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Category: Virginia Woolf

Middle Name Switches

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Clearly, parents today are giving a lot more thought to their children’s middle names than their own parents did.  Long gone are the automatic connective choices like Lee and Lynn, Beth and Bruce;  more likely now might be something more imaginative like Maeve or West—or Sebastian or Story—or Mom’s maiden or another family name.

For some people, the reasoning behind this is to give the child an additional option for later in life.  It works both ways: either he could switch his classic William for his jazziermiddle  Jasper, or she could opt for using her traditional, grown-up Elizabeth middle name over the less sophisticated Poppy.

It turns out that a surprising number of celebrities have done just that—chosen to use their middle as their marquee moniker.  Sometimes it was to drop a wimpy appellation for a more stylish one (Eldred for Gregory, Orvon for Gene), sometimes because a name was too common at the time (Mary, John, James) and the middle had more character (Farrah, Orson, Montgomery), sometimes maybe because probably just seemed cooler to be Brad than Bill.

As a result, some of the most stand-out celebrity names –Evangeline, Reese, Rihanna, Ashton and Jude—started out in second place on the birth certificate.  Here are some of the most prominent–And note that the last names given aren’t necessarily the ones they were born with.

GIRLS

Kathryn BRIDGET (Moynahan)

Lily CLAUDETTE (Colbert)

Mary DEBRA (Winger)

Nicole EVANGELINE (Lilly)

Audrey FAITH (Hill)

Mary FARRAH (Fawcett)

Dorothy FAYE (Dunaway)

Deborah HUNTER (Tylo)

Mary KATHLEEN (Turner)

Olive MARIE (Osmond)

Holly MICHELLE (Phillips)

Carole PENNY (Marshall)

Laura Jean REESE (Witherspoon)

Robin RIHANNA (Fenty)

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We looked at trailblazing women in Part One of this blog yesterday—bold and courageous achievers who would prove worthy namesakes for a daughter.  Now we turn to those with major accomplishments in the arts—a varied mix of writers, artists, and musicians of the far and fairly recent  past—many of whom seem to have appropriately creative names—whether they were born with them or not.

Again, remember that the name’s the thing here—so sorry, Mary Cassatt and Elizabeth Barrett Browning–not this time.

WRITERS

AGATHA Christie

ANAIS Nin

APHRA Behn (also seen on the trailblazer list)

AYN Rand

CARSON (born Lula) McCullers

CHARLOTTE Bronte

COLETTE (born Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette)

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It’s a lovely place name starting with the fashionable V and carrying a rich history, so why has Virginia faded from view while other classic names have held their own? Last year, for example, there were close to 13,000 new little Elizabeths and only 564 Virginias. So what’s the problem with Virginia? Is it the fear of playground taunts via virgin and also a certain female body part? The dated sounding nickname Ginny? The harsh reverberations of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Whatever the issues, I think they’re outweighed by other, more positive, factors. First, there’s the history. Virginia is a venerable name that dates back to ancient times, coming from Verginus, the name of a Roman clan, its derivation related to the Latin root for springlike, flourising. which is from the Latin word virgo, meaning maiden or virgin.

The first known bearer of the name was the beautiful daughter of a Roman centurion whose death led to a revolt that resulted in the protection of the rights of the common people–a righteous legacy. In this country, the first English child born in America parents was christened Virginia Dare, Sir Walter Raleigh had called his newly founded colony Virginia, in honor of Elizabeth the Virgin Queen, and little Miss Dare was given the name for the same reason–an early example of a name originating in America and spreading to other parts of the world.

Though the whole Roanoke colony, including Virginia, disappeared, her name has lived on in books, songs and films, as well as a number of commercial products. The name got a recommendation from none other than Benjamin Franklin who, when asked by the Marquis de Lafayette if he could presume to give his daughter the name of one of the United States, replied, “Miss Virginia, Miss Carolina and Miss Georgia will sound prettily enough for girls.”

Later, Virginia became part of a catch phrase when a little girl name Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the New York Sun questioning the existence of Santa, which inspired an editorial containing the deathless words, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Strangely enough, O’Hanlon’s birthname was Laura, but she chose to go by her middle name of Virginia.

Virginia enjoyed a sudden burst of popularity around 1870, which lasted through the 1950s; it was in the Top 10 for 25 years, from 1912 to 1937, hitting a high of #6 in 1921, when there were 19,000 baby VIrginias in their cradles. Virginia has such distinguished namesakes as British writer Virginia Woolf, has been the subjects of songs by groups ranging frm The Rolling Stones to The Foo Fighters, and has appeared as a character in any number of movies and TV shows.

And its nicknames aren’t limited to Ginny. Also possible are Genia, Gigi, Gina, Ginger, Vee, Virge, and Virgie.  International variations include the Spanish Ginia and Ginata, the French Virginie, and the Hawaiian Wilikinia.

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