What’s in a Name?

Last week, I included the poem, “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer and referred to him as “she/her”, for which I sincerely apologize. I have so many female friends named Joyce that my mind automatically assigns the feminine pronouns to the name. In the same way, I have so many female friends named Evelyn, we forget that it is a male British name, immortalized by the writer Evelyn Waugh. The practice of naming children since the second half of the 19th century has become extremely complex and confusing. Prior to the 60s, people used traditional names in traditional ways. Boys were Robert, Peter, John, or William; girls were Linda, Rose, Marie, or Sarah. Well, sure, there were more names, but the names used were also traditional names, many of which had been used in previous generations. When the 60s floated in with the world-wide flower power, hippie lifestyle, and love generation, people began naming their children after nature, like Daisy, Amber, Hawk, and Rain, or after virtues such as Hope, Charity, and Love. After that, international names became more popular, following the rise of certain celebrities. It did not take long for people, looking for originality, to put a twist in the spelling of traditional names, followed by the invention of names or adapting names to suit the opposite gender, which, by the way, is really common in cultures where the simple change of an ending changed the gender of a name. By the 80s, baby-naming books included popular names from around the world, and the options have been growing in leaps and bounds. Since the 1990s, the trend has been to use gender-neutral names and Ashley, Lindsey, and Leslie have become highly popular, along with dozens of permutations in spelling: Ashlee, Lindsay, Lesley. Many surnames have also became popular first-name choices, such as Branden, Morgan, and Regan. I have subbed in classes where there were several Jaimes, both male and female, pronounced “Jay-mee”. In the Spanish-speaking world, Jaime is pronounced “Hai-me” with a short e and is a masculine name, the Spanish equivalent of James. Multicultural exposure in the western hemisphere has also presented parents with more child-naming options, and besides French, Irish, and Scottish names proliferating in North America, parents are looking to Russian, German, and Spanish names to adopt. So what can you find out about a person through their names? Nowadays, it’s safe to say, almost nothing, because who knows what Morgan’s gender is? Nonetheless, if you are choosing names for your characters, it’s safe to do a quick name search for popular names from each year to match your character’s dates of birth as well as place of birth. Let’s just say it’s not likely to have a North American born in the 50s to be named Shakira.

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