DENOUDEN: What’s in a name? Anything you want, apparently
A rose by any other name might smell the same, as the poet suggests — but if it were being named today, it sure wouldn’t be spelled the same.
There have always been weird apples in the barrel, but lately, it’s taken on new proportions. Names have become a terrifying new world of lost consonants, extra vowels, random capitalizations and seemingly textmessage-inspired shorthand. Some of them are just made up, a bunch of words crammed together like a musical mashup on “Glee.”
Was it always this way? In 1950, according to the Social Security Administration, the most popular boy names were James, Robert and John; girls’ were Linda, Mary and Patricia. But maybe that’s not the best indicator. In 2012, Jacob, Mason and Ethan made the top five for boys, while Sophia, Emma and Isabella were the hottest choices for girls. At first glance, those names seem pretty staid, phonetically viable.
But “Jacob” can also be spelled with a “k.” Add an extra “a” into “Eathan,” and you’ve ensured that no one will ever be completely certain if that child’s name is spelled right. Ever.
Girls’ names get even dicier upon closer inspection. Sophia could use “ph” in the middle, or maybe an “f,” for Sofia. Emma seems fairly safe, but Isabella? Add a letter, take one out, mix ’em around — it’s a minefield. It’s scary how many ways you could spell one name wrong.
Take a name like “Dwayne.” I’ve come across at least five other variations, including:
• And my personal favorite, “Dwyane,” which I pronounce DWYann.
So that’s six spellings for one name. You might say it’s “dwaining.” (Say it out loud. Now feel free to roll your eyes and groan.)
Many names have some sort of alternate. Mine, for instance. There’s Candy — the right way to spell it, mind you — but also Candi, Kandi, Kandy and Kandee. (And also people who will read it as “Cindy” no matter what.)
There’s Neil vs. Neal. Cheryl vs. Sheryl. Even John, a supposedly safe name, could be “John,” “Jon” or one of about 15 ways to spell “Jonathan.” But the one that takes the proverbial cake is “Micaela.” According to baby namesaudiobook.com, there are 180 ways to spell this lovely little girls’ name, and I’m fairly certain all 180 of them live within our coverage area.
Why try so hard to reinvent the name wheel?
I’m not a name-ologist, but I do know that names have always been important. In ancient times, your name was considered to be tied to your destiny. So if your parents named you “No Mercy,” like Hosea the bibli-
cal prophet, the cards did not appear to be stacked in your favor. It begs the question, “Do I really want my kid to be named something that means ‘pig’ in Latin?” (Um, no. You don’t.)
Whether you believe your child’s name is tied to his destiny or not, naming a child is one of the biggest, and often most contentious, decisions parents make. That’s probably why you can type in “name” or “baby names” in a Web search and the number of results is almost overwhelming. You can find out whatever you want to know about names. My name, for instance, according to behindthename.com, goes back to Ethiopian royalty, apparently derived from a Cushitic word (read: really old) meaning “queen mother.” Regal as that sounds, I actually prefer what I found on urbandictionary.com (read: written by a snarky kid in a basement), which gives three possible meanings: “1) An angel who mysteriously lost her wings; 2) Someone lovely who makes an entire room light up with just a smile; or 3) A being of total perfection; flawless.”
So, clearly, my parents chose well. (Or, that entry was written by someone else named Candace.)
But why are all the made-up name mashups or new spellings on the rise? Is it because celebrities set the tone with names like “Coco,” “Apple” and “Brittany/Britney/Britt”? Is it because of increasing cultural diversity? Language shifts? Because people are no longer hooked on phonics?
Like most things, I’m guessing it’s a combination.
Duane, as it turns out, is an Anglicized version of a Gaelic surname. Dewayne, Dwain and Dwayne are considered its English variants, according to behindthename.com. Whether the other variants happened on purpose or were just typos, I guess we’ll never know, but the point is that language has always been fluid, and names are part of that flow. Language changes. Words change. Names are part of that.
Be it a family name, a historical name or a made-up name, just don’t forget that your children have to carry this designation with them for the rest of their lives — maybe longer if they do something really cool like cure cancer (or something really terrible like blow up a building or remake classic movies). So while combining all your parents’ names into one or needlessly turning “Dwayne” into “Dwyane” might seem like an innovative idea, don’t make any rash decisions. Someday your kid will thank you.