Wednesday, 30 January 2013

it's all in the NAME

Getting the name right is a good trick - purely functional or loaded with meaning a name is an introduction to an identity. A handbag is a handbag unless it's named Gucci, and that can make a big difference.  

I've always like my name, in fact I prefer it to any other name I've ever heard. My mother chose it for me.  Darling, romantic, Mum. Her teenage dream of becoming a movie star or a fashion model - Mannequin as they called them then - was dashed by WWII. Her career as an Army Sergeant had been exciting but, after the war she was looking forward to having her own family. I can see her in my mind, from her own description, almost eight months pregnant, curled up on a lounge chair in her lace trimmed house coat, strawberry blond hair draped over her shoulders as she picked up the Woman's Weekly (and they were weekly magazines then). Mum loved the clothes and shoes, hair styles and makeup, which she couldn't afford then, so usually turned to the fashion pages first but there on the cover, six weeks before my birth, were photos of four French mannequins recently arrived in Australia to work - Suzanne Combe, Lydia Lepiat, Janine Lequievre and Maggy Sarragne. In that moment of romance and longing the planned name Katrinka disappeared from my life and in came Janine.

Click on photo to enlarge

Before the purchase of that Women's Weekly my mother had rejected all the names she considered ordinary. Her Aunt Flo, had passed on a list of suitable, family approved names which began with Helen and Elizabeth and went to James and Walter. Not for my mother. She really hoped for a girl and wanted an interesting and unusual name. Strangely she had in mind Paul for a boy. Strange because Mum's sister already had a little girl named Pauline and her best friend, Zel, had Paul on her list for her baby due less than two months after me. I wonder what was going on there?  Paul was born to Zel, and I'm glad she got to use the name.

click on photo to enlarge.
While Janine was an interesting and unusual girl's name, I was given my mother's name, Margaret, the most popular Australian girls name ever, as a second name. 

That may have come from Dad, as Margaret was the love of his life, and sadly also the reason for his greatest heartbreak. In Dad's family second names were used more than first names, which were often given to honour family members.  My Dad was named after his father's brother, who died as a child. As Dad's second name was William his family and friends called him Bill - of course. But not Mum. She preferred his exotic Danish first name which was Peder.  So, if I had turned out as a boy, would I have been Peder Paul, Paul Peder, or Paul William? Hopefully not one of my grandfathers' names - Rupert or Ott.

Amazingly to me, names go in and out of fashion. I once heard a comment on the Mike Walsh TV show that 'all the Shirleys had sons named Michael.'  Fascinating.  I started to take notice and found my mother actually knew two Shirleys, who had sons named Michael. According to a News Ltd analysis of Australian baby names, from 1790 to 2010, the most popular Aussie name is John, with 262,000 boys being given this as their first name over 220 years. David follows with 197,000, Then Margaret tops the female names as most popular ever with 96,458, but has not been used much since the mid 1940s. The next in line for girls names are Sarah (81,195) and Elizabeth (77, 239). There must be much more variety in the names given to girls.

Boys names especially are handed down through families. Is it that people don't use their imagination or are there more important reasons for recycling names - to cosy up to a wealthy relative maybe or ensure the passing on of land?

My grandmother was Eva, a name I have always liked. Her siblings, born in the 1880s and 1890s, were Claire, Mabel, Walter, Ida, Ada and Florence. They married, except 'poor Ada' who died, Otto, Thomas, Hector, Elsie and Gordon. Flo didn't marry but Charles was her lost love. These were all popular names of the day.

They had children, not as many as was common then because my grandmother, and her siblings, made a pact to have only two children each to avoid the extreme poverty of their childhood. Ada and Flo didn't have any children and Ida's only child was a son named Ian. Eva had daughters, Joan and Margaret (my mother), Claire had Yvonne and John, Mabel had Claire and Frank, and Wally's boys were Andrew and John. Not a lot of originality there. In my mother's day the popular names were, Betty, Shirley, Dorothy, Joan, Jean, Nancy and Doris. How my mother wished to be Margot or Marguerite when her father called her by the nickname Peg.

I went to school with the girls on Aunty Flo's list, Barbara, Patricia, Judith, Susan, Carol, Bev, Gail and Helen. There were also lots of James, Anthony, Phillip, Graeme, Norman, John, Alan, Michael, Ronald and Robert though the boys didn't use those names. No, they were Jimmy, Tony, Phil, Grae, Norm, Johnno, Al, Mick, Ron and Bob.

Coming to the generation of the 1970's, my daughters school friends were Kylie, Melissa, Amanda, and Joanne. Elizabeth was still around.  Boys names still included David, Michael, Matthew, Paul, Daniel and John. But other names that would become very popular had appeared;  Adam, Mark, Scott, Steven, Simon, Darren, as well as Julie, Sharon, Kim, Melanie and Fiona.  Still mostly Anglo names from our British past but there was much more variety. Bible names had long been used and more Hebrew based names were coming to the list, like Saul, Sara and Rebecca. 

Possibly my mother's influence prompted me to give my children unusual names and it isn't always easy. You can choose what you think is a totally undiscovered name and suddenly find it's the new fad. When my son Jared was born I thought I'd found a name no one else had heard of, but before he was even six weeks old there seemed to be Jareds everywhere - even actors on TV!  How did that happen?  These days Jared* does not use his excellent name but goes by an acronym of his full name - Jay.

Names can be geographical of course and growing up in Sydney was far more conservative that I realised at the time. Moving to Qld in 1986 seemed like going back in time in some ways, but I found people who were a little more creative and adventurous than I'd known before. Queenslanders seem to accept what they are offered, even if it's a hippie name or the parent's names joined, like Elm, Kallan and Ronosa. I had never before heard the names Desley or Kingsley or Trilby which in Qld went without comment.  In Sydney migrants often gave their children anglicised names but in Qld they didn't and we met Mario, Greta and Davide.

In the years between my first and second marriage I prayed for a husband/companion/friend, whatever, asking God for a man with an unusual name, so I would recognise him.  Of course I forgot this prayer almost immediately as we so often do and it wasn't until Rory and I had been married for several years that I thought... ...... oh!

My daughter's name was considered unpronounceable by many people and I was sometimes referred to as the mother-of-the-girl-with-the-funny-name. In Queensland there were two girls in her class at school with names that were so obscure I can't attempt to spell them.

So here we are in the 2000eens and good old Jessica, Emily, Sarah, Olivia, Georgia, Chloe, Sophie, Hannah, Isabella, Emma, Charlotte and Lily are all on the popular list with Jack, Joshua, Harrison, Thomas, Ethan, James, Riley, Luke, Liam and Samuel, but people are having fun and newer names appear like Sienna, Trinity, Sawyer, Cassidy, Hailo, Queenie, and Deva for girls and boys have Kix, Neon, Pawk, Rysk, Bond, Tron and Zaniel on their birth certificates...... are these designer names?  

Other fads have been - using the same initials for all members of the family, even if you have to spell Colin with a K or stick a silent H on the front of Alan, find unisex names for everyone or give the twins names with the same meaning - Ivan and Sean or Jonathan and Dorothy, all gifts of God.  I'm amazed that people can spell Alicia more than 20 different ways, including such creative  constructions as Alysceah and Aeleeshea. It's a lot of fun. Then you get the family who dropped the ball on one name giving Skye, Blossom and Heath a baby sister named Betsy. 

So, we can drop names, defend our name or drag it through the mud. We can be named, name names or call names. We can make a name for ourselves, be known by name only or be name unknown. But we don't get to choose our own birth name and that makes it interesting.

I love the photo of my parents with Aunty Joan and cousin Pauline. It was taken before I was born, possibly before I was conceived, as Pauline was 20 months older than me.  Sadly, the only person in the photo still alive is Aunty Joan, who had her 95th birthday in 2012. Mum died at 54, of lymphatic cancer, Dad at 65 of bronchial cancer and my cousin of breast cancer in her mid 50's.  

* Jared is a common first name of Biblical derivation, mostly in English-speaking countries.  In the bible, Jared was the sixth link in the ten pre-flood generations between Adam and Noah; he was the son of Mahalaleel and the father of Enoch, and lived for 962 years. (Gen 5:18)  The meaning of the name is 'he who descended' (as in descended to earth). The name could also be understood as 'he who shall rule'.


  1. Janine...yay...I've only just seen your blog and it's fantastic. How I loved reading your blog on interesting. Can't wait to read more :) Gaye

  2. Yay .... I've got a comment! Thanks Gaye

  3. Janine a really interesting perspective on names. I named Jason after having heard it on an insignificant TV show 40 years ago only to find a few years later when he stated school that lots of children were given that name. In high school there were 3 Jason's one year


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