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.
I’ll have to read that book! My Hebrew name is Malka, picked presumably because it’s the closest in sound to my regular name, Molly.
Your comment how unimportant a birth certificate used to be reminded me of a family struggle a few years ago that is so humorous to us all in hindsight. My 90-year-old Aunt Fay was finally ready to enter a nursing home. We gathered all the right paperwork, but were told we could not receive a copy of her birth certificate without her full first name.
Fannie we said. No.
No? What do you mean no?
My Aunt Fay launched herself on a tirade of how she had always been Fannie, no they had never called her anything else dammit because she was Fannie! Just Fannie. She was right in the sense that all her other legal IDs said Fannie and had since the 1920s when she was enrolled in Catholic school with her baptismal certificate. So…okay. What now?
Essentially they allowed us to guess since we had presented enough Social Security numbers, bank statements, and drivers licenses to prove we where in fact the real family of the proper person. We refiled under Francis, which seemed the most obvious connection. Nope. Filing it as the more feminine Frances didn’t work either. Okay. Maybe Francesca. Her family were Italian immigrants after all. Perhaps they’d tried to anglicize it and it stuck. No. Not that either. Francine. No. Umm…
We ventured into the more loosely connected and found out it was Philomena. Philomena of all things!! Until the day she died you were not allowed to say the name in front of Aunt Fay lest she spend the rest of the day giving you the stink eye. We eventually agreed the midwife must have assumed Fannie was a nickname and written Philomena all on her own, while the baptismal certificate filed by the family was correct. (Because it’s really not wise to tell a 90-year-old woman she may have forgotten her full name.) Who knows what really happened there though!!
Hope that wasn’t too boring. It’s a much better story told ’round the dinner table. 😉
Oh my goodness – my Italian family ALSO included a Philomena called Fanny! It must have been the default nickname for their generation.
I have a non-name changing migration story. I once met a French lady living in the UK named Peggy (after a song her parents liked). She told me she got asked a lot whether it was her real name or her “English” one. She found it amusing/offensive that people assumed she would let herself be renamed if her French name was too much for Brits to cope with!
Upon landing in America, my great-grandfather Nazzareno became Ned, and my great- grandmother Assunta became Sue. Based on my knowledge of history at that time, and a little that my grandmother told me, it was shameful to be Italian, and the names were changed to move as far away from an Italian perception as possible.
Kara | The Art of Naming says
My grandmother and her three sisters all had interesting name “changes” sort of thrust upon them in school. Some of them stuck and became what they’re legally known as now because paperwork wasn’t all that strict back then. The English teachers at their school didn’t like or couldn’t pronounce their more Spanish names so they just renamed them. Ignacia just became Nancy. Manuelita is only Melita now. Lucinda is just Lucy. My grandmother kept Amalia but only goes by Molly. They all have two middle names each too, and I spent a long time asking them about their name stories; I only wish I could remember exactly whose names are what. 🙂 Thought I’d share!
The Duana column is fascinating. This type of issue pops up again and again-mothers (as in, WOMEN) don’t want to name their daughters something girly and/or boys something so unisex it could be perceived as a girl’s name. What is wrong with GIRLS? What is wrong with US that we devalue femininity and girliness? It just seems to me to speak to deep misogynistic bias in us that feminine=weak, insubstantial. We’re making this UP and I wish we’d stop. /rant
I don’t know that your entirely right. I definitely picked names for my girls that were undeniably female names (I dislike unisex names because I believe that gender is very important and should be emphasized) but also names that sounded–to my ear–as very intelligent. That is part cultural bias but also part personal taste. My girls are Miriam, Emeline, Harriet, Clover, and Annabel. I bet they don’t all sound “intelligent” to you. That’s where the personal taste comes in. I really wanted to avoid a name that sounded “decorative;” meaning that is sounded like nothing was expected of the child except that she be pretty. But there again–that is part cultural bias and part taste. My decorative is another person’s sweet or strong or intelligent. If I think Tawny sounds decorative than am I really misogynistic? How much is taste? How much is socioeconomic strata? How much is cultural bias?