Category: midcentury names
by Joan Lebow
There’s always something that rudely awakens us to the reality of age. The blank stare of the 30-something at the office when I mentioned “fiddling while Rome burns.” The moment I hesitated to use the words “pay phone” to describe a telecom job on my resume. Or simply that slightly panicky feeling I’ve felt when I’ve left home without even a tiny tube of concealer in my makeup bag.
But now the veracity of my age is starkly clear to me each day in black and white. With green trim. It comes in the Sharpie scrawl on my daily cup of Starbucks.
Wherever I go and give my name, Joan, to the cashier I almost always get back “Jone” hastily written on the side. That’s J-O-N-E. Sometimes it’s Joe, or JoAne, or Joni. Always the four letter, Mitchell version. (No flower to dot the i, like the one I added in junior high.) I’ve had Jen, Jodi, Juan and John. It happens at counters near home, in Penn Station, by my Brooklyn office, in airports and far away cities.
In Hollywood’s Golden Age, there was nothing that would make an actress (before they were called actors) seem more chic and sophisticated than a French-sounding name, especially one ending in ‘ette,’ as in the cigarette they often smoked in a long, ivory holder.
And so Pauline Levy became Paulette Goddard, Lily Chauchon (who actually did have French roots) was renamed Claudette Colbert, Ruby Fabares morphed into Nanette Fabray, and Jeanette MacDonald remained Jeanette MacDonald.
These and other glamorized Gallicized names caught on with the baby-naming public, which led to a lot of little Annettes and Nanettes. Many of these names sound terminally dated at this point due to their era-stamped ending and being overly obvious feminizations of male names. But there are also some less familiar ’ette’ names that aren’t necessarily Grandmas. And so here are two lists: those ette names that may have been overexposed in the past, and those that sound somewhat fresher.
When The Golden Girls hit the small screen in 1985, the names of its leading ladies—Rose, Dorothy and Blanche—were late middle aged, and Mama Sophia was old enough to have already been in and out of the Shady Pines Nursing Home. That was 25 years ago, a period of major change in the name world. Sophia is now the seventh most popular baby name (and #1 in some places), Rose is America‘s favorite middle name, and Dorothy is one of the belles of the nameberry name boards.
Not only that: other Golden Girl names, names that were virtually written off just a couple of years ago, are back in play. Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, for example, named one of their twin daughters Marion, Julia Roberts chose Hazel for hers and Molly Ringwald picked Adele. And nameberryites are cool with similar period names like Clara and Cora, Vivian and Vera.