Category: dated 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.
Elaine, a young berry with what she feels to be an “old-lady name,” prefers to go by the sprightlier nickname, “Laney.” But she doesn’t love Laney either and so poses her dilemma to her fellow berries. Can she learn to love her name? Or is it time to start over with something new? She writes:
I come on your site daily to check out name reviews. Sounds crazy, since I’m only 16 and definitely not expecting anytime soon. One day I just hope I’ll find some celebrity who named their child Elaine or maybe it somehow made a miraculous comeback. It frustrates me that my name won’t sound fresh until the 2040s. By that time I’ll be 45 years old!
Like I said, I want to love my name. I want advice more than ‘it’s your name: love it’ or ‘you go by Laney so it doesn’t matter.’ That’s the advice given to me by other forums and friends who clearly don’t have my problem with names like Hannah or Emily. I’ve felt this way for years. It’s not just a stage. I don’t know what to do!
There’s a certain species of girls’ names that we’ve referred to in our books as freckle-faced, pigtailed and button-nosed: they’re the kind of character names inhabited by Shirley Temple as a curly-haired moppet, and Judy Garland as a wide-eyed, innocent teen, as well as starring in dozens of old popular songs. Basically nickname names that have long stood on their own, none can be found any longer in the current Top 1000 — though one of them ranked as high as Number 31 in the 1930’s.
They’ve been gone a long time, but they still project a lot of spunk, and so, with the revival of nickname names in general we’re wondering if any of these could get their youthful mojo back.
We’re talking about:
Gone since 1995; Highest rating: Number 228 in 1959
Betsy originated as a combination of other classic pet forms of Elizabeth—Betty, Beth and Bessie, and makes appearances in two Dickens novels—Pickwick Papers and David Copperfield. The ‘B’ Elizabeth nicknames were superseded by the ‘L’ ones– Liz, Lizzie, Liza and Lisa— but maybe now might be the time for a switch back.
Gone since 1975; Highest rating: 52 in 1936 and 1941
Gone since 1989; Highest rating: 31 in 1937
Peggy, a pet form of Margaret, is the one that’s climbed the highest of all these names. Perky and pure, Peggy was the perfect date for the prom—in 1953. In later decades it’s been traded in for Maggie.
In 1963, there were 23,900 baby girls named Lori, the same year that there were 21,191 little Tammys and 11,000 Cindys, not to mention all the Mindys, Mandys, Marcys, and Marnies with the then modern-sounding nicknamey, quasi-unisex, names popular from the mid-fifties and into the next couple of decades.
So is it any wonder that so many of today’s parents have moms and sometimes grandmothers with these vintage nickname names?
But as much as we love those family members, and would like to make them namesakes, would we really want to name our own little girls Mindy or Cindy? Probably would be better to seek a related substitute that would still serve to honor them.
Here are a few random update ideas, some that relate fairly directly to the mother name, others that are a bit more of a stretch.
More obvious: Candace
More obvious: Caroline
Less obvious: Carys
More obvious: Lucinda
More obvious: Daria
Less obvious: Dorothy
More obvious: Jamison
More obvious: Josie
Less obvious: Josephine
More obvious: Jolie
Less obvious: Joanna
More obvious: Keira
Less obvious: Kerensa
Less obvious: Lorelei
More obvious: Amanda
Less obvious: Manon
More obvious: Marcella
Less obvious: Maribel
Less obvious: Marin