What’s in a Name?

Baby Names coverThe New Baby Name Survey

Picture it: there I was, moving out the oldest baby name books from the non-fiction 900s, fairly impressed that they are mostly from the last five years and circulating at a reasonable rate. Suddenly, I came upon this one, much older than the rest with pages starting to yellow and a paperback cover starting to do that thing where it separates into two distinct pieces of paper, sort of curling up at one edge.

What do I do? Look up my name, obvi. Then I looked up Mary, as one does.

Wow, every name seems to have a really depressing, negative description! Holly is “overly sweet…despite her poor upbringing.” Mary has “a conservative, mousy appearance.” Even biblical names! “Ham” says “what else can you expect when you hear the name Ham? It’s not surprising that people describe Ham as a piggish, rude, and dorky man. They also claim he’s sloppy, ignorant, and totally unappealing to women.” Tough break, dude.

I’m sure there are some nice descriptions that would make you look at your sweet baby and say, “Yes! Sarina is determined and goal oriented with lots of confidence and a sharp mind!” Just ignore the part where she’s also apparently a potential “conniving and snobby backstabber.” Focus on the good part.




Star Kids Dweezil

Star Kids


  1. Looks like the author never heard of Maud Flanders from The Simpsons. May she rest in pe-diddly-eace.

  2. HRC was still a senator when this book came out, and her out-of-touch presidential campaign (Yes, I am a Sanders Sister, how could you tell) wouldn’t be for another 9 years! It’s interesting how Mary combined with Beth or Ellen is a different name from Mary on her own.

  3. I’d like to know what was written for the author’s name. Did he say “Bruce is an awesome guy; drawback is he’s too handsome?”

    Why did someone think this depressing book was worth publishing, buying, and keeping?

    (Although I gotta agree with “Fifi Trixiebelle” sounding like a poodle, and my long-ago friend Holly matched that, except in appearance, and she leaned more to snark than sweetness.)

  4. I don’t think old baby name books need to always be weeded for age as there could be some perfectly-good-but-no-longer-popular names hiding in there, but this one looks awful.

  5. Just about every name is subject to interpretation. My name is Mary which is usually said to come from the Hebrew for ‘bitter’. It wasn’t until I started working with Egyptologists that I learned ‘Mary’ can be said to derive from the Pharaonic Egyptian ‘Meryt’ which means ‘beloved’. My self esteem immediately improved. I do remember a period when Parents of African heritage wanted to find authentic Kemetic names for their children. Our library did have a book that was a guide to Pharaonic writings. One of the fun things about this guide was that both royaL and non-royal names were listed. there was a lot of choice. One pregnant lady loved a particular name for her son until she asked a curator what it meant. When she learned it meant roughly ‘Son of the Great Sow’ she started to consider ‘Imhotep’.

    By the way, what sane modern parent would even consider naming a son ‘Ham’?

  6. 30 Rock: Cerie said: If their first child is a girl, possible names include “Bookcase”, “Sandstorm” and “Hat”, though “Hat” is “more of a boy’s name.”

    What’s in a name? Any Hollywood kook who names their children names better left to characters in that novel they have yet to write. Names such as Exa Dark Sideræl should go into a poem that they never publish. At least as adults the children can change their names.

    1. I have a fantasy that stars tell the media their children are named something out there to be creative, but give them ordinary names to preserve their privacy. Hopefully no one finds Exa Dark Sideræl in any police blotters or ER admission forms, and that Ella Musk slips through unnoticed.

  7. This is simultaneously awful and hilarious! I am now very curious if there was a Katarina, and if so, what they said about her. (I suppose there must have been a Katherine, at least!)
    When it comes to names, I find that behindthename.com is a goldmine, though I use it for characters rather than babies!

  8. Bruce Lansky, along with his wife Vicki Lansky, was a powerhouse publishing books for parents and Kids. IIRC, my library would buy anything with their names on it with little review. I hadn’t thought of them in years.

  9. i hate pictures of babies in hats, adult hats, big sunglasses, neckties, sideways ball caps. i used to work at a Sears portrait studio.

    1. I think they’re cute *only* in a floppy bucket hat for the beach, or a ski cap (toque) in winter. Or as part of a Halloween costume.

      Those pictures with babies as flowers creep me out. They look like some mutants from a 50’s sci fi movie.

    1. Mon cher Henri, I am aghast at your idea!

      Burning paper causes a loss of air quality and adds to global warming.

      It should be recycled into something that’s useful. Or composted.

      1. HA! Agreed. But will the worms eat it? At least they won’t read it.

  10. I think this is the book I perused in a bookstore years ago–the one that said I have a “fat girl’s name.” Nice.

  11. My brother was a “roadie” for Frank Zappa in those baby naming years and knew him well. Zappa was if nothing else, an authentic human.

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