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Good Names…. with bad, bad associations

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JILL BARNETT turns her sharp eye and keen name sensibility on names that you love but just, because of bad associations, can never use.

As a style-conscious four-year-old who knew that lime green bellbottoms and patchwork Holly Hobby skirts were cutting edge chic, I had recently grown tired of my boring shoulder-length locks. Unable to think of any glamorous looks aside from a pageboy, life took a seemingly fortuitous turn one day when my mom took me to Friendly’s for a five-star grilled cheese sandwich and fries. Our server’s name was Claire, and in addition to having a name I absolutely loved, she sported my dream hairstyle at the time: a ponytail in the back with feathered chunks of hair resembling earmuffs on the sides, likely held in place with a jug or so of glistening Aqua Net.

After returning home from lunch, I did what any logical preschooler in need of a classy coiffure would have done: I found a pair of scissors, crawled up onto my bathroom counter so I could be closer to the mirror, and tried my best to recreate the glory of Claire’s ravishing 70’s hairdo. Becoming a hairstylist clearly wasn’t in my future, however, because I somehow managed to give myself a raging reverse mullet, complete with a multitude of stray vertical tufts.

In a panic, my mom quickly took me to the hairdresser, who was thankfully able to even out the ends, but for a good three months, my hair resembled a cross between Austin Powers and Friar Tuck. To this day, while I love the name Claire, I sadly know I can’t bestow it upon a future daughter because it’s too connected to my childhood hair trauma, and because I’ve long since referred to my unfortunate bowl cut as “The Claire.”

And while Claire was the first gorgeous name I realized I could no longer use due to a negative association, it unfortunately wasn’t the last. Please join me in paying tribute to some of my favorite names that have committed the dreaded crime of guilt by association:

ALICE: As I was paying my bill at a diner, a customer approached the woman named Alice who was working behind the cash register, politely saying, “Exuse me, ma’am. My turkey sandwich doesn’t taste right. I think it’s spoiled.” Not missing a beat, the woman, who had used self-tanner to the point of resembling an Oompa Loompa, grabbed the man’s sandwich from his plate, took a huge bite out of it, and said with a snarl and a mouth filled with food, “It tastes fine to me!” Clearly hoping to be named Employee of the Month, the woman returned the sandwich to the customer as he stood in disbelief, and then promptly shooed him on his way.

JAMES: At the age of 13, braces and a palate expander served as cherries on top of the sundae that was my hideous awkward phase. Wearing a palate expander was like having a bicycle handlebar cemented to the roof of my mouth 24 hours a day for a year, and as if it wasn’t bad enough that food was constantly getting trapped in the contraption, the obstruction it caused made my breathing sound like Darth Vader’s. James was the name of the orthodontist in charge of renovating my pearly whites, and while I’m eternally grateful for his intensive labor, to this day, his name remains entwined with the wires in my once metallic mouth and the many gag-inducing dental impressions I endured.

MADELINE: And speaking of gagging, Madeline was the name of my septuagenarian Sunday School teacher who would dry heave if she caught even the slightest whiff of bubble gum. (And if she wasn’t actively dry heaving, she would threaten to dry heave, thereby immediately preventing any of my classmates from even remotely entertaining the idea of enjoying some Bubblicious goodness.)

SIMON: I was once on a date with a man named Simon who spent the evening doing animal impressions (quacking like a duck was one of his favorites), and who asked me during my meal if I’d like to see his “removable eyeball.” Bon appétit!

ANDREW: On another stellar date, a man by the name of Andrew told me that he found me “prosthetically pleasing.” I couldn’t figure out why I reminded him of an artificial limb, and soon realized that he meant “aesthetically pleasing.” When I explained to him that a prosthesis is an artificial limb, he was dumbfounded, and continued to insist that “prosthetically” was indeed the correct term.

ELLIOT: Another blind date casualty, Elliot was the winner who wore more rings than Liberace, and who told me that while he found me very pretty, he wanted to see how my mother aged before he asked me out again. What a charmer…

AUDREY: As a preschooler, I loved going to Library Hour, sitting quietly and listening to books read aloud–until I met another attendee named Audrey. One day, Audrey started poking me in the back, and when I whispered for her to stop, the Library Lady scolded me for interrupting her, and made me stand in the corner, a place usually reserved for nose pickers or misbehaving kids who belong on leashes. And to top it all off, as a punishment, my parents didn’t allow me to have my cherry Popsicle for dessert that night. Thanks, Audrey.

Are there any names you love, but can’t use, because of negative associations?

JILL BARNETT, who dispenses excellent name advice to the denizens of nameberry, has written for us on Name Shame, Name Fame, and, most recently, the Name Games.

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