Rescuing Names from Old Stereotypes

It doesn’t seem fair.  Why have some perfectly good names become permanently tainted by their links to a particular fictional character while others haven’t?  How come Olivia is OK despite her porcine persona, all Oscars aren’t considered grouches, and even Dexter‘s popularity seems to be rising in spite of his avocation on TV as a serial killer, while Jemima and Jethro, Elmo and Eloise remain somewhat stigmatized?  I say let’s take another look at some of these names and see if we can’t get them out of quarantine.

The first place to look is on Sesame Street.  Seems that once a name is tagged to a  fuzzy multi-colored Muppets, it becomes his exclusively.  Here are some reasons why they shouldn’t have to be:

ELMO–A lively O-ending saint’s name, Elmo is the patron saint of sailors, and the legendary St. Elmo‘s fire is a bright glow that sometimes appears on ships during thunderstorms, as well as being the name of a seminal 1980’s Brat Pack film.

GROVER–A fine upstanding Presidential and nature-ish (originally given to someone living near a grove) surname crying out to be considered for its own spunky self.

KERMIT–Enough with the ‘It isn’t easy being green’  froggy references.  Instead think of its relation to the well-liked Dermot, Kermit evolving from the Irish surname MacDermot, or son of Dermot.   And Teddy Roosevelt used it for his son

And a couple of others with kiddie references:

ELOISELong associated with the imperious little 6-year-old who ruled the Plaza Hotel, Eloise is the most likely on this list to redeem herself, what with the growing popularity of similar names like Eloisa and Elodie.

LINUS–No, using this name does not condemn your baby boy to clinging to his security blanket for life a la the Peanuts character.  Linus has considerable grown-up charm and some interesting associations: in Greek mythology he was the inventor of rhythm and melody who taught music to Hercules, and a distinguished modern namesake is Linus Pauling, winner of two Nobel prizes.  And, believe it or not, cinema characters named Linus have been  played by Humphrey Bogart, James Stewart, Matt Damon and Harrison Ford.

WALDO—  Nobody’s really asking “Where’s Waldo?” anymore, nor should we ever close the door to any friendly o-ending name.  Especially ones with ties to Ralph W. Emerson.

Then there’s the Dickens Curse, classic names associated with really reprehensible  characters:

EBENEZER–With every annual rerun of A Christmas Carol, we’re reminded of the miserly Scrooge–but let’s not forget how old Ebenezer reformed at the end.  A Biblical place name widely used by the 17th century Pilgrims, it boosts one of the great nicknames–Eben.

URIAH–As other iah-names grow more popular–Isaiah, Josiah, Jeremiah, et al–Uriah is still being  shunned for its connection to the odious Uriah Heep in David Copperfield, though we’re noticing that some younger parents seem to be willing to give this Biblical name–he was the unfortunate husband of Bathsheba–new life.

And then there are the designated Hayseeds:

ABNEREver since L’il Abner became a Sunday comics smash in the 1930’s, Abner went from being the heroic Biblical commanderof King Saul‘s army to the quintessential simple-minded country bumpkin.  But since the strip stopped running in 1977, can’t we give Abner back his dignity?

JETHROJethro Clampett of The Beverly Hillbillies was L’il Abner come to life, stamping a lingering rube imprint on the name.  Which is a real pity, as this is an extremely appealing name with real substance: in the Good Book, Jethro was Moses‘ father-in-law, and then there was the eminent inventor/reformer Jethro Tull, namesake of  a seminal British rock group.

Most regrettable of all are those that have fallen victim to racial profiling:

JEMIMA–For decades Jemima has been a stylish aristocratic favorite in the UK–probably because the Brits weren’t so exposed to the stereotypical Mammy image of Aunt Jemima on pancake mix and syrup packaging, and then on everything from dolls to cookie jars, obscuring the name’s Biblical beauty.  (Jemima, meaning dove or bright of day was the eldest daughter of Job.)   But now that even the advertising image has changed and Jemima has slimmed down and wears pearls rather than a bandana, it’s definitely time to liberate this wonderful name.

REMUS–Uncle Remus had a similarly demeaning effect on his name as Aunt Jemima had on hers, first apppearing in Joel Chandler Harris‘s Uncle Remus Stories and then in the Disney film Song of the SouthRemus actually has a solid ancient history, appearing in ancient Roman lore as co-founding the city of Rome with brother Romulus.  Not quite as accessible as some of the others, it still could be onsidered along with other Latin names.

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52 Responses to “Rescuing Names from Old Stereotypes”

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lyndsayjenness Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 12:32 am

I really like Jethro and Jemima. My brother is Jeffrey Rowe, but he goes by Jeff, and I just realized a few weeks ago that Jeff Rowe sounds like Jethro, I think I may start calling him that. Jemima is really a beautiful name, and I’m sure it would be popular in America if it weren’t for Aunt Jemima… though, I actually really love Aunt Jemima… If I were inclined to use it, I wouldn’t let the connection stop me.

Karen Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 1:25 am

My former boss was Kermit, named before the frog, and he had to take a lot of frog jokes in the meantime. I don’t think it’s ready to be used yet. He sort of collects frog things as a consolation, he decided to give into it, sort of a burden. He owns the name Kermit yet avoids it for “professional” purposes, given his Ph.D. and I wasn’t allowed to call him Kermit. “It’s not easy bein’ green” was not just something he felt, being black, but also being Kermit. He didn’t tell me outright, but it came up every so often. It was like, here I had this name and then this frog came along and made my name a joke. Sorry, but as long as Sesame Street persists, this name is always going to linger in folks’ minds as a frog.

I have recently fallen in love with the name Eloise. I knew of the book, but I haven’t read it yet. I hear she’s kind of a brat? This is a book that seems to have escaped me, written well before my birth and yet I was never exposed to. Could Eloise be the next Madeleine? I really think Eloise has the essential elements I feel toward a name, although I also like Aloisa, which could divert attention from this storybook – is this still something parents read to their children?

Other suggestions: Fern from Charlotte’s Web. What about Ferdinand (the bull)? I like “Bread and Jam for Frances” and “Katie in the Big Snow” but I think think Frances and Katie don’t need much help lately.

Navi Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 7:14 am

This post seems more Christianity-focused than others.

I have nothing against Christianity, but I thought this website was for name-lovers, and expecting parents of all religious backgrounds.

I usually do enjoy reading your blog very much though! It’s the most insightful name blog I can find!

phaedra Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 8:16 am

I agree with you – it would be great if Grover, Kermit, and Elmo were used more. But as long as I’m sure to get sidelong glances when I tell the supermarket checker my son will be named Grover, I’m too timid to use these myself. 😉

As for Linuses – don’t forget Linus (pron. “LINN-us”) Torvalds, inventor of the Linux operating system. The majority of web serveres run on his creation.

@Navi – keep in mind that Uriah, Abner, Jethro and Jemima can be claimed by Judaism as well.

@Karen – I love Fern!

pippa Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 9:34 am

I love so many of these names! Dexter, Grover, Linus, Jemima and Eloise are all on our list.

SJ Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 10:10 am

Jethro is the first name of Agent Gibbs, the team leader on NCIS. This fact is pretty much single-handedly responsible for redeeming the name in my opinion.

Also, when I saw Remus, I immediately thought of Remus Lupin from Harry Potter, not Uncle Remus (and I am American). I don’t associate it with an African-American stereotype at all. Jemima is a little trickier, but I also often think of the daughter in Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang–the kids were Jeremy and Jemima.

I like rehabilitating names… but I honestly can’t see Kermit, Elmo, and Ebenezer breaking free any time soon. I like Fern and Ferdinand, too, and they don’t seem as tied to their fictional characters. With Charlotte’s Web I’m more apt to remember Charlotte or Wilbur than Fern’s name.

I am liking Beulah recently. It’s a lovely Biblical place name.

OhTheBether Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 10:17 am

Not to be nerdy or anything, but Jethro is his middle name… as in Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Oh God, I have way to much time on my hands. 🙁

Smismar Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 10:29 am

Another is Casper… forever tainted by the Friendly Ghost.

Love Linus and Grover, but I don’t think I could ever bring myself to use them.

linzybindi Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 10:34 am

I know a guy named Elmo…he is about 27 and his dad’s name was also Elmo. Of course he always had people saying stuff like “tickle me” to him. He got kind of annoyed with it but never went by any other names.

I also know someone named Kermit and it is a family name for him. I think he is the 4th or 5th Kermit in his family. He and his wife don’t have any children yet so I guess we’ll see if there is another one!

lyndsayjenness Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 10:58 am

If I counted right, there are 5 names out of 12 here that even reference anything biblical. And it’s not as if they’re saying anything about Christianity. I really can’t imagine how this post is extra religious.

iris1973 Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 11:21 am

*sigh* Whoever is reading Christianity into this post is just seeing what they want to see. This blog references other religions when appropriate to the name etymology – stands to reason that if a name is traditionally Hebrew, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, etc. and/or Biblical that it would be pointed out.

I think the reason the Sesame Street names are so difficult to re-appropriate is because that program was so central to many of my generation’s childhood – we literally grew up associating Kermit with a green frog – millions of us! When something is that tied to your earliest memories, I think it’s much harder to let go.

I hope Jemima comes back – I think it’s lovely.

I can’t hear Uriah without thinking of urea, uric acid, urine…. 🙁

Corinne Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 11:55 am

Eloise and Linus are both first names on my list!

My mother insists that it will remind everyone of The Plaza and the Charlie Brown character.

I love both! And I also love Jemima, but it’s too Aunt Jemima for everyone’s tastes…pity.

Deanne Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 12:33 pm

@Navi
The authors of this post are fair and accurate to point out the Biblical origin of names. The Bible is where many names do originate. Nameberry should never apologize for accuracy.

dancer4life Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Maybe it’s just because I’m younger, but I don’t associate Eloise with the little girl @ the plaza. I actually love the name. And Linus is growing on me, too. Maybe as a middle name.

linda Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Ferdinand and Casper would have been great additions to the list.

Mookie Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Jemima is a lovely name, though I don’t think I’d use it. But it boasts Jem, Jemma, Em, Emi, Mimi for nicknames, which could give her a boost.

I particularly love Eloise. With a Louise and an Elaine in my family, Eloise just might make the middle names list.

I have a weakness for Remus because of my love for Harry Potter. *Sigh…*

Tilda Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 6:29 pm

I’ve been baffled by how overlooked Eloise has been despite the popularity of similar names.

We named our daughter Eloise 2.5 years ago and peoples eyes light up when they hear her name – including other children who seem to love saying it.

It very rarely, and always affectionately, reminds someone of Kay Thompson’s Eloise who, regardless, was much more precocious then obnoxious.

A big success aesthetically and still strangely neglected.

lesley Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 6:41 pm

I don’t see Eloise as tainted where I live. There were two little Eloises in music class alone, so maybe that stigma is already starting to fade.

Sesame Street names would be harder to pull off, however. You just can’t predict that your child will have that personality.

Tilda Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 7:00 pm

I think an interesting name stereotype phenom has developed in Canada around names that have a “Fin” prefix.

In the 1970’s on CBC a children’s show called “Mr. Dress Up” had a character named Finnegan – an inexplicably quiet sock-puppet dog. Quite harmless.

While parents in their late 20s to early 30s seem to love “Fin” names they can’t seem to bring themselves to actually use Finnegan and will readily admit that they associate it too strongly with the little puppet. This despite the fact that the show has been off the air for years and broadcast for ages after the Finnegan character was dropped.

It’s very unlikely that their child or his contemporaries will ever be aware of sock-dog Finnegan but these parents are knocking themselves out to find ANY other “Fin” name.

Finley is very popular, as is Finian, and basic Finn – never any Finnegans. (Which is a shame because it’s a rather handsome name I think…)

twinkle Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 7:01 pm

I think Jemima is very sweet (I think of Jemima Puddleduck when I hear it, actually)!
I know several Eloises, too – such a pretty alternative to Louise.
Abner – I think of that long-suffering man who lives across the street from Samantha and Darren in the Bewitched TV show (I have a passion for vintage television :D).

Andrea Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 8:43 pm

I loved Mr. Dressup — actually preferred him to Sesame Street — and Finnegan and other Finn name always make me think of that dog. I grew up within miles of the Canadian border so we always got the Canadian TV shows better than the American stations in the years before satellite TV.

I work with a 50-something Eloise. It’s the sort of name I think is quite stylish right now in certain parts of the country, so I doubt the children’s book will hold it back. Jemima reminds me more of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang than Aunt Jemima and pancakes, though I do think of that too. I wonder if the slave name stereotype has been so often repeated that it’s become the stereotype even though people don’t have that association any longer?

teabee Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Linus and Eloise I can handle…

Barbara Says:

August 20th, 2009 at 12:14 am

I’m with SJ–Jethro is Gibbs, and Remus is very definitely Remus Lupin. Without the “Uncle” in there, why on Earth would a modern person think of anyone else? For that matter, I’d think Olivia Benson of SVU or Olivia Walton of the Waltons before Olivia the pig on that name… and I’m a children’s librarian. And there’s an actor named Linus Roache on L&O as well… though I don’t think I’d ever like that name, any more than I like Grover.

I think Kermit is permanently lost. Can’t say I mourn it much, though.

Jemima… I don’t know if it’s ready to make a crossing back here yet. It has the unfortunate coincidence of not only having the syrup lady, but also having that M-M sound that brings to mind “Mammy.”

Eloise, I barely associate with the children’s books. It’s just a pretty name long overdue for a comeback.

Charlotte Vera Says:

August 20th, 2009 at 1:18 am

I personally mourn having lost the ability to use the name Ernest to “Bert and Ernie” of Sesame Street fame. I do so love “The Important of Being Earnest.”

nicole Says:

August 23rd, 2009 at 9:17 pm

@ Charlotte Vera

I know a four-year-old Ernest, called Ernie and rarely does anyone mention Bert and Ernie…maybe its due for a comeback!

jb Says:

August 23rd, 2009 at 10:37 pm

@phaedra: I second the “Linn-us” Torvalds reference.

Julie Says:

August 28th, 2009 at 9:25 am

I have one son and one daughter, named Linus and Eloise (almost 3 and 6 months, respectively).
Interesting article.

Eric Says:

August 28th, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Hey, Julie’s husband here.
Love this article and the posts more.

Eloise was the first little gal name I truly fell in love with. Everyone who hears it immediately smiles and comments on how pretty it is. And as much as I’d love for it to make a comeback, I enjoy the fact that it’s rare. It adds to its unique quality.

I think Linus is a pretty darn amazing name too. I did, and still do, at times worry about elementary school kids. But he owns it – wears it proudly. But what 2.5 year old doesn’t. I think it’s such a distinguished and wise name.

Of course, if you watch Lost, it’s as if the writers of the show are in our head. Linus’ middle name is James. Eloise’s is Claire.

And if we were to have another boy, his name would be Felix.
Another name that’s tied to familiar imagery.

Salome Says:

December 13th, 2009 at 11:04 pm

Quite a few of these are on my master list and most of the others I’d love to see or hear of on somebody.

But more importantly, I’m glad I’m not the only person in the world hoping Ebenezer makes a comeback!

itsallthere Says:

March 23rd, 2010 at 10:10 pm

I love Eloise! Nothing would stop me from using that lovely name if I decided to!
When I hear the word Jemima it brings back warm and fuzzy memories of Saturday mornings around the kitchen table and warm pancakes and sweet maple syrup. Everything about it makes me feel good! If I actually liked that name (which I don’t really) I would use it for just that reason!

QuirkFlower Says:

April 6th, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Is Jemima really that bad? I LOVE the name, and I had never even heard of the slave references. My grandpa told me about them. I only think of Jemima Puddleduck. Hm…well, luckily for me, I won’t be having children for quite some time. Hopefully by then, this name will be accepted. Maybe I’ll just move to the UK. 😛

Sunshinetina Says:

May 20th, 2010 at 11:59 pm

I LOVE the name Abner. I have been dying to use it forever. My hubby hates it.

Linnie Says:

January 1st, 2011 at 5:35 pm

As far as Jethro goes I tend to see a badass federal agent a la NCIS. Sure, his full name is Leroy Jethro Gibbs, but he is referred to by Jethro or Gibbs. And he pulls the Jethro off. It just might be my crush on Mark Harmon, I mean he could make any name sound hot. I should also bow to the fact that I wasn’t alive when Beverley Hillbillies was running on air, though I have seen a few episodes.

Lola Says:

April 2nd, 2011 at 4:21 pm

If this next one is a girl, Jemima is our #2 name. To heck with it all,’we love Jemima! I don’t think Jemima’s nearly as awful anymore.
Remus goes off & on our list, we’d nn him Remy and we’ve toyed with Linus. My Mother used to call my brother Linus (and me, Lucy). I like Kermit & Grover too. I call my OH Kermit, affectionately, So maybe that one’s out for us, but Grover’s jazzy cool!

Leslie Owen Says:

April 7th, 2011 at 3:44 am

The younger generation might rehabilitate Grover because of the Percy Jackson books, although Grover Cleveland’s first name was actually Stephen. I love Jemima and always think of Jemima Puddleduck. Eloise has been reclaimed by royalty — Lady Helen Taylor’s daughters are Eloise and Estella. Elmo is the English version of Erasmus, which is popular in Scandinavia (as Rasmus). Also there are versions of Linus — Lion (colonial American), Lionel (British royalty). I’ve always preferred Louisa to Eloise though. And I love Eben, went to school with one, another colonial name. The name which seriously should be rehabilitated is Ariel, which means lion of G-d and is an Israeli name (think Ariel Sharon) as well as being Shakespeare’s sprite. Too great a name to be wasted on Disney’s stupid mermaid. And I think most young people will associate Remus with Harry Potter, especially because of his tragic but honorable death.

Taqah Says:

April 7th, 2011 at 8:02 pm

It could just be me but I think several on this list would work. I think your right about sesame street being the biggest challenge: kermit, Grover and Elmo seem the ones that I would most associate with their fictional namesakes.
That said Uriah and jethro make me cringe–not just the associations but the sounds of the names.

Shelley Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 1:06 pm

I agree with Nick about LOST: Eloise is a LOVELY name, but there was a very important character named Eloise in the series, and one of the main characters was “Ben Linus,” and those characters are imprinted on my mind!

Laura Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 12:17 pm

My son’s name is Uriah and we LOVE it – it definitely doesn’t make me cringe! I don’t think many people make the connection with “David Copperfield” these days, anyway (and I’m an English teacher!).

Bronwyn Says:

May 14th, 2011 at 5:31 am

Being Australian I find Jemima makes me think of Play School – it is the name of one of the dolls. I am not necessarily sure that would rule it out for me though.

There are some other names which get thrust through some major stereotypes though as well. I think of Eugene when I encounter lists like this. Between watching Grease and Hey Arnold! as a child I can’t quite get passed the hopeless dork kid.

CountryLizB Says:

May 19th, 2011 at 2:14 am

I like Jemima and Kermit.

Anna Says:

May 28th, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Okay. Eloise, I think is cute. I’m a teenager and I wouldn’t mind being an Eloise. Remus, I automatically think of Harry Potter, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Sesame Street names? It’s like you WANT your 16-year-old son Elmo to hate you?

Lilibet Says:

August 11th, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Tell me about it! How about ‘Sabrina’ being unusable because of the Teenage Witch connotations. So unfair.

eloise Says:

October 12th, 2011 at 12:12 am

My name is Eloise and I have always loved it and I receive many, many compliments on my name. No one has ever referred to the Plaza Eloise when they have heard my name, but I am Australian, so perhaps Plaza Eloise is not as well known here (though the movies have been on TV a few times). I first read an Eloise book when I was 13 and that was the first time I had heard of her. Plaza Eloise is hilarious, and she made me love my name even more.

Many people (particularly men who are aged 50+) say to me “Do you know your name is in a song?” As far as I know there are two songs that were popular in the 60s/70s, “Eloise” and “Dear Eloise”, neither of which I am named after!

My dearly beloved and now deceased cat was named Jemima. I used to call her my little dove and sometimes ‘puddleduck’. Again, not being American, I don’t get the race thing whatever that is about (isn’t it more racist NOT to use the name Jemima because it is associated with an African American character?)

starophie Says:

January 28th, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Elmo and Kermit are certainly fuzzy but lovable creatures, in my mind. Though there is a handyman at my school named Kermit! I think Grover is a lesser-known character, and therefore the name (I think) is less likely to be associated with him. I certainly wouldn’t shy away from it, but he is my favorite monster 😉

I love Linus and Eloise – characters and names. I don’t think people avoid using them because of the characters, but again, that’s my view. I love Eloise! Some of these also might just not be to everyone’s style.

I think we’re definitely going to see Remus around more, because I do not associate him with Uncle Remus at all. I think if people from my generation have any link to that name, it is most certainly the former-Defense Against the Dark Arts professor Remus Lupin (from Harry Potter). Romulus and Remus are certainly another tie (which is why the good professor got his name in the first place, being a werewolf).

I also like Jemima. Think of the adorable nicknames you could pull from that!

starophie Says:

January 28th, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Oh – one name that I would add to this list is Felix! Did anyone else read those books about the traveling rabbit? I loved them because Felix’s owner was named Sophie 😉 Unfortunately, I can’t get that bunny out of my mind =(

Felix (and Oscar) also remind me terribly of The Odd Couple, and I call my dad Felix sometimes because he’s an incredible neat freak (he calls me Oscar, in case you wondered).

Westfall620 Says:

January 31st, 2012 at 8:07 pm

I think it’s funny. My dad’s birth name was Kermit Stanley Henson.

kitchi1 Says:

April 4th, 2012 at 11:11 pm

The names I totally love are:

Elmo
Kermit
Linus

I sooo wish people actually were still named this. I guess I could someday bring them back LOL ;-D

kitchi1 Says:

April 4th, 2012 at 11:13 pm

@westfall620
That’s Hilarious! Pretty weird…but cool!

Chrisrj Says:

October 11th, 2012 at 11:51 pm

There is also the name Ursula, which I believe is going to be infinitely tied to the Little Mermaid villainess.

I’d like to say, if you’re going to name your boy Kermit, at least Kermit the Frog is actually a somewhat classy and charismatic character. I hope that makes some decisions easier 🙂

nativoyoung Says:

February 20th, 2013 at 11:10 pm

My sister has a 9 year-old Jethro and he totally owns the name. I think some of these names are hard to resuscitate, but Jethro is easy because most people don’t know about the show any more. That was our parent’s generation!

lleahdoll Says:

May 16th, 2015 at 2:14 am

My dad’s name is Jethro! My dad was always seen as cool by my siblings and I. Him being into punk rock and being a young dad, so the name always seemed to fit him.
Also, Beverly Hillbillies was before my time so it wasn’t something I ever thought of.

I wouldn’t mind using it someday if my husband liked it. It has cool nickname potential too: Ro

Jamesina66 Says:

May 16th, 2015 at 6:56 am

Is Amos back in use? I know I was born after the radio show “Amos and Andy”, but I know that Amos was damaged by the racist buffoonery of the character on that show. Andy has more associations and was more widely used, so it didn’t take a big hit.

Love Linus!

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