Category: alliterative names
By Chris Raschka
The power we wield when we name a child is terrible. And unavoidable. Oh, the sleepless nights! What will this name confer on our beloved baby? Only good things, we fervently hope. This name is exciting, but is it too exciting? This one is solid, but is it boring? “How about, Joseph?” you say. “No,” says your wife, “I knew a terrible Joseph!”
Happily, I suffered none of this angst when I named the children in the book my friend Vladimir Radunsky and I have put together called Alphabetabum. It was this way. I was in Rome visiting Vladimir there and just about to walk out for a happy afternoon of sight-seeing when Vladimir began to lay out on his work table one marvelous, small, antique photographic child’s portrait after another. He grabbed my arm, and said, “Look at these masterpieces! Every one holds the story of a precious forgotten soul inside of it! We must do something with them.”
When the actor James Gandolfini died recently, TV watchers around the world mourned the simultaneous passing of one of the best-named characters of all time.
Sure, Tony Soprano was so much more than his name. The character was both rough and smooth. Affable and violent. Powerful and weak. But don’t all those qualities also describe that name?
It’s not every day you stumble upon a brilliantly named TV character. I’ll tell you why in one word: legal.
The revelation of Tennessee as the name of Reese Witherspoon and Jim Toth’s baby boy came as something of a surprise to the celebrity babies‘ name-watching world—but perhaps it shouldn’t have been, what with other recent starkids named Alabama, Indiana and Arizona. And a simple Google search will tell you that though Reese was born in New Orleans, most of her childhood was spent in Tennessee, her mother’s native state, explaining why it was meaningful to her.
Although the name Tennessee’s two notable most namesakes, playwright Williams (born Thomas) and country singer ‘Tennessee’ Ernie Ford, are male, Tennessee actually had some popularity as a girl’s name in the late nineteenth century, appearing in the Top 1000 five times between 1880 and 1890. It reached as high as Number 580 in 1884—though granted that accounted for only fourteen girls—the same year that Missouri, Nevada and Florida were also on the girls’ list. (The nickname Tennie, on the other hand, reigned for more than forty years.)
What marks the Edwardian era of British baby names as distinct from those used in the Victorian period is the sheer number of different names used. In previous centuries the standard practice was to select a child’s name from the immediate family. When an infant died the next child to be born would be given that name, limiting the name pool to five to eight names in a family. Fanciful names were reserved for the aristocracy, and even they kept them permeating along the family line.
The Victorians made a change to this idea. Names borne by a deceased family member were now considered ‘unlucky’. Parents suddenly had to look elsewhere for names and artistic, literary and religious movements provided much needed inspiration. The Victorian love of anything ‘gothic’, and the influence of Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelites brought back medieval and mythical names like Lancelot, Ralph, Edgar, Alice, Elaine, Edith and Mabel; the Romantic movement re-introduced names such as Wilfred, Quentin, Cedric, Amy and Rowena; and the religious Tractarian movement revived long lost Saint’s names like Augustine, Benedict, Ignatius, Euphemia and Genevieve.
By the Edwardian era many of these previously obsolete names had become de rigueur and permeated all the social classes. More than at any time before, the gap between the names of the upper classes and those of the lower was considerably contracted. The 1911 census shows that many wealthy household members shared the same names as their domestic servants. For example, Constantia Beatrice Sophia, born 1905, was the daughter of a furniture mover and Lancelot Frederick Charles, born 1907, was a nurseryman’s son, showing that these previously ‘upper class’ names were now being enjoyed throughout the social classes.
One of the biggest trends of the Edwardian era of British baby names was the use of nature names. Some of the most popular names such as, Daisy, Iris, Ivy, Primrose, Beryl, Pearl and Ruby were used sparingly in the first half of the nineteenth century – and, interestingly, equally spread amongst boys and girls. By the 1880s, these names started to became very fashionable (now solely for girls) which led to them becoming the darlings of the Edwardian age.
Question of the week: How do you feel about alliterative names?
At one time, movie marquees were packed with alliterative names, from Greta Garbo and Greer Garson to Roy Rogers and Ronald Reagan to Brigitte Bardot and Marilyn Monroe (shown above when she was still Norma Jean)—a style of (often invented) names that has pretty much moved off the screen, except for the occasional Vince Vaughn or January Jones.
So—what do you think of double-dip initials: memorable or gimmicky?
Would you use an alliterative baby name?
Would you break it up with a differently initialed middle?
And—taking it a little farther afield, would you give twins same-initial (aka matchy-matchy) names?
(You can follow a discussion of alliterative baby names on our message boards.)