Tuesday, April 09, 2019


Onomastics, how we name our children, has been a source of fascination to me since college, when I read a brilliant essay illustrating that weird and misspelled named are less frequent in pedobaptist cultures.  The thought was that having to run the baby's name past a minister or priest created a social pressure toward tradition and respectability. Black preachers could spell "Isaiah" correctly, but they didn't get the chance to put their oar in early, as the white Methodist or Presbyterian preacher across the street did. In the very next essay in my college text, I learned that Puritans would use names over, which very few other cultures did.  If Ephraim died in the year he was born, the next son was often named Ephraim.  Most cultures considered that bad luck, but Puritans thought more in terms of the whole family having a continuity extending forward.

My wife is Tracy.  The priest refused to baptise her with that name because there is no Saint Tracy. Her mother was a stubborn woman and was likewise immovable, but the priest went forward in command of the ceremony.  So if you meet my wife in heaven, her namecard might say Therese instead. At least one of my five sons will be unable to recognise their mother in heaven because of this.  Which will be uproarious. Relatedly, using "salmons" as a plural will also be an identifier of our group.  Drop over and say hello when you hear that.

Looking up an old post to create a link for a site that linked to me, I decided that my posts on onomastics over the years were so interesting that I would not single any out.  The whole batch is fun. Should I do a book of my best 300 posts, two per page? The idea is intriguing, and the title Assistant Village Idiot would certainly jump off the page at Amazon.  Yet my strength is not in 300 stunning posts, but in 1000 mid-range interesting and informative, maybe more. We all have to know who we are.

Note: In a post on my respect for the name "Oscar" years ago, Sam L was on board and had a clever response.  We have some continuity here.


Texan99 said...

Though I'm not usually much given to class anxiety, funky name choices bring it out in me big time. What might I have done with name choices if I'd had children? At a certain age I might have been attracted to the "Moon Unit" genre, but mostly I think I'd have shot for some combination of dignified and exotic, having suffered with the namby-pambiness of "Wendy" all my life. My parents never let on, but I assumed I was named after Wendy Darling in Peter Pan. They were going to name me Jefferson Davis if I'd been a boy. Now that's a name with some dignity, if a lot of baggage.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I believe Barrie invented the name "Wendy" for the book. My younger brother was going to be named Wendy had he been a girl. Wendy Wyman sounds like someone I wouldn't like, so it all worked out, as far as we're concerned. I think it started to vanish about a decade later. Not many Wendy's after 1965, I don't think.

Sam L. said...

The daughter of a friend has a new baby boy, named Oscar.

bs king said...

Just about right from what I can tell. There's actually a website where you can see the trend over time.

Bethany was almost unheard of until the 1940s, and has never gotten all that popular. David was used occasionally as a girls name until around 1990.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Jonathan and Tracy both have single spikes right about the years ours were born.