Thursday, November 14, 2013

What's in a Name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet." - Shakespeare

My life’s been uneventful of late. How uneventful? I count a recent colonoscopy as an adventure. Fear not. I won’t share details except to say any day without a colonoscopy is a good one.

At dark-thirty on the morning of my procedure, the nurses at the outpatient center buzzed with excitement over what they considered a strange coincidence/eerie convergence: four out of eight female patients scheduled were named Patricia. Spooky?

In fact, there’s a logical explanation. Most Americans (those of us lucky enough to have health insurance, anyway) are urged to get our first colorectal-cancer screening at or around age fifty. In other words, the female patients who showed up that morning likely were born in 1963 or earlier.

In the 1960’s, Patricia was the sixth most common name given to girl babies. Don’t believe me? The Social Security Administration keeps track of these things. In the 1950’s, Patricia was the third most popular name for baby girls according to the SSA. 

Those SSA charts come in handy when I’m stuck for a character name. But that’s not all, folks. Here’s a fun infographic of THE most popular girl’s name, state-by-state in the U.S. every year between 1960 and 2012. I'm amazed at how fast a name catches on and how far its popularity spreads.

If that infographic’s right, a lot of women named Lisa soon will make appointments for colonoscopies. Meanwhile, I think about all the Sophias born last year. Forty-nine years from now, will they await colonoscopies at dark-thirty in the morning, or will medical advances make the procedure obsolete? I’m betting on the latter.

Is your name commonplace or unusual? If it’s commonplace, do you secretly long for a name that sets you apart? If it’s unusual, do you yearn for one that doesn’t cause heads to turn when the barista at Starbucks calls your name?


Liz Flaherty said...

I was the only Elizabeth (or Liz) in my grade all the way through high school. To this day I am amazed when I'm somewhere and more than one person responds to my first name. I know it has gained popularity over the years, but surely--outside the royal family--I had it first!

Jennette Marie Powell said...

LOL my mom is one of those many Patricias born in the 40s! I went by Jenny when I was a kid, and was always one of two or three in my class - but the others were always Jennifer. Same situation in college, but by then I'd come to appreciate my name, and ended the confusion by going by Jennette. Not common, but not really unusual, except for the spelling - having to say, "two Ns, no A" gets a little old, but I still like it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pat,

First, many thanks for your understanding of what it means to be published - I appreciate your insight and input. I guess whenever we write something, its considered "published". I think there might be legal implications when one claims that they are published, e.g. someone applying for a job and claims that they are "published" implies something different from a book published by a vanity press. I think.

I think its very important to give good names (however one defines that) to children - nothing irks me more than the fad names of today and the apparent "made up" names that parents give their children (at least in the USA). I'm writing this not knowing what you named your daughters, so please, no offense intended!

Do you know that in some European countries (Germany, to be more specific) the name has to be approved before it can be given to a child? OK, I wouldn't go that far here.

I like my name but don't meet a lot of people named "Patrick" although it seems to be a more popular middle name than a first name. The name Patrick is also extremely popular in France and when I was on my last business trip to Germany I saw a subway advertisement "Wenn der kleine Patrick nach Hause kommt" (When little Patrick comes home) although I forget what they were advertising. Its also a popular name in Britain even though its usually thought of as an "Irish" name.

My grandmother gave my mother an odd name so she (my mother) insisted on giving her children regular names. I think she did the right thing.

Have a nephew who just named his son "Grayson". Don't get me started.

I had a colonoscopy recently too -basically a non-event - the prep. was the worst of it.

- Patrick

Coleen Patrick said...

Patricia is the most common name in the comments over at my blog. Since I started there have been 5 different Patricias stopping by. :)
I was born Coleen--and it was mostly a unique name, especially since my mom decided to drop one of the Ls. My name was never on those personalized keychains.:) Then, after college, I changed my name to a very unique--and I've learned, hard to pronounce name. The first time I went to get my haircut after I'd changed my name, the woman read my name from the sign in sheet as "Damn ya." I should've went back to Coleen right then and there!

Lark Howard said...

Lark has never made the SSN list and probably never will. I've had a love/hate relationship with my name all my life. There are way too many expressions people like to quote thinking they're being cute when I've heard them zillions of times. When someone says, "Did your parents have you on a lark?" or "Hark, hark, the lark" I'll confess I long to punch them in the mouth. Now that more people are giving their kids weird names, the comments are fewer and less obnoxious. So thanks to all the celebrities naming your kids Apple, Blue, Dweezel, North and all those other wacky names. Lark is so normal by comparison.

And I use the SSN database for naming characters all the time. It's fascinating how many names pop up due to popular books and movies. Hopefully we're past the Bella-Edward-Jacob era although I think a lot of little boys born in the last couple years will be going through life as Christian.

Karen McFarland said...

I understand Pat. There wasn't a time during my school years that I didn't at the very least have another Karen in the class. And my mother thought the name was unique. Well, I think other mothers thought the same thing. It has tapered off now. In fact, now that I think of it, where have all the Karens gone? Yep, I too love to consult with the SS so that the names I use coincide with the time period in which the story takes place. I do have to say that I happen to like the name Patricia. Maybe, it's because it's your name. :)

Alarna Rose Gray said...

Are we ever happy at either end of the common / unique spectrum? My name, especially by spelling, was always unusual. I very much disliked standing out as a child, but I don't mind so much now. What I have noticed is there are a lot more little 'Alana's' around...spelled differently, but pronounced the same. Since that started happening, I seem to have developed an appreciation for being different :)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

For years I wanted, desperately, to be called Liz, a name I consider fun and feminine. But no, I got Pat.
I have to tell you, I know a lot of Elizabeths, but the nicknames are many: Bitsy, Lizzie, Liz, Betty, Liza, Beth, and there must be more. You've got a versatile name.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Jennette! I didn't know you used to go by Jenny. A name with a twist is a nice for an author because it's memorable.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Patrick,
You wrote,"I think there might be legal implications when one claims that they are published, e.g. someone applying for a job and claims that they are "published" implies something different from a book published by a vanity press." I agree and would think that, in academia, publishing credits are checked.

I gave my girls first names I consider pretty and plain middle names. That way, I figured I was covered. If they grew to hate their given first name, they could go by their middle names.

Grayson is a popular name these days.

Don't get me started on the colonoscopy prep. Yes, that was the worst part. Ugh!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Coleen,
Damn ya, huh? And did the hairdresser call that name out in a crowded salon?

Does your personality alter as you toggle between your pen name and everyday name? I'd have been a more adventurous, fun person if I'd been named Liz.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Lark, I think your name is gorgeous. It's different, but not too different. Lark Howard will look great on book covers.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I love you, Karen.

Patricia has grown on me, or maybe I've grown into it. I'm happy with it now.

Karens are still with us, but they go by Karin, Caren, and Carin.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Alarna, your name is lovely. What's more, it's teamed with the classic Rose and a simple last name. If the last name's simple, a person needs a little oomph in the first name, don't you think? That r sets your first name apart.