By any other name…

In 1966, Neil Diamond had his first big hit with “Solitary Man.” I’ve listened to the song a hundred times and more, and while the official lyrics will tell you the first line is, “Melinda was mine…” I still swear he’s singing, “Belinda…”

It makes sense. A hard consonant like “B” is easier to punch than a soft consonant like “M.” Now, Melinda is the more common name (although in 1966 “Belinda” was still in the top 2000 names for girls), but I don’t know that that should really matter.

And this is xxx, our director of consumer relations
And this is Buffy, our director of consumer relations…

Over the years I’ve watched characters with my name for the image they project, and for a very long time anyone who showed up on a television show or movie with the name “Belinda” was a nasty piece of work or a prostitute. Shelly Long played a call girl named Belinda in the 1982 comedy “Night Shift,” and in any number of television programs over the years there have been some real witches with my name.

The current sitcom “The Middle” had an overweight, shall we say athletic-looking woman named Belinda on one episode a couple of years ago, and on “Younger” we met an elderly woman named Belinda O’Shea who wrote romance novels, kind of a Danielle Steel character, earlier this summer.

When you have a less-than-common name, you notice things like this.

Several years ago, while I worked in a bookstore, I read a guide to naming your child that told me people think of girls named Belinda as overweight, overly shy and somewhat pathetic.

Well, you can just jump in a lake of fire with that thought.

Peggy, I right or what
This is Peggy, right?

It’s somewhat strange to me that we have stereotypes for names, yet when I think of someone named “Veronica,” she is slender, with a sweet smile and long, straight hair, and “Giselle” is offbeat, with a sophisticated cap of hair and a throaty laugh. I’ve never known anyone with either of those names, by the way, so the image is purely from popular culture.

When you send out a resume, what image do others form of you from your name in bold letters at the top? Some of my fellow bloggers from other nations or with different ethnicities may fear (or hope) they’ll be identified by race by their name.

Curiously, according to this same book, the name “Jason” has a distinct image of a likable, happy guy, everyone’s friend, despite being the most popular name for baby boys for many years (you’d think commonness would diminish a stereotype), and a rather nasty character in a series of films some time back.

We know and can trace the origins of many stereotypes, and some even have a basis in truth that makes them more difficult to dispel. Judging someone sight-unseen by their name is a subtle prejudice, and makes me wonder what other quiet ways we judge our world, our neighbors, our co-workers without realizing it.

And if I could change my name, what would I choose?


Image Credits: © ivector —

Please Don’t Name Him “CheeseDoodle”

I’ve always stood up for parents’ right to name their children whatever they choose, although admittedly, that stand is hard to maintain sometimes. Still, when your own name has been so controversial within the family your grandparents never, in the thirty-plus years of your life they were alive, called you by it, you get a little defensive.

My name isn’t that unusual — Belinda — although it had fallen off of the Top 2000 list sometime in the 70s. It’s making a bit of a comeback, not surprising given how closely related it is to so many other relatively popular names out there.

(My dad’s theory — although these weren’t his parents — was my grandma in particular was offended by the connection to the 1948 film Johnny Belinda, about a deaf-mute woman named Belinda who was raped and as a result, had a son, Johnny, out of wedlock. Controversial and uncomfortable topics for the time.)

me & Grandma
Me and my Grandma Stella Ostrowski, aka Anastasia, the one who would call me by name.

The popularity of names tends to cycle. Growing up, the names “Stella” and “Claire” equaled “old lady” to me. Now they’ve made a comeback. My other grandmother (the one who would call me by name) was christened Anastasia, but sometime after that — possibly around the age of two — her mother began to call her Stella (hence the old lady association for me).

Grandma’s given name was so secret, even her four sons didn’t know it was different until she died, nor did some of her younger siblings. I asked my dad about it, and he thought maybe my great-grandmother (Eva) had been pressured to name her baby one thing, perhaps after a saint, but changed it as soon as she could to something she actually liked.

I like the name Anastasia, and so did my cousin Mark, who named his daughter Ana after our grandmother. Now I prefer his choice over Stella, but it wouldn’t be fair for any of us cousins to run screaming if that’s what he’d named his baby instead, just because we could immediately picture that child in her dotage.

(Let me say here, I think Stella is a pretty name, or I wouldn’t be using it as an example. We all have people we associate with certain names, and no doubt right now there are some saying “hell if I’ll ever name my baby Belinda” because of some nasty babysitter or snippy neighbor. Or you just don’t like it.)

Me and Beth 1962 or thereabouts
Me and Beth

My parents stood by their controversial choice with me, and I’m glad. A year after I was born, my sister Beth arrived. Not Elizabeth, but Beth. My grandparents weren’t too thrilled about that either, yet if you know my sister, she is not an Elizabeth. She is a Beth.

I have a good friend who, when pregnant with her son, had picked out the name Jason. However, when baby boy J arrived, mom & dad looked at him and immediately said, “he’s not a Jason.” A mere 24 hours after his birth, they named him Nathan instead. Now, some of us weren’t sure what the difference between a “Jason” and a “Nathan” would be, but funny thing is, 28 years later, it’s clear they made the right choice.

Controversy isn’t always with unusual names. If I had been a boy (and I was born pre-ultrasound, so gender was a surprise), I was to be named Mark. Lucky for my aunt and uncle I was a girl, because that was the name they’d picked out for their son, born a month after me. However, my other aunt and uncle caused a seismic stir in the family when, a few years later, they named their son Marc. “The potential legal problems…” As you might guess, this was all on my dad’s side of the family, so our last name is the same.

Tiny Baby
Aw, what’s the perfect name for this perfect baby with the ten perfect toes?

I’ve read studies that show what you name your child affects his or her psyche in ways that can never truly be defined (well, of course, what would the control group be in such a study?) and most parents expecting a child no doubt take that to heart. Still, given all the weird nicknames we come up with for each other over a lifetime, maybe it’s more the way you say it that counts.

There is no right conclusion to make here, except to say, the perfect name doesn’t exist. The right name might, however, and that’s for parents to decide. And unless we’re sincerely asked for our opinion, the rest of us should just keep quiet.

Daily Prompt — Say Your Name

Photo Credit (baby feet) © Zbyszek Nowak —

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