The Name Game

Shirley, Shirley bo burley banana fanana fo furley, Fee fi mo murley, Shirley

Last weekend, on our girl’s getaway, someone asked the question, ‘Did you like your name when you were a kid?’  My nieces, Jennifer and Gina, admitted they did not, but for different reasons.  “There were literally six other Jennifers in my elementary school class of 95 kids.  It drove me crazy.”  Gina rarely ran into anybody else named Gina.  People often misunderstood her name or asked her to repeat it.  And of course, there was the dreaded problem of never being able to find personalized merch such as pencils, bike license plates, necklaces, etc.

A quick Google search tells me that Jennifer was the #1 name the year my niece was born.  Gina’s name, perhaps wasn’t quite as obscure as she thought; #141 at the time of her birth, according to The Goog.  The year I was born, Susan was #3 on the chart, and I related to some of Jen’s sentiments.   There has always been a Susan in my class at school, in my neighborhood, or at work.  At one time, we had three Susans in our office of 20 people. 

I was very sensitive to being teased when I was a kid – a bit unfortunate as my dad loved to tease.  He also loved to sing and there are a lot of songs about Sue.  Wake up Little Susie, Runaround Sue, Susie Q – I’ve had my share of being serenaded over the years.  Johnny Cash had a song that told the story of a man who hated his dad for naming him Sue.  I hated Johnny Cash for writing a song called A Boy Named Sue.  But the worst was when I was a teenager and Phil Collins released Sussudio.  Dad took great delight in coming into my room in the morning to wake me, flailing his arms about in a manner he considered dancing, and singing Su-su-sudio.

The results of my VERY small sample survey indicate that boys are less sensitive to teasing about their names.  Actually, I think guys are less sensitive in general, but I’ll save further thoughts on that for another blog.  Both MOH and my son, Maxwell, had no problem with their name when growing up.  In fact, Max actually enjoyed the playful name teasing from one of his caregivers.  “Max-a-roni.  How are you today?” she would greet him.  He was also called Max-a-million, Maxwell House, and The Max Man.

Max, Max bo bax, banana fanana fo fax, Fee fi mo ax, Max

Max was Max before he was born.  I remember the receptionist where I worked while I was pregnant asking if we had picked a name.  “Yes,” I said, pleased with our choice.  “Maxwell.”  “Oh,” she replied, noticeably lack-luster.  “Is that a family name?”  As a matter of fact, it was, MOH and I both having a great-uncle named Maxwell.

Like Maxwell, some names come and go in popularity.  My mother, Grace, was named after her godmother (who was her mother’s best friend).  Common in the 1930s, and then not so much for a long stretch of time, the name has made a comeback in recent years.  Some names seem to be ageless or come and go in cycles.  But not all names are destined for return.  I’ve got to say that in my lifetime, I haven’t heard of any little girls being named Agatha, Mildred or Wilma, but you never know.

My name, much like me, has changed, but stayed the same over the years. When I was three or four, I had a book called I’m Suzy. Well, right off, my name was spelled ‘wrong’, although my sister did make a plea to our mother to spell my name with the fancy and less traditional ‘zy’. However, I remained Susie, until about the 3rd grade, when I started signing my school papers Susannah. That didn’t really catch on, and I’ve pretty much been Sue since 5th grade. I went through a brief phase after I graduated from high school when I introduced myself to new friends and coworkers as Susan. But the use of my given name just didn’t feel right and it enhanced the feeling that these new friends and coworkers were really strangers who didn’t know me.

And somewhere along the way I grew attached to both my first and last name. Much to the consternation of some family and friends, I chose not to change my surname when I got married. At a time when most women took their husband’s last name, I decided I would not. “But why?” my best friend asked me. “It’s not like you’re a doctor or a lawyer.” But I stood firm. I didn’t become someone else because I got married. I’m still me. Why would I change my name?

Susie, Susie bo boosie, banana fanana fo foosie, Fee fi mo moosie, Susie

Plainwell, Michigan 1974

6 thoughts on “The Name Game

  1. I never liked my name and I’m still not crazy about it. It helped some when Mom told me it was an Anglicized version of her Italian mother’s name but I’m not sure if I totally believed that for some reason. I also made a change in my name at a turning point in my life. For me it was to drop my given name, Joan, to the nickname that Dad often called me, Jo, and it was when I left for college. I’ve found that men, particularly those older than me, don’t like to call a woman Jo but there are less and less of them around these days and I tried to reason that was their problem, not mine. Some family members, particularly MOH’s family, use my given name even though they never knew me back when I used it and MOH has rarely used it when referring to me. Ah well,… Joan, Joan, bo bone. I liked singing the song back in the day but for other people’s names, not my own.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. MOH’s family has a Joan, which probably explains that. Much like your friends call me Susie even though no one else has for 40 years. I think you didn’t mind too much when a favorite uncle used to call you Joanie Bologna. True?


  2. I also kept my surname upon marrying, feeling much the same as you did. There is a sisterhood of us out there. No apologies needed for your choice!
    Also, my first name was originally a nickname given by my Dad but is now my legal moniker. Great column about the importance of our names!

    Liked by 1 person

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