Sunday, September 16

Names

Yesterday, as we were counting the day's money, my boss says to me, "Have you ever noticed men's names are always other things?"

I paused in my penny count and looked up quizzically.

"You know," he continued. "Like Bill is a bill," he said, smiling and shaking a dollar bill. "You makes good marks. You get there in the nick of time." He smiled widely, proud of his epiphany.

"Huh. I guess I never thought of it like that," I respond slowly. I have to be careful; if he's not right, he's angry.

"What's your husband's name?" he asks, eager to prove his point.

"Mike."

He holds up an imaginary microphone and smiles even wider. "See?"

"I guess men's names tend to be more action-oriented," I half-agree.

"Well, I don't know about that. But they're almost always objects or things," is his smart reply.

I've thought a little more about what he suggested. It's true that a portion (certainly not "always" or "almost always") of names typically given to men are action-oriented or physical, concrete objects. The feminist in me wonders if this is another subtle reinforcement of socialized gender through language. Are women's names then usually more abstract, relationship-oriented?

I took a look at the top names for babies in the U.S. and found this:

Top 10 Baby Names of 2006

Girls:

1 Emma 1
2 Madison 3
3 Ava 10
4 Emily 2
5 Isabella 6
6 Kaitlyn 4
7 Sophia 5
8 Olivia 7
9 Abigail 11
10 Hailey 13

Boys:

1 Aiden 1
2 Jacob 2
3 Ethan 3
4 Ryan 6
5 Matthew 5
6 Jack 8
7 Noah 16
8 Nicholas 4
9 Joshua 9
10 Logan 19

If we stick to using current data like this (found at BabyCenter), then by my count, Jack is the only male name that is also an object. I suppose you could count Matthew if you use Matt for mat, but that seems to be stretching it. For the girls, it appears that Madison is also a city, which is a thing. So far it seems we're even. But what if we go back further, to more "traditional" times?

In the U.S. in the 1950s, the most popular names were:

Boys' Names

John
James
Robert
William
Michael
David
Richard
Thomas
Charles
Gary
Joseph
Ronald
Larry
Donald
Steven
Kenneth
Stephen
Dennis
Paul
Jose
George
Edward
Daniel
Mark
Gregory
Jerry
Douglas
Bruce
Frank
Terry
Roger
Timothy
Raymond
Lawrence
Peter
Willie
Wayne
Anthony
Juan
Gerald

Girls' Names

Linda
Mary
Patricia
Barbara
Susan
Maria
Sandra
Nancy
Deborah
Kathleen
Carol
Sharon
Karen
Donna
Brenda
Margaret
Elizabeth
Janice
Diane
Judith
Cynthia
Christine
Pamela
Shirley
Judy
Janet
Betty
Carolyn
Gloria
Joyce
Cheryl
Martha
Dorothy
Rebecca
Peggy
Catherine
Beverly
Kathy
Virginia
Gail

It would seem that a number of boys' names are also objects, especially if you include the nickname: John, Rob, Will, Mike, Rich, Chuck, Don, etc. For girls' names, I find a few also: Pat, Barb, Sue, Sandy, etc. So it seems that in the days my boss grew up in (and thus the names he would be most familiar with), his theory partially holds up, at least in comparison to the contemporary baby names. It does seem that the majority of his theory is based more on nicknames, or what the person is commonly referred to as. I wonder if this has a more simple explanation: we use and hear these objects all the time, and incorporate those objects into names we call those we're close to. A sort of familiarity complex.

I also wonder if his theory is indicative of the way he views others: as objects, i.e. things which he can control with little or no social value.

Whew. The lengths I will go to just to prove my boss wrong.

3 comments:

birdonthewirenyc said...

loved this.

Rafael Santiago said...

Bravo... well done!

BerryBird said...

I like your familiarity complex theory of nicknames. It just makes good sense.