As a fledgling name nerd, I remember being fascinated by the name Elizabeth. It was so elaborate, so odd for a name that had been so widely used over so many centuries. John, sure, that was a name simple and straightforward enough for the masses to get behind. Anne and Mary, of course they had what it took to transcend the ups and downs of fashion. But Elizabeth, with its long E beginning and lisping ending, its bizarre z in the middle and its four freaking syllables? I don’t think so!
And yet the unlikely Elizabeth has endured. It’s the only girls’ name to have remained in the Top 25 (okay, 26) throughout entire recorded American baby-naming history, since 1880. Elizabeth hit its nadir in 1945, when it dipped to number 26, but it should be noted that its short form Betty was Number 11 that year, after having been in the Top 10 since 1921. Even when Elizabeth and her sisters were relatively unpopular, they were everywhere.
When Matthew McConaughey chose the name Levi for his son, he was, in a subtle way, naming the baby after himself. How so? Because in the New Testament, Matthew and Levi are two names for the same person.
There are many other such pairs of names with close connections that aren’t immediately evident, whether they be different ethnic versions of the same name, double identities for the same person, having historic or literary ties, or as sharers of linguistic elements. Being aware of this can be a useful tool for baby namers seeking not-too-obviously linked twin or sibling names or, like McConaughey, another less egoey version of your or your spouse’s name.
And of course it could also come in handy when looking for a more modern substitute namesake for a fustily-named family member. As much as you may have adored your Grandpa Roland, for example, you still might prefer the more dashing Orlando for your baby boy.
Here are a few examples, though of course there are countless other ethnic-switching possibilities out there:
I was talking to an acquaintance the other day and when she mentioned her young daughter Becca, I suddenly thought, “Hey, whatever happened to Becky?” You rarely hear of a Rebecca under the age of 13 these days who is called by that traditional diminutive.
This is something that happens with pet forms in general–they go through phases and changes as much as–or indeed more than–the mother name. For example when you hear the name Elizabeth, you have no idea of her age–she could be 99 or 9 months old–but you can certainly guess that Betty is a Grandma and that Liz and Beth are probably young adults.
Some other examples: Patricia‘s nicknames went from Patsy to Patty to Pat to Tricia to Trish to practically non-existent. The no longer popular Mary spawned any number of offshoots before it faded, including Mamie, Molly and Polly. Katherine moved from Kate and Katie to Kit and Kitty to Kay and Kathy, back to Kate and Katie, to the current Kat; and Edward launched not only Eddie and Ward but Ed, Ted and Ned.
But the prizes for the two names with the most mutable pet forms and offshoots have to go to Margaret and Elizabeth, many of whose diminutives have become stand-alone names. Here, in the roughest chronological order, is what Margarets and Elizabeths been known as over time:
Whether or not to reveal the baby’s name before arrival has become a more and more pressing question for parents.
And it seems that people are increasingly opting for keeping it a secret, for not exposing their ideas to public–make that family–scrutiny, judgment and criticism. Because let’s face it, most relatives of an older generation–parents, in-laws, grandparents, uncles and aunts, who didn’t give much thought to the process when they were naming their kids Steven or Susan–are apt to have a very different perspective on both individual names and contemporary naming concepts and trends.
So why risk a shudder when they hear Sadie or a blank stare at the suggestion of Brayden? No matter what name you propose, some family member or friend is bound to not like it, and may well introduce negative factors that can start to sour you on your favorites.
A recent forum on one of our favorite sites, celebrity-babies.com, came down pretty much on the side of keeping the name a secret. The interesting comments there included horror stories of relationship-straining name-napping by neighbors and in-laws, a number of parents who wanted to keep their options open for making a change if the name didn’t seem to fit the baby once she made her appearance, one couple who would only reveal the middle name choice publicly–and several people who had revealed the name of their first child only to receive such toxic comments that they resolved not to do it the next time around.
People on the “Tell” side tended to feel that being able to address their unborn child by name gave it (no longer an it!) a real identity and was a strong pre-birth bonding experience. Probably not surprisingly, parents were more willing to share a classic choice like Elizabeth, than a more unusual one that they wanted to lay claim to and protect.
In the end though, with all these pros and cons, the decision, like all the others concerning your child, is ultimately yours. After all, you know your sister-in-law better than we do.