Tuesday, January 16, 2007

On Family Names, and Uncles Named Peeper

What's in a name?

Liz and Grace remind us of how fluid names can be. One day you're living your life as Bridget, the next day you're Beatrice.

In my family, we have similar stories. On my father's side, these are what you'd expect in any family. My grandmother changed her name ever so slightly over the years, from Jeanie to Jeane to Jeanne, ever-conscious of the dramatic effect such spellings might have. Her mother was always Margaret as far as I had heard, but when she entered the U.S. she came in as Maggie. My great-aunt Jerrie was really Jemima. These were the nice easy examples....

On my mother's side of the family, things get stranger. My Uncle Roy didn't find out till he was 60 that his name was Charles. Uncle Peeper probably knew his real name was Harry, but nobody else called him that, not even his wife. This is the family where Donald grew up as "Duck", Doris was "Honey" and Jean Baptiste was "Butsis." Dolores was Tootsie, for rather unflattering reasons. George was George because he was born near Washington's birthday, and Noella was born near Christmas.

My mother, who was born on the 4th of July, barely escaped being named Liberty or Independence, for which I'm eternally grateful: I was named after her.

What are your family names?

9 comments:

Robin said...

Great topic. I'll have to come back when I completely awake. Maybe some time next year.

Lady S said...

(I also posted this on Tea Cozy):

My mom's mom's brother was born in the 1930s. When the nurse asked what he was to be called, my great-grandfather Harry said , "Harry Jr of course." And so that became his name, Harry Junior Farrarr.

Liz B said...

I know of at least 3 people called Pat/Patty because they were born on or near St Patricks Day, but were officially named something else.

FranMag said...

I'll have to think of some more, but, off the top of my head, my husband's sister is named Florida (we call her Flori) because of this story:

When my husband's family was still in the Philippines his father would work as a guide for visiting tourists. The week Flori was born, he was working as a guide for a couple from...you guessed it, Florida.

Stidmama said...

The strangest family name: my great-grandfather's middle name was "Leigh" because that was the last name of the doc who delivered him... three of six grandchildren then got that for their middle names too!

Until the last two generations (mine and my kids), the recurrent names on one side were: Charles, Frank, George.

On the other, there were: John, Jacob, Evert; and a different family had Samuel, Ransom, Royal, Alva and Hugh as common first names through many family branches.

A curious trait through the 17- and 1800s was that people had a first name seen only in censuses and a middle name they went by.

FranMag said...

I just thought of another one. My mother was named after a woman named Eleanor Wilson who was a missionary in Micronesia in the 20s and 30s. At that time very few women left Kosrae (where she is from) or even married non-Micronesians, so there was no way my grandparents would know that she would grow up and marry a man named Walter Scott Wilson (my father) and end up with the full name of the person she was named after. Neat, huh?

Nancy said...

Harry "Junior" - I love it!

Liz, at least Pat or Patty are normal names. George too. Even Noella is pretty. But Liberty or Independence would have been a bit much, I think! But then I guess I could go by Libby which is kind of nice. Maybe Penny for Independence? If Florida can go by Flori, after all....

Stidmama, I love the combination of Samuel, Ransom, Royal, Alva and Hugh. Seems like the perfect names for a great novel.

Fran, the Eleanor story is pretty great. Who could have predicted?

runart said...

These are so interesting - what a great subject to bring up, Nancy. By the way if my mother had a 3rd child she loved the name "Nancy". Never happened though.
My Aunt Wooley got her name from a perm gone horribly wrong as a child. Everyone called her that her whole life although her Dad morphed it to Willa. Real name Wanda. Her father's (my grandfather) was named Oaffa - whom I think was an ancient British King.
My paternal grandmother was Dolly O'Duff which I think is one of the coolest names ever especially since she was born on a houseboat in Tipperary - real name, Dorothy.
My father and his brother expected babies on the same day. Indeed, my cousin and I WERE born on the same day, same hospital. The deal was the first girl born (No knowing sex in those days prior to birth) got the name "Karen Jean" - I was the second to arrive so got the runner up name "Coreen Joan".

Lady S said...

I came back to read the comments that came after mine, and because it was linked from a post that was linked from a post I was reading.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that my dad's name is Dart. On his birth certificate it says Dart II, because my grandmother didn't want him to be called junior (funny considering my mom's side of the family). And my grandfather (the first boy born in his family) was named after his father's law partner (his last name, actually). Oh, and my grandfather's younger brother was named after their father, just as my dad, the second son, was.