What's in a Name?

I was born Gregory Monte Larson. Named after Gregory Peck and Monte Carlo (the city). If I was born a girl, I would have been named Marina (as in where one keeps boats). My name hasn't been so bad, really. I don't like Gregory because that's the name I associate with official agents, bill collectors, telemarketers, and being in trouble by my parents. Greg wasn't so bad growing up. It wasn't too plain (like John, Dave, or Chris), and it wasn't too exotic (like Annoushka, Britta, and Fuh). I only knew one other Greg growing up, and he was a shy by fairly cool kid, so I didn't have an associative problem.

Kids are cruel. These days, my son goes to school with a lot of kids with multicultural backgrounds, and names like "Azadeh Manifi" don't stand out as much as they would in my time. In my youth, if you had a name that was fairly easy to manipulate into something else, like Harry Dickson, you either grew up tough or beaten down. But even if you didn't have a name that rhymed or sounded like something else, someone would come up with an insult for it. The worst mine ever got was "Greg the pegleg egg," and during the Christmas season, "ate nutmeg." Rather a sad and floppy insult, so people had to come up with their own names based on my weight problem, like Butterball and Lumpy. I played Ebeneezer Scrooge in 6th grade, and got the nickname "Scrooge," which actually I didn't mind so much. In what I refer to as the cruelest years of my life, Junior High, a kid with the name of Danny (who got teased with butt jokes, you do the math), said the only difference between me and a bucket of lard was the bucket. So for three years, I got the nickname "Bucket," even though a lot of people quickly forgot the origin. I didn't care for that one, because it stuck hard, and was very difficult to get rid of. It faded away in high school as students matured past name-calling, although one guy, Jason Lasky, who never used it to be mean, mutated it to "Buckaroo." He was the only one to call me that, and I heard it until we graduated because he always had the locker next to mine (we got them assigned alphabetically, so I was between him and Erin Larsen for six years).

"...I quickly learned if you gave your name, and spelled it, people had a greater chance of remembering it."
When I was out on my own, a roommate with an odd accent started calling me "Grig." She often had different names for people, and sometimes they stuck (like another roommate, Liska). I stuck with this as a pen name, and then used it in retail sales because I quickly learned if you gave your name, and spelled it, people had a greater chance of remembering it. I learned this from a guy named Jaques, who would say, "By the way, my name is Jaques. That's J-A-Q-U-E-S, it's French." He still got called Jack a lot from the home office, but customers would remember, "The guy with the French name." This helps when you make sales based on commission, where you have to have sales made under the correct name. So I became "Grig, that's Greg with an I. It's Swedish." It is a Swedish nickname for Greg, not common, but there are other Grig Larsons out there on the net.

Sometimes you can't even go with a nickname even close to your own name. I learned this from a Vietnamese co-worker named Twan Tran. He had even more difficulties because "Twan" in Vietnamese is both a girl's and a boy's name. And it didn't help that his brother was also named Twan, but with a different tonic inflection. And believe it or not, so was his girlfriend, who had the feminine version of Twan, with yet another tonic inflection. These names were as different as night and day to those who spoke Vietnamese, but to those of us who speak only English, they always sounded the same. So, like a lot of Asian-Americans did, changed his name to an English one, in this case Charlie. I am not sure if he knew that was slang for the Viet Cong in the Vietnam war, I didn't have the guts to ask. But even as a kid, my friend Gu Yon Wei got sick of the nickname "Gooey," and changed it to Steve. His sister Chung Eung became "Kelly."

Sometimes, your parents have no ethnic excuse. Being a child of the 60's, I had some classmates with names like, "Skye," "Tree," and "Moonbeam." My friend Lotus hated her name, so she became "Copper" after an accident with a home hair die kit that didn't turn her black hair blond like she expected. But she liked the color anyway, and kept it up, choosing the nickname herself. I have seen people change their names to ones like "Skip" and "Rocky." My friend Candace so hated her name, she legally changed it to Lije (she has explained the name "Lije" to me several times, and it has gone in one ear and out the other because of my very poor memory).

In fandom, there are "con names," names that have to do with your character/persona that you like. This is often confusing when you need to find someone out of a convention, and all you recall is the name "Amethyst," "Zorak,"or "Ravenwolf." This is how I got the name, "Punkie." It started in a BBS chat room. My "handle" on the BBS world was "Punk Walrus," named after the protagonist of my published sagas. Like many names, this was hard to type fast in chat, so I became "Punkie" (thanks to Liska). This spilled over into fandom, and frankly, I like it. Grig sounds too much like "Greg" "Rick" "Great" or even "hey" or other monosyllabic words with short I and E vowels in the middle. Since cons usually have noisy hallways, I have turned more than once to someone not calling me, but if they yell, "Punkie!" I know there is no mistake. This is also an example of how some names are just too hard to say. If you have a long name, like "Dragonsfire Rainbow," I guarantee it will be shortened to Dragon, or Draggie. You see this also with names given to pets. "Cassidy Sundance American Style" may just be called "Yankee" by the owner, unless they are displaying their dog at a pet show or something. I swear some pet show names are really too much. "Princess Moon's Dancing Fire" and "Starcrossed Champion of Shao Lin Kennels," even though their affectionate owners name them "Mitzy" and "Spud." So when someone in fandom or pagan circles go by a name like, "Lady Crystal Dragonwind of the Rainbow Valley," I have to think it sounds like a direct translation of a poetic Asian name, a bad Amazon Movie title, or it's a status of being purebred.

"I am Ariana Moon Silver of Northchester," they say. "Wow, who sired you?"

Some people are not so much nicknamed by their real name, but where they stand in the family. Kids with numbers after their name, like Jacob Kilroy III, will sometimes be called "Trip" or "Trey," meaning the third. The second may become "Chip" (as in "Chip off the old block"), or "Junior".

The best nicknames are ones that are both easy to say and remember. Even better if they have a poetic meaning. My pal Adlai goes by "Albedo," which is a astrophysical scientific term for percentage of reflected light. His name speaks of someone who reflects ideas and thoughts around him. My buddy Amy (who hates her real name) goes by "Rogue," named after the X-men character, and it fits her to a T. My late friend Bear also had an appropriate nickname. Large and imposing, yet gentle and comforting.

So what will you name your children? That's up to you. I have some advice from experience, as well as baby name books.

"Look at the top ten names in any baby book, and don't pick any of them."
Don't pick something too common. Look at the top ten names in any baby book, and don't pick any of them. We made that mistake with our son. Just yell the name "Chris!" in a crowded elementary school and see a dozen or so kids respond. And don't try and disguise a common name with an unusual spelling (see below).

Don't pick something cute. Bobby is a great kid's name, but he's going to prefer Robert when introducing himself to the Harvard Application committee, or getting a bank loan. I know some people who call their kids "Spud" or "Data," but their real names are Charles and Dorothy. Let cute names be unofficial nicknames.

Pick something easy to say and spell for your culture. To test whether something is easy to say, scream it at the top of your lungs ten times in a row, as if calling your future offspring from across a noisy street. Also, don't pick really bizarre spellings of common names, like Djounathon, Qaren, or Psuzanne. Your child will hate you as an adult when constantly correcting strangers for misspelling their names. Nicknames start this way. "Bob" is easier to say than Robert, "Nate" for Nathaniel, and so on. When you get into the more unusual names, you run into trouble. Adding "ie" or "y" t the ends of the first syllable is default in American culture. "Moonbeam" may become "Moonie" or "Azadeh" may become "Azzy." If that doesn't work, people will Americanize names that sound close, like, "Abida" may become "Abby" and "Serena" may become "Sara." Also try and avoid any names with characters not commonly found in your alphabet. Try putting an O with a slash through it on an American driver's license.

"Someone will always find a way to make fun of any name, but don't make it easy..."
Try to be considerate with names. Imagine you want to make fun of them, and if you are having trouble with coming up with some ideas, ask a mean seven year old. They will find the obvious ones right away. If you last name is Dick, don't name your kid Harold (Harry). If you last name is Hunt, never name your kid Michael (Mike). Schlomo may be a great Biblical name, but don't expect your son to be a track star with that name. Sometimes you can't avoid your kid's future teasing sessions if your last name is Schitt, Harder, or Fuchs, but try not to make things worse on your child by giving them equally bad first names. Remember also, too many things rhyme with names like Jane. If you have a family name you want to keep, but it is unusual or easy to make fun of, try making it a middle name. Raven is a family name on my side (well, actually it is Crow, or Krka, but I didn't want to stick my son with those), but I know it is a unisex name, so I put it in the middle. It also went well with "Christopher". Someone will always find a way to make fun of any name, but don't make it easy.

Don't pick something topical. Those hippie names are proof enough that naming your child after nature is going to make his or her job in a serious profession awkward. Naming your kid after the president is okay, but several people have been naming their kids after actors with unusual names. This can suck big time if the person you were named after becomes a public disgrace. Ask any German kid born in the 1930's with the name Adolph. I pity anyone named Monica right now. I have even heard recently, with the Star Wars hype, kids being named "Annikin." This has a double dose of jeopardy because not only is the kid named after a science fiction character (major on the geek scale), but one that becomes an evil emperor that eventually is defeated.

Try and avoid "old" names. This is harder to explain, but easier to demonstrate. Names like "Bartholomew," "Beareugard," and "Hildagard" are not in common use anymore, even their nicknames Bart, Bo, and Hilda (sounds like an ugly Bluegrass band, doesn't it?). They are, in fact, used a lot for naming dogs. "Fido" is from the Latin word "faithful," but don't you dare name your kid that. Sometimes you are stuck with older names because you are expected to name your first born from a recently deceased relative, but try and put "Belinda" and "Ezekiel" as middle names if you can.

Try to find meanings behind names. This may avoid some complications, or bring out some beauty. My name means "watchman of the mountains" and my wife's means "Christian Christmas faithful to God." My friend Gretchen Marie, however, means "pearl sadness of the sea." The name "Merde" may sound elegant, unless you speak French.

But sometimes, you just can't predict or avoid a mismatch. I will end this essay with a note on something that happened in 3rd grade. We had this adopted Vietnamese kid by the name of Fuh (pronounced "foo"). The adoptive parent's last name was Quimberly. This may not sound that bad, but it was the way this teacher called out attendance. She assumed, like most teachers did on the first few days of school, it was pronounced "fuuh."

"Bill J." "Here!" "Mary L" "Here!" "Greg L" "Here!" "Fuh Q?"

Well, he sure changed his name to Fred real quick.


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