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Is Name Teasing a Thing of the Past?

January 1, 2016 Katherine Morna Towne

By Kate at Sancta Nomina (Katherine Morna Towne)

Do you know how, when you’re a kid, your friends’ names are just your friends’ names? It seems to me that the younger you are, the less likely you are to realize that other kids’ names are unusual, and certainly kids have no real idea about what names seem dated or ethnic or “weird.” On the contrary, names seem so inextricably linked with the people who bear them that names are cool or not based on the person him or herself.

For example, I had a friend named Kimber when I was in Kindergarten, and I thought Kimber was one of the coolest names because Kimber was one of the coolest girls I knew—she wanted me to come to her house to watch The Last Unicorn! Nothing cooler than that! Therefore, Kimber=cool name. Now as an adult, I have lots of other thoughts about Kimber. Like: Kimber’s pretty, unusual, and a nice twist on Kimberly. But also, why did her parents choose Kimber over the more familiar Kimberly? Was my friend’s name actually Kimberly, and we just called her Kimber? Or were her parents ahead of the name-curve, and if so, why? Were they hippies, or hipsters? Was it a family name?

(All this led me to look up the SSA information about Kimberly and Kimber over the last fifty years. Kimberly was Number2 in 1966 and 1967 and only dropped out of the Top 100 names in 2013. Kimber wasn’t on the charts at all until it shot up to 788 in 1988 [ten years after my friend Kimber and I were born], dropping below 1000 again after 1990, but then reappearing in 2010, and has continued to get more popular—it was Number 634 in 2014.

My boys (all under twelve) have peers and friends named Horatio, Mairead, Lawrence, Rocco, Titus, and Kateri, and they’ve never once mentioned to me anything about any of those names seeming strange or unfamiliar or old fashioned or overly religious or particularly ethnic, even though none of them except Lawrence was in the Top 500 in the years of those kids’ births (Lawrence was #462), and Horatio, Kateri, and Mairead haven’t ever been in the top 1000. None of that matters to my kids, nor, I’d guess, does it matter to yours—those names are just the names of their friends.

I’ve been noticing the following names in the TV shows and movies that they’ve seen which I find strange or noteworthy for one reason or another, even though they seem totally normal to my boys. Names like:

Ani

Anakin Skywalker frequently goes by the nickname Ani, which sounds like Annie. We have a few (female) family members named Annie, yet not once have my boys said, “That’s a girl’s name!” even though the first few times I heard it I wondered how a “girl” name would go over for a boy. (If you’re interested, this is a pretty funny thread about Anakin being nicknamed Ani.)

Lloyd

Lloyd Garmadon is the Green Ninja on Ninjago and defeated the Dark Lord to become the Ultimate Spinjitsu Master. He’s pretty awesome. But … Lloyd? To me, Lloyd is old and whiskery or super Welsh, but my boys refer to him in conversation like it’s the most common name ever.

O’Connor, Oscar, Otto

The PBS show Odd Squad digs deep to find enough O names for its Odd Squad Agents, relying heavily on O’ surnames like O’Connor for a lot of their peripheral characters (fifteen, in fact), and my boys don’t blink. Even more interesting to me are the main characters Oscar and Otto, whose names are either heavily associated in the preschool and elementary age group with The Grouch (Oscar) or barely crack the top 1000 (Otto), yet my sons discuss them like there’s nothing unusual about their names.

 Olaf

Olaf is a character in the Odd Squad, and my boys think he’s hilarious because he sings that “Potato, potato!” song, but the name has its own entry on the list here because they were already familiar with it from Frozen. Yet again, not a peep from them about the unfamiliarity of this really ethnic name (and no mention, either, of Odd Squad Olaf having the same name as Snowman Olaf, even though I’m sure Frozen is the only other time they’ve heard the name Olaf).

Percy, Harold, Ferdinand

The Thomas the Tank Engine characters offer a great pool of names that might otherwise be unfamiliar to the youngest American children. Percy was last in the top 500 in 1960, and Ferdinand has been out of the top 500 since 1933. Harold’s actually got the best shot of being the name of a somewhat younger person, since it only dropped out of the top 500 in 1998—and yet, my overriding association with Harold is that of a grandfather or great-uncle. For my boys, though, he’s all Harold the Helicopter.

Try as I might, I couldn’t think of any female TV or movie characters whose names struck me as being as remarkable, probably because the characters I hear my boys talking about are almost always male (the few exceptions—Nia from Ninjago, Olive from Odd Squad, Leia from Star Wars—just don’t strike me as that out of the ordinary).

Have you noticed that kids seem more accepting of names than adults? What examples can you give of character names or names in real life that the children you know accept unhesitatingly?

About the author

Katherine Morna Towne

Katherine Morna Towne is a writer, Catholic baby name blogger and consultant at Sanctanomina, and author of Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady (Marian Press, 2018). She lives in the northeast with her husband and seven sons (ages 1 to 15).

View all of Katherine Morna Towne's articles

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