Friday, August 14, 2009

27 Olivers

I think every little boy at the playground today except mine was named Aiden. Every little girl was either Isabella or Madison. Or maybe it was "Isabella Madison," all one name, like Anna Marie.

I'm totally fascinated by names. I can't watch a movie without getting hung up on the characters' names, wondering, Why did the screenwriter choose that? I love the way characters' names tell us about the world of the film, pointing out the story's major themes, or simply giving the audience a better sense of who each individual character is. It still bothers me that while everyone else in E.T. seems to have an obviously significant name, Drew Barrymore's character is named Gertrude. The only Gertrude I can think of (other than Stein) is Hamlet's mother. So...huh? How does that fit? And why do we not find out the baby's name at the end of Knocked Up? I mean, come on!

Names outside of fiction are even more interesting. I talked to a woman a few weeks ago whose little boy was named Otis. For as long as I can remember, Otis has been a dog's name in my mind. I wanted to ask her about how she chose the name, but I didn't because somehow it felt sort of rude. However, it's clear that this mother doesn't share my association with the name Otis. Or else she named her son after a fictional pug on purpose, but that seems kind of insane and I find it hard to imagine. Of course, I named my son after a fictional pirate on purpose, so I don't have a peg leg to stand on.

Regardless of how he got his name, I doubt that little Otis will run into another Otis any time soon. I have yet to meet another Westley. (One of the receptionists at Rob's office was shocked to hear that our son was named Westley-with-the-T, because that was going to be her grandson's name. Needless to say, she remembers who we are when we come to visit Rob at work.) I would be lying if I said popularity (or, more accurately, lack thereof) was not a deciding factor in choosing our son's name. It totally was. I love the way Zachary sounds, and it works really well with Rob's last name, but it was wildly popular when I was pregnant. I didn't want my son to be one of five Zacharys in his class.

Like most Robs, my Rob is actually a Robert. He has said that it doesn't really bother him that his name is so common* (he never has to spell his first name out for anyone, ever) but that it can be a major pain in the ass around peers. When you're hanging out somewhere with three other Robs, you all end up getting called by your last names, which sounds a little gym-classy. Watson! Stevens! Drop and gimme 20!

I was always strangely envious of the girls who got to be "Melissa P" or "Melissa F" (I guess because I always felt like such a weirdo, and you can't really be that weird if there are a bunch of other people with your same name), and the Elizabeths and Katherines who had an abundance of nicknames from which to choose. I never got to be anything cute like "Liz" or "Kat." I was stuck with an easy-to-tease, easy-to-misspell name that was not only a staple lyric of the Christmas season, but is also an iamb, and therefore can't really be sung to "The Name Game." I probably would have killed to have been "Noelle L" among other Noelles in elementary school. But I know enough Jennifers and Sarahs and Kates who absolutely hated having that extra letter tacked on to their first name. My own unusual childhood aside, I didn't want my own child to have to go through school with last initial in tow.

Jennifer, Dorothy and Westley

Based on the names I hear at the pool and the playground, and read on your blogs, many of you had the same idea. Originality seems to have become another thing to consider when choosing a baby's name, along with origin, meaning, and flow with whatever names are going to come after it. I find it strange that a name's popularity can put it out of the running for that first-name slot. Like some sort of Robert-and-Jennifer backlash.

What's even stranger is when the "original" names suddenly become popular. A wonderful couple we know are expecting a baby girl at the end of this month. They chose the name Kaylee, and shortly after announcing it, were bombarded with Kaylees. Rob and I kind of pulled Oliver out of a hat for Westley's middle name. We liked the way it sounded, and apparently, lots of other people do, too. It's no "Aiden," but there are lots of Olivers out there, especially in Seattle. After thinking the name was so unusual and underused, I'm hearing it all the time. Maybe in the next few years, people will start using it for their daughters, and "Oliver" can be the next "Jennifer."

*How common? "Robert" was the most popular name for boys in the United States from 1924 to 1939, and has been among the ten most popular names for most of the past 100 years. That's a lot of Roberts. (P.S. I love you, Social Security Administration Online, for fueling my name obsession.)



Melissa said...

I didn't encounter another Melissa until I was in high school. Apparently it was a top 20 name in the 80s. It is strange how these things work out sometimes. And I agree, a name should be common but not too common.

Allison the Meep said...

I remember feeling gypped in high school that there were 6 other Allisons in my entire school. I wanted it to be just mine, even though it's obviously not some hugely original name.

We picked Julian's name as a way to get out of the Aidan trap. While the popular names are pretty, and I suppose that's how they get popular in the first place, the thought of there being 11 other kids in class who share the same name as my kid bothered me. So we picked a name that's way too common in England, but not used so much here. Also, we're gigantic Beatles fans, but all their names are so bland. So, John Lennon's first son was Julian. It just worked. We liked the name anyway, and the Beatles connection sealed the deal.

Um, am I one of those people who over-shares on blog comments? You know, the people who always drop their two cents in and then people are like, "WHYYYY did you have to leave that long boring comment?" It's kind of my fear that I'm one of those people. And if I am, please swiftly tell me to shut the eff up.

Amber, The Unlikely Mama said...

My god there are a lot of Aiden's (or other various spellings) this year!

We chose Alexandra because of it's many many many options for shortened names. That and it sounds as good as to be expected with Peter's last name (Ho...ack, lol). She has my last name (Stiles) as her middle name...but everyone thinks it's a hypenation, oppsies.

Allison the Meep said...

I just need to add that after watching "The Princess Bride" for the first time ever tonight, Julian is dressing in all black with a mask, carrying a sword, and insisting I call him Westley. And I can't help but feel like I'm ripping you off a little if I do.

hoppytoddle said...

My middle name is Melissa. MiniMe HATES it because she thinks I'm saying Millificent, from Sleeping Beauty.

Oh, & one of the guys who stood up in our wedding is named Robert Roberts. I'm not kidding. & yes, I've met his mom, & yes, I REALLLY wanted to ask her WTF, but chickened out when she started showing us pictures of their naked beach vacay.

Jessica said...

Yep. I had a spreadsheet with names and meanings and I cross refrerenced them all with the SS data base. If it was on the top 1000 names in any decade it was off the list. Seriously. Which meant Ammon was out. It was #1000 in the 1880s.

Re: trends, though, I've noticed a kick back to older names. I know a Betty, two Jaspers, a June, a couple of Ruby's, and a Henry.

The funny thing is that back in 19th century names were really out there (see Euphemia, Biddie, Orrie, and Gottleib (35 boys were named Gottleib??)).

Right after Hollis was born I saw a Hollis on the history channel (a racist white judge in the south who eventually became a civil rights activist, but sort of begrudgingly so) and two WOMEN named Hollis. *sigh* Oh well.

BTW, I love the name Westley and have considered Weston for #2, cuz I love the nickname "West."

Jessica W.

Jessica said...

I forgot to add that there are so many Madisons out there because of Splash - our generation is the one who wanted to be mermaids.

Aiden is so popular because of Sex in the City.

This is purely my own opinion, but I'd be surprised if it isn't true.

sarah said...

Well, Sarah was so common for girls my age that being Sarah F. didn't cut it, we already had another Sarah F. in my class in high school. Sarah was the 2nd most popular name for girls born in '81 -- Jennifer was the first. I have to say that spelling doesn't matter because they all sound the same when they are being spoken.

In my family, everyone has a family name -- so there are 4 Sarah's (my brother added one of them). So I was Sarah F. at home, too. But hey, my mom is Minnie and her brother is Buzz and they both have family names too.

Baby in Broad said...

Allison - I like the long comments! It's more conversational, and less like I'm talking to myself. And I love that Julian is running around in all black, demanding to be called "Westley." That's awesome.

Jessica - I adore the name Jasper. But Rob said "no, absolutely not, OMG woman, what are you trying to do to our son?" to that one. We're kind of screwed if we have another boy, because we Could. Not. Agree. on boys' names. I like Weston, but Westley and Weston?

Also, I know a female Hollis, but, for what it's worth, I think she's about 103.

Sarah - My dad's dad had a family name (Manfrid), but everyone called him Pete. Some people get off easy.

Rob said...

No, absolutely not, OMG woman, what are you trying to do to our son?