or telling others who I was w/o referring to me as Zoe. It's funny and kind of relates back to the last thread about how we assume people only have one name.

Speaking of the last thread, Linnaeus that was quite an assesment of PennyX's dh. I agree he's probably not quite as interested now as when there might actually be a real person born in the next few months. In any case, since I like playing with Nymbler so much I will plug some things in for you PennyX and give you some fresh ideas.

In other news, sadly (but maybe not so sadly after all) little NJ Adolf and his siblings will not be returning to their parents. For those who are interested:

August 6, 2010 9:53 PM

PennyX-There was nothing new except Dasia. It's a Russian form of Dorothy. Da- like Dot, and -sia like the end of Lucia. Either see-a or sha. Not sure is quite goes with the LN but thought I'd throw it out there.

By FaerieEm (not verified)
August 6, 2010 10:34 PM

oh, I LOVE NakedJen! She's marvelous! and she definitely has super powers.

By Amy3
August 7, 2010 11:35 AM

I can't help but feel it's quintessentially Gen X of me that my "alter-ego" -- Amy3 -- is a recognition that I share my real identity (or at least my name) with many others. That, or I'm just bone crushingly uncreative. :)

August 7, 2010 1:14 PM

Awkward Turtle is an in-joke between me and some friends. I don't think any of them actually go on this blog. (If there is an awkward silence, you do a hand gesture like a turtle swimming awkwardly. I have strange friends.)

August 7, 2010 1:18 PM

I always think it's funny to refer to person as First Name-Username/Website. I kind of love it, though!!

August 7, 2010 2:37 PM

I think I'll join Amy3 in the crushingly uncreative camp -- though strangely enough nobody else on here seems to own up to a full Kimberly, though I've seen a couple of Kims post on here. Even when I've made up names for various games, etc online I've never been terribly creative and never really identified with whatever name I ended up with. I guess I'm a little jealous of those more creative in that realm.

It's been a couple of days since I've had enough free time to get online, but I wanted to thank everyone for your feedback on my names. I especially want to to thank everyone for the feedback on Elfreda and Osric since I've gotten so much negative feedback in person on those names.

By Scout (nli) (not verified)
August 7, 2010 5:15 PM

I need some name etiquette advice. A Facebook friend has recently posted the name for her third child, a boy. If I remember correctly, she still has another month or two until delivery. The name is Cohen. I know there are a lot of negative opinions on here about naming a child Cohen. Would you bring up the potential problems of this name to someone you only see in person rarely?

August 7, 2010 8:09 PM


I have to say, I originally wasn't too fond of Elfreda, but I'm really warming up to it a lot.

By Amy3
August 7, 2010 9:05 PM

@Kimberly, I also really like Elfreda, but are you pronouncing it /freeda/ or /frayda/? I prefer /frayda/ myself.

August 7, 2010 9:27 PM

Scout-My two cents (non-Jewish to be noted) is that is a tricky area. First off, how close are you to this person? Secondly, are you sure she isn't "entitled" to use the name somehow? Thirdly, are you 100% sure the baby hasn't been born yet? Lastly, based on how well you know this person, do you think that she will get offended or appreciate your knowledge and expertise regarding said name?

If you do know her well, and know that the baby has not been born, and know she is not using this name properly, AND she will not be offended then I would say something. However, I might say it in a backwards way (if it were me) like "Oh is that a family name?" or something of the like rather than "You know, only Jewish royalty are supposed to use that name." In any case, best wishes to the mom.

By Scout (nli) (not verified)
August 7, 2010 11:27 PM

I went to high school with her, and we have since gone for drinks with her and her husband, so not super close. I know the baby has not been born yet. He will be mixed American/Korean heritage, and has no claim to Jewish royalty as far as I'm aware. I really am not sure how she might react. I do like your suggestion, though, and may try that. Any conversation will happen online. Thanks for the input!

August 7, 2010 11:57 PM

Scout, if I were in your place, I would mention the problems with the name, since it's not just a matter of taste. A parent would probably want to know if the name she has chosen may be offensive to a group of people. Maybe you could also provide alternative suggestions - Camden, Carson, Carter, Cole, Cody, Griffin, Noah?

August 8, 2010 6:14 AM

About Elfreda: it makes me think of pasta. Is it even a type of pasta? I don't think it is.

Other than that it's cute in an old-fashioned way. The nickname Elf would be too adorable.

By Guest B (not verified)
August 8, 2010 8:45 AM

Scout, I would say something. I know it would ruffle my feathers even more if someone said to me 3 years later "yeah, I knew it was a priestly Jewish name and you might put your foot in your mouth with it, but I decided not to say anything because I thought you'd be happier not knowing." That being said there's no reason to school her on it in an opinionated way - you could say something along the lines of "Congratulations, I think the name sounds great. I came across this discussion about it and I thought you might be interested because some of the cultural associations are pretty shocking and I never would have guessed." I find it's always better to approach touchy situations as peers instead of as though you are "correcting" someone.

By Amy3
August 8, 2010 9:09 AM

@Scout, I would say something along the lines of, "Since you're not Jewish you may not realize ..." Also, iirc, it's a name reserved for the priesthood (and their relatives) rather than royalty per se. Miriam should chime in, though, to clarify.

August 8, 2010 12:19 PM

Amy3-I believe you are correct. I'm sure "royalty" wasn't quite the right word but I was typing quickly and late at night so that was what I thought of first. You and Guest B made some great suggestions.

By Guest (not verified)
August 8, 2010 12:36 PM

I think you run a really big risk of offending your acquaintance no matter how this is approached. The only appropriate response to her post would be something along the lines of "Congratulations! So happy for you.." I know quite a few non-Jewish children named Cohen (or any variety of creative spelling) and I really don't think it's that big of a deal to your average person. Most people probably don't even realize it's a Jewish name. My neighbor has a son named Brody. One evening we were talking about names for my daughter to be and I mentioned that Brody was a Jewish surname. The kid is like 9 and she'd never heard that before. It's not a big deal to most people.

August 8, 2010 12:42 PM

I agree with others that it's probably best to let her know gently before the baby actually arrives and it becomes a done deal.

Re Elfreda, I pronounce it el-FREE-duh. And Awkward Turtle, you're probably thinking of alfredo, which is a cream based pasta sauce.

August 8, 2010 12:56 PM

I like Guest B's suggestion. The tone seems clearly in the spirit of wanting to help without seeming to school her. That's the difficult line to walk.

I pronounce Elfreda El-FRAY-da. Much like Freya, which I guess could be a nn. Freya might actually be a good alternative if you end up not feeling like you can go with the courageous Elfreda. But it is more popular, of course. Freddie, Elf, Elfie, Ella, Ellie, tom-boy Fred...all good nicknames for Elfreda.

August 8, 2010 1:01 PM

Speaking of pronunciation, I have a question regarding Linnea, which is very popular in these parts. I saw pictures of a newborn one via FB (no idea who the parents are; I went to school with the person who posted the pics), and they indicated that the middle syllable was said like "knee." I have always pronounced it with "nay" in the middle. Which is correct?

By knp
August 8, 2010 1:54 PM

Well, how the parents wants to pronounce it is always correct. :)
In fact, BNW lists both as pronunciations. I think that lin-ay-a is a little more common though.

The type of flower is linnaea, which I think clarifies its sound as an 'ay' sound.

August 8, 2010 7:04 PM

I think the best analogy I've heard is that it's like someone who is not Christian naming their child "Pope", because it's not just a surname but also a title for religious leaders.

If you are 100% certain that this child does not yet exist outside of the uterus, then I would in your place probably say something. I'd just start along the lines of, "Oh, I didn't realize you and your husband were Jewish!" and then if they say "We're not, why do you ask?" I would say, "Cohen is a title for a particular lineage of Jewish priests." One could tack on a reference to an article about the Cohen name phenomenon, like - which does both pro and cons. Perhaps they could consider Cowan or Cohan or another name that preserves the sound and style without veering into offensive category for as many people... or perhaps they'll stick with it, but they'll have made the choice with full information, and won't be surprised by other people interpreting their choice in a certain way after the birth.

By Guest (not verified)
August 8, 2010 7:08 PM

I've met lots of people who pronounce Linnea both ways. Either way you say it, I think Linnea is about to be "found" and break out. Lovely sounds, a little unusual, currently popular in Norway and Sweden, begins with L, ends with an "ah" sound... It was one of my guesses for a fast-riser in Laura's name pool, but apparently it's not quite been "discovered" yet.

By Jebediah (not verified)
August 8, 2010 8:25 PM

Re: Cohen

How about posting something like this:
"Congratulations on the baby! Cohen reminds me of an article I read a while back on the name. [insert Lucubatrix's link]. Thought you might find it interesting!"?
You could add, "Who would have thought it was so contentious!?" or something about being interested in her thoughts on the religious aspect at the end.

By Goddess in Progress (not verified)
August 8, 2010 9:37 PM

Shoot, I'm sorry I missed you at BlogHer! I love your book. :-)

-"Goddess in Progress"

By Guest B (not verified)
August 9, 2010 4:20 AM

lucubatrix - I have to admit, your approach is what I would say to my sister if I wanted to irritate her while playing innocent for extra effect! I like the idea to suggest the other cultural variants of the same sound. For someone who chose Cohen in all likelihood based on sound, Cohan has a good shot.

Name heard on a Swedish baby - Alfons!

By Amy3
August 9, 2010 6:26 AM

Re: Linnea, the only one I know irl pronounces it /ay/.

August 9, 2010 11:22 AM

I think I like Jebediah's or your suggestion better -- I think the "didn't know you were Jewish" works better in person, somehow, and is only really worth bringing up if you think they might have some family connection to the name somehow. Otherwise, Guest B, you are right that my suggestion ends up being a bit snotty and annoying.

It's hard to walk that line that simultaneously lets someone know the name they have selected will be perceived by a big part of the world in a certain way but also respecting their right to name their child... but at least if you're doing it online you have plenty of time to think about what the best way to say it is. Because you're right that my first instinct would have been rather obnoxious. [ETA: I think my inherent crankiness stems from surprise that people can't just google important decisions themselves, given that at least one parent clearly has some degree of internet savvy if they are on facebook. I understand that not everyone wants to buy a baby name book or check one out at the library, but now you don't even have to go that far!]

I do think Cohen has a very nice sound that probably drew these parents, so one of the sound-alike variant spellings not so closely tied with this issue could preserve the feel of the name... unless what they like about it is that it has a strongly Jewish feel. I know the controversy is not enough to dissuade everyone from the name even if they do know about it in advance, and I personally think that's okay [ETA: as in, should be legally allowable] as long as the parents really know what they're getting into.

[ETA also: and once there's an actual child born, I would only be very positive about baby Cohen... although as I think about it, I'm not sure the birth/pre-birth distinction is that meaningful if the name choice is being announced to the whole world prenatally.]

August 9, 2010 8:41 AM

Scout, lucubratrix and others-I know a young boy named Koen (this sp). I remember a while back asking Miriam if it were the same name and I believe she said no that it was Scandinavian or such. So a sp change might be a great idea for your friend. Maybe something like: I love the sound of Cohen but that sp reminds me of the version used by Jewish preisthood. Since I don't think you have a connection to that maybe you might want to sp it Cohan, or Koen.

August 9, 2010 10:18 AM

Thanks for the feedback on Linnea. I agree that parents' pronunciation is correct -- for that child -- but I'm also glad to know that the more common pronunciation seems to be with "ay" in the middle. I, too, think it is a lovely name. The more I think about it, the more I like it, even though it is not really my style.

I also think the Cohen situation with your friend is a tricky one. Actually, since you get together IRL, even if only occasionally, I think you should say something. Others have given you very thoughtful ideas about how to approach it.

August 9, 2010 11:32 AM

Zoerhenne - as far as I understand it, Coen and Koen come from the same root as Conrad/Konrad, and are thus in the noncontroversial category!

I'd also like to predict that Conrad will be making a comeback ere too long - cute, snappy name I think!

By Anne with an E, nli (not verified)
August 9, 2010 11:43 AM

The only Linnea I know is about 14, and pronounces it Lin-knee-a, to rhyme with zinnia. When I first met her I kept wanting to pronounce it Lin-nay-a, and she corrected me indignantly! :)

August 9, 2010 1:18 PM

New baby alert: Kenna Grace. NMS at all, it just seems really insubstantial for some reason.

By Cathie (not verified)
August 9, 2010 3:21 PM

I just looked up Cohen in the SSA stats, and it made its debut on the boys list in 2004 and was given to 651 boys! I wonder where it came from? It seems to be trending down now.

I guess I like the approach of, "oh I read something interesting about that name" and giving the link. Then they can decide with all the info. It does have a trendy sound and outside the orthodox jewish community and NEs I think it will get a good reception.

FWIW, from what I understand, if they have Jewish heritage it's an inappropriate choice. But it is also used by Irish families so IMHO it can be seen as a name with two origins, one disrespectful and one not.

August 9, 2010 6:36 PM

I also know a Linnea (she is Norwegian). Her pronunciation is close to Lin-nee-ah, similar to the word linear! I also want to say it Lin-nay-ah and believe both are correct.

@Lucubratix - I am also a big fan of Conrad. It is firmly on my list and I think it's very usable.

August 9, 2010 7:27 PM

Re Cohen--

"FWIW, from what I understand, if they have Jewish heritage it's an inappropriate choice. But it is also used by Irish families so IMHO it can be seen as a name with two origins, one disrespectful and one not."

No, CohAn is Irish, not Cohen. Cohen is flat out an inappropriate choice for anyone, Jewish or not. Jews do not use Cohen as a given name in any case.

As for Conrad, I recently attended a wedding where the six-year-old son of the bride was called Conrad. That's the first kid Conrad I've run across since I was a kid myself. In fact I just saw an obituary for the very elderly father of a Conrad who was a schoolmate of mine. His sister was (still is according to the obit) Constance. They were both called Connie. Well, Conrad was called Connie in the newspaper (he was the high school quarterback), and as I recall, he didn't much like it. The deceased elderly father was named Mahlon, a biblical name which has, AFAIK, disappeared, although, hey, it's got two syllables and ends in an -n :-).

By Scout (nli) (not verified)
August 9, 2010 7:45 PM

Guest B and Jebediah - I love this approach, I may use it.

Lucubratrix - In all fairness, when I googled "Cohen", all I get are articles about people bearing this name. When I change it to "Cohen name", I do get some hits about priesthood, but nothing would indicate to me that this is controversial unless I dig through a few pages, clicking on many links. Many of the message boards that come up have very positive things to say about the name. The first voice of dissent: "Makes me wanna shake my fist at the WB. Ever since Seth, this surname pops up more and more as a first name, making it less unusual or original every day. I'm sure those of you who love it have considered the religious and ethnicness of the name, right?"
I do like the link you posted, and I may send that to her.

ILoveWords - I am currently living outside the US, and will likely not get together with them again until well after the child has been named (and perhaps is talking!).

Cathie - I don't believe there is any Jewish heritage.

It's too bad I didn't have a legitimate reason to run interference when a friend recently named their son Kaden!

August 9, 2010 8:04 PM

Re Cohen: if you're not close I think the least likely to offend would be to offer minimal amount of personal comment and reference the article, basically appealing to a third party to impart the information.

Re Linnea: My understanding has been that the Scandinavian pronunciation is closest to LIN-knee-yuh or LIN-ee-yuh in American English but the most common pronunciation of the name in America is li-NAY-uh. I have to admit I prefer the latter pronunciation and the internal conflict over the pronunciation detracts from the enjoyment of the name for me.

ETA: By "internal conflict" I mean preferring the sound of the "less correct" pronunciation -- not that anybody else would necessarily care about the correctness.

August 9, 2010 8:33 PM

I was debriefed on the concept of Cohenim in college when friends were discussing marriage restrictions. (Specifically expressing relief that they were not in this caste because it meant that they would be able to marry divorcees and converts.) I'd think at least a good fraction of non-Jewish non-NEs would at least be somewhat informed about this issue, but I think if one lives in an area or moves in social circles where there are no (observant) Jews whatsoever then I could see how it would just be off one's radar entirely. But, kids won't necessarily continue in exactly the same environment as their parents... and my sense is that it wouldn't just be the orthodox who could find this to be inappropriate.

I know that use of family surnames as given names is a super hot trend right now, and I've wondered if any of the Cohen-as-firstname babies have a family history where one of their ancestors was a Cohen and the name was chosen to honor that heritage. My guess is that there probably wouldn't be too many parents who would want to honor their Cohen ancestors in this way, given that it's inappropriate... but I'd still like to check out whether any of the baby Cohens bear the genetic marker associated with this group!

My default google query is "____ baby name" as well the name alone, because with names that have other uses (e.g. as surnames) or whose main point of popularity is a literary or historic personage are going to usually going to yield reams of that literary/historic useage. I tend to compulsively name-google though because the names I like are often too obscure to get entries in baby name books, and I really do want to know how the name will be perceived by others, including the full brunt of negative stereotypes.

Fun resource for those who like the "English" a la BNW style of names: is a British forum with lots of freely given opinions, which really helps because a lot of the "English" names have many more class and other social implications in the UK. Their baby name finder even has cultural stereotypes included, is searchable by brand of clothing, employment and shopping preferences of your hypothetical child! The upshot is that while I have very poncey, pretentious taste in names, I know it and bestow those names with knowledge thereof... and that's really all that I'd ask of potential parents of Cohens - that they go in fully aware of how the name will be perceived in segments of society that are not their own.

By Cathie (not verified)
August 9, 2010 10:27 PM

Miriam, that would certainly challenge the idea that it is sometimes Irish, but are you sure that all Irish Cohans are spelled that way? Just asking, because dh has a Scottish surname and it's been anglicized in countless ways. I do know an Irish Cohen and always assumed it was spelled that way, but maybe not... A quick Internet search does list the spelling as a possible variant of a couple of Irish names but who knows how reliable that is. Anyway, it does seem like the whole thing is a bit of a red herring to have an "excuse" to make the name OK, since the original name Cohen from the OC was not Irish at all.

By Sara no h signed in as guest (not verified)
August 9, 2010 11:22 PM

Re Cohen: I read the article that lucubratrix linked above and found it fascinating. As a descendent of Cohen myself, I was a little taken aback at the notion of people not caring about "religious fanatics" who feel Cohen is inappropriate to use. I am neither particularly religious nor a fanatic, and I imagine many Jews who believe that Cohen should not be used as a given name feel as such. The fact that a child named Cohen might never meet a Jew (as one lady in the article remarked) only furthers the point that this "trend" is extremely disrespectful.
Though i'd never use Cohen as a given name, it also is frustrating that if we
did want to use it, we'd come off looking trendy, rather than looking like we were honoring my father's family.

So.... I guess this rant didn't really solve the Facebook conundrum. I guess I second the idea of messaging your friend the above
link, while writing it off as this interesting thing you read, rather than like you're trying to get a message across.

By Sara no h signed in as guest (not verified)
August 9, 2010 11:26 PM

Wow- sorry. Did not proofread. Serves me right for trying to post via my phone. Ignore repetitive statements.... And "feel as such" should read
"identify as such."

August 10, 2010 8:53 AM

Cathie, where did you get the info that Cohen is trending down now? Here's what the ssa "all names" data had to say about the number of annual male Cohens in the last two decades:
Not quite a downward trend, yet. Before the 1980s, the name Cohen popped up occasional years with 5-10 names, from the 1910s onwards. I found that interesting, as I was expecting Cohen to be a new thing entirely. I guess that means either that it's been given very occasionally as a first name (maybe by Jewish-ancestry parents?), or that there are record keeping errors where surnames got listed as the baby's first name. (I know that Judaism says that you don't tell the name of a boy until the bris, so that week+ delay might perhaps have made for some greater inaccuracy historically?)

The Cohan variant is much newer and much less used, so it really looks like Cohen is becoming the "established" variant, which I hadn't expected.

Ditto Cowen:

And Cowan:

All of these variants have not been used historically as consistently as Cohen, either... so I guess the market of sound-alike names is really not very prolific!