I’m reading The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, the fictional biography of Malka Treynovsky, a Jewish immigrant who becomes, through a series of improbable and tragic events, Lillian Maria Dinello. The name change is partly her choice. She declares, at the age of 6ish, “I don’t want to be Malka at all,” pleading, “Please … can I have a new name altogether – an American one – the same as the beautiful girl in the moving pictures.” (That would be Lillian Gish.)
It’s interesting to think about how fluid a name could be once upon a time. A baptismal certificate sufficed back then. Earlier in the story, Malka-Lillian was registered for school without a birth certificate, or, in fact, any idea of the actual date of her birth.
Now, of course, it can be a chore to explain that you prefer this nickname or that you’re known by your middle. Some parents look for nickname-proof names, or make a nickname their child’s legal name.
At the same time, it’s strangely easy to reinvent yourself, choosing a screen name that suits you better than the one you received at birth. But if you’d like to buy a plane ticket or register for school using that name? You’ll have a few hoops to jump through first.
My own great-grandmother, Chiara, was known as Katie when she first came to the United States. It’s not clear why – after all, Chiara is the Italian form of Claire, not Katherine. And Katie isn’t a very Italian name. Maybe Chiara was just so unfamiliar that someone settled on the closest name starting with the same sound? Or maybe my great-grandmother liked the idea of being an American Katie?
Do you have any name-changing mysteries caused by immigration – or other life circumstances? I think there must be some fascinating accidents and misunderstandings and deliberate reinventions hidden in all of our family trees.
Now, on to the name news:
- This is a really strange questions, answered with aplomb by Swistle: Can you name a child John Doe Smith III Jr.? Because it’s not about whether you can. It’s about why you would wish to do so in the first place.
- I love this line: Welcome to a classic baby namer’s struggle: Is this name undiscovered, or just … odd? The Name Lady nails it with her analysis. Sometimes names are overlooked because of perceived flaws. Other times, they’re just plain overlooked. I agree that Darby is on the undiscovered side. It works well for a daughter. It was the name of the little girl in My Friends Tigger & Pooh, a Playhouse Disney series from 2007 through 2011, so that’s my first thought. But the name also enjoyed a brief spike in use in the mid-1990s, thanks to Julia Roberts’ turn as Darby Shaw in 1993’s The Pelican Brief. But Darby has never climbed as high as you might guess, so yes – I hope they use it!
- So, there are an awful lot of amazing names in Game of Thrones, not just Khaleesi, and this list has them all! I’m a sucker for Melisandre, but from the little I’ve seen of the series, the character is not inspiration for a child’s name. (Not name related, but funny – have you seen this clip? Melisandre at a Baby Shower from Late Night at Seth Meyers. And Carice van Houten is a riot! Also, I love the name Carice.)
- Bree’s lists of obscure royals’ names always make my day. She delivers another gem with The Children of Princess Ayşe Gülnev Osmanoğlu. I mean – how perfect is Cosmo Tarik?
- So pleased to see this comment from Clare at Name News: “I’d have found it hard to make this list, but reading this post I just keep nodding and thinking how spot on they all are.” She’s referring to Strong Names for Girls: Inspired by Eleanor, Part II. I wrote Part I way back in October, and yes – obsessed over Part II, because it really was a tough list to put together!
- Which reminds me – I think a lot of parents do worry about choosing girls’ names that are too girly and perceived as insubstantial. But that certainly doesn’t mean that every feminine name is off limits! Duana answers an anxious mom’s questions beautifully, saying, “The goal, of course, is not to find something that is unfeminine, necessarily, but to counteract ‘girly’ with ‘womanly’.” It’s a good way to think about it, though she also notes that very popular names might fail this test, and still succeed – if only because someday we’ll have a generation of girls named Sadie growing up.
- One last mention of March Madness Baby Names! If you have yet to vote in the Boys Quarter Finals or Girls Quarter Finals, please do. The matches on the girls’ side are especially close this time.
That’s all for this week! As always, thank you for reading – and have a great week.