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Classic Names: The Fred Factor

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A few days ago, I was introduced to Fred Gooltz, COO of the hot new obsession site itsasickness.com. Wow, I thought, Fred, one of my favorite cool retro names.  But it soon became evident that Fred didn’t share my enthusiasm, expressing his negative feelings about growing up with a name that seemed to be out of step with his time. To delve a little deeper, we had the following e-conversation:

First of all, are you a Frederick or just plain Fred?

FRED: My birth certificate has me as a Frederick, but I’ve only ever gone by Fred. I should probably switch.

Did you have any nicknames growing up? Ever called Freddy/Freddie?

FRED: There are always certain kinds of people who try to call you Freddy.  Some people like to put “ie” on the end of any name, usually because they’re playing at childish schoolyard politics, infantilizing others with nicknames to feel stronger.  It’s like assuming that you’ve got the right to call somebody ‘slugger’ or ‘kiddo’ or ‘champ.’  I rage against Freddie.  I always picture the ‘I’ dotted with a heart.

Very few nicknames were attempted on me – I had one teacher who called me “Dauntless” for a while, but thankfully it didn’t stick when I changed schools. It’s entertaining and a little sad when a person with a clunky wig of a name like Fred goes by “Thunder” or “The Hammer.”  It’s the McLovin joke from the movie Superbad.  Nobody wants to be that guy. Naming your son Fred, Poindexter, Egbert, or Sheldon nearly guarantees that they have to deal with a moment like that eventually.

Do you know why your parents picked the name?  Does it have any family connections?  Did it affect your feelings towards your parents?

FRED: There are Alfreds and Fredericks all over my family history. My family is full of old timey names. But my mom – whose name is Estelle, by the way – insists that she really liked the name.  She actually loved the name Friedrich, from a character in Little Women.“ The book probably made Friedrich a popular name in the 1870s, but a century later… not so much. I should probably be grateful–another option was apparently the name Zepherin.

Were you teased in Elementary School? High School? College?

FRED: In spite of the name Fred, to be honest, I wasn’t teased too badly about my name.  I was teased because of my behavior. If anything, my name probably encouraged me to be able to fit in with different tribes of kids in school.

Ever think of changing your name?

FRED: Yes. I’ve met some very wonderful Freds who are passionate about spreading the name. and I’ve met some very nice people who are comforted by the Lawrence Welk Show- era simplicity of the name, but I’m not a Fred-evangelist.  It took a long time for me to come to terms with my name.  About thirty years. The first time I tried to change my name I was probably seven years old. For about a month I insisted that my family call me Rick – shortened from Frederick.  I was adamant, I wouldn’t respond to my family unless I was addressed as Rick.  But this distaste for the name Fred made my mother sad, so I dropped it.  I’m sorry to say, but Fred never completely clicked with me.  The sound of the name itself can sometimes clang like a jeer – even from friends. Frederick is probably better, I think.  

Although Fred was hot at the turn of the 20th century—it was in the Top 20 from 1880 to 1907 and stayed in the Top 100 till 1956, it was not exactly the coolest name on the block in the year you were born, and now it hasn’t even been in the Top 1000 since 2002.  How has having a ‘dated’ name affected you and your perception of yourself?  Did it strengthen your character?

FRED: I’m usually the only Fred people know.  It’s funny how some folks are quick to tell me this fact, as if it’s an encouragement – that I set their standard for Freds. But that’s no consolation, really.  If I had gills, I’d set the standard for fish people, but it wouldn’t make things any easier.

I don’t know for certain what my name did for my character.  I’m not a conservative guy, so maybe it encouraged me to break from convention.  My business partner is named Barnaby and we both had traumatic relationships with our names in childhood.  He loves his now.   Me, I’m getting there.

How about the combination of Fred + Gooltz?  

FRED: Now we’re getting to the heart of my problem with it all. To my ear, the name Fred Gooltz is lacking in musicality.  In poetic terms, those two words are a single pyrrhic foot: da-da – without internal rhyme or alliteration. Other two syllable names like Chuck Close have a tight lyricism to them, but not mine. If a name has at least three syllables, then you’re probably safe – three syllables easily establishes a melodic rhythm. Gooltz being difficult for most people to pronounce just makes matters worse. Unsurprisingly there was a period of 5 years where I used a different last name.

Do you have a middle name?

FRED: Edward. Frederick Edward Gooltz

How would you rate Fred as a Blind Date Name?

FRED: Off the charts.  I doubt it even rates a roll of the eyes.

Are there any pop culture Freds you identify with? 

FRED: I like Fred Astaire.  His precision was amazing.

How has having the name Fred affected your attitude towards naming your own children?

FRED: A lot. My wife and I talk about names often. In general, it’s impossible to underestimate the potential for cruelty in some children. I think easily mocked names definitely should be a consideration when picking baby names. While it’s probably true that no name is ‘tease’ proof, some names make a bigger target than others.

Would it cheer you up to know that a large number of nameberryites think Fred is totally cool?

FRED: Yes, that’s very nice.

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