Category: unfashionable names
By Mikita Brottman
“If you will call a dog Hervey,” said the English author Dr. Johnson, “I shall love him.” This quirky adage was meant to praise the unconventional Hervey family, whom Dr. Johnson found excellent company, but he also put his finger on an important truth, which is that the magic of a name doesn’t lie in the name itself, but in those who bear it. It’s the owners of the name that give it a glamorous aura, which is then passed on to others, even if they happen to be a dog.
One of my favorite poems, for reasons that will soon be obvious, is called “Mourning the Dying American Female Names,” by Hunt Hawkins. You can read the whole poem here, but I’ll give you a few choice lines:
They were wide women, cotton-clothed, early rising.
You had to move your mouth to say their names,
and they meant strength, speak, battle, and victory.
But then there are the new names headed toward obscurity, my own among them.
Question of the Week: Which, if any, names do you think will never come back?
What boys names and what girls’ names do you think have zero chance of making a comeback, and why?
Bad, bad namesake—real or fictional?
Too tied to one era or event?
I remember once meeting a completely adorable curly-headed little toddler named Percy. And suddenly the image of his name was turned on its head and for the first time I could see the hidden , quirky charms of Percy. It’s like when extreme he-man Bear Grylls called his son Marmaduke–one of the ultimate prissy-sissy names–all he could see ahead for his son was the cool nickname Duke (of course he did call his next one Huckleberry).
There’s a whole group of names like this that used to be described by antiquated terms we’d never dream of using today–like namby-pamby and pantywaists– sterotyped as such in old books and movies. Since that’s now such ancient history, I’m wondering, as I think of that cute little Percy, if any of these names might be fit for revival. Several have impressive–even noble –pedigrees, and some impressive namesakes as well (handy ego-saving ammo). And the bottom line is that kids today wouldn’t be aware of the old negative associations. But older generations would!
Can any of these names be saved?
CECIL: Pronounced either SEE-sill or SESS-ill, Cecil was the surname of a great 16th century English noble family, and notable bearers include designer Beaton, epic film director De Mille, jazz musician Taylor and Cecil Rhodes, patron saint of Rhodes scholars.
CEDRIC. Also pronounced with a hard of soft E, Cecil got its stereotyped image via the title character in Little Lord Fauntleroy, a velvet-suited English boy mocked by his American schoolmates. It was originally created by Sir Walter Scott for Ivanhoe and though comedian Cedric the Entertainer has done a lot to overturn its image, it still has a long way to go.
HORACE: Another once noble Roman name, a form of Horatio, associated with the great ancient poet (first name Quintus) as well as educator Mann and “Go West, Young Man” newspaperman/abolitionist Greeley. I’d say Horatio or Quintus would work a little better.
HUBERT: Yes, it was a character in The Canterbury Tales, and yes, it got some style via designer Givenchy (definitely sounds better with a French accent), but even Vice-President Humphrey (a Junior) was reputed to have hated his first name. Same goes for most other bert names–Norbert, Osbert, Egbert, Dilbert, etc.
MONTAGUE: It may be a famous Shakespearean surname, but to most people it would be effete snobbery personified.
ORVILLE: With the resurrection of some other O-names–Oliver, Oscar, Orson–Orville, with its link to the inventive Wright brother, just might have a chance–if you can push the popcorn image of Mr. Redenbacher out of your mind.
OSWALD: A name that’s appeared in Chaucer, Shakespeare and Trollope, belonged to two saints and was the given moniker of Harriet‘s husband Ozzie, it was perhaps permanently tarnished by its connection to Lee Harvey.
PERCIVAL: The pure and innocent knight who succeeded in the quest for the Holy Grail–not to mention Nellie‘s husband on Little House on the Prairie–Percival is one name I can see being taken on by a fearless baby namer.
PERCY: Might have more of a chance than the others. Not a short form of Percival but adapted from a British surname, Percy is associated with the great romantic poet Shelley, has some jazzy musical cred via Sledge and Faith–and for me, the image of that cute little boy.
There’s a lively discussion going on over at our message boards on what names have gone out of style and will probably never come back. On the permanent Out List, by consensus, are:
BRUNHILDA (was this ever in, I mean since the 11th century?)
We’re with you so far, name lovers, and can even understand why you disagree on whether some choices belong on the Out-Forever List. One person sees Gertrude as cute, like little Drew Barrymore in ET, while another says it reminds her forever of the word girdle. Myrtle is fresh and flower-like to one visitor, terminally dowdy to another. And Grover is adorable to one message boardie, doomed to Sesame Street purgatory by another.
And Linda! ?! Let’s not even go there.
Here some names that we once declared dead forever (or forever-ish) only to see them rise again.
Are there any besides the ones already identified by the message board devotees that we’d still call as out forever? Gladys. Myrna. Phyllis, Shirley, Wanda. Arnold and Dewey, Egbert and Elmer, Hyman and Melvin. Which I guess pretty much guarantees that they’ll come back into style any day now.