Tag Archives: names

Hello, my name is Marissa. But you can call me…


-Marissa Tomko

Of the sea.

That’s what my first name means.  Not only is it a little weird due to its non-standard pronunciation (muh-REE-suh), but I happen to want to be a fish. That my name has to do with water thrills me. Is it a coincidence? Probably. But I would like to think otherwise.

My best friend is obsessed with tiaras. She always has a bow in her hair, and her birthday is a month long event in which she shamelessly commands our friend group to wait on her hand-and foot—charmingly of course. She’s a princess, aptly named. She answers to Sarah.

My most normal roommate is named Erin, a name which means peace, and is associated with Ireland. This surprised me until I realized that Erin happens to love a good drink and is always the balancing variable in our house. She is a peacemaker if I ever met one.

The point that I’m trying to make is that I believe our names define a large part of who we are. Of course, the definition of everybody’s name does not match them perfectly. But to what extent do our names decide our lives?

According to The Week, names have more of an impact than we realize. It notes research that says there are more dentists named Dennis than is proportionately normal. Personally, I associate dentists with the Hermey’s of the world, but I realize that not everyone believes in elves.

Does having an unique name make you unique? Maybe. But not because your name might be something cool, like Seawillow. (I went to high school with a girl named that. She ruled.) Live Science theorizes that a unique name given by parents is just another symbol of their parenting styles. If a kid’s parents wants him or her to be different, the name is not going to be the reason for success. Chances are, those are the parents that are going to raise their child in a way that cultivates an off-beat outlook on life.

Some names aren’t unheard of. In fact, we hear some of them so much that we might start to develop stereotypes surrounding them. Christine’s (or Kristine’s) are always the voice of reason in my life dramas. The Matt’s I meet are all like my brother—goofy, laid back, and the person everyone wants to be friends with. Don’t want to take my word for it? Check out this thread on Reddit that recently blew up. Matt’s are described as awesome and likable, and the sketchiest people I have encountered are also sketchy to the rest of Internetland—I am not alone!

Associations with names are not just serendipitous; The Week notes that they have the ability to tell the world about our ethnicity, education, and class. Case in point: my name is pronounced the way it is because my Mexican grandmother’s accent deemed it so. Holler at my culture.

There are lots of names out there. How do parents choose just one?! No matter what yours is, I just have one request: have a sweet signature. Nothing is more attractive than a sweet signature.

Image by Alan O’Rourke.

What’s in a name? A Brief History of Pseudonyms

-Casey Klekas

I recently saw the documentary Searching for Sugar Man about a little-known American musician named Rodríguez. He made two albums in the early ‘70s which failed to summit the national stage, despite revealing a brilliant songwriter and talented musician. Somehow his music made the transatlantic journey to South Africa where, unbeknownst to Rodríguez, it became the soundtrack of the anti-Apartheid movement. His songs should have been Billboard hits in America, that much is clear. After the movie, my friends and I debated what we thought was the factor that kept him out of the spotlight. One suggested that a name like “Rodríguez” would have little chance of overcoming the widespread bigotry of many Americans in the early ‘70s. “What about Santana?” I quipped. Did I think a name-change would really have helped Rodríguez?

Had he stuck with his given name, would Robert Zimmerman be as successful as Bob Dylan? Would we still read a “Samuel Clemens” novel (better known as Mark Twain)? Would we care about a “winning,” tiger-blooded “Carlos Estéves”? (Hint, he made out with Ferris Bueller’s sister, Jeanie. He was in there for drugs.)

Many name changes are done for cosmetic effects, hoping to duck prejudice or simply to spice things up. Richie Valens, who gave us “La Bamba,” was encouraged to circumcise his family name, Valenzuela, for obvious reasons.

Joanne Rowling was told by publishers that many young boys would not read her first book if they knew it was written by a woman. She was encouraged to drop Joanne for two initials. Rowling had no middle name, so she used the “K” from her paternal grandmother, Kathleen Ada Bulgen Rowling.

If you happen to be in Oxfordshire, England, you might stumble across the grave of Eric Arthur Blair. The tombstone would give you no indication that the man under your feet also went by George Orwell.

Ringo Starr was Richard Starkey. Muhammad Ali was Cassius Clay. “Tiger” is only a nickname that stuck for golfer Eldrick Tont Woods. Art Vandelay is George Costanza. Tom Riddle is Lord Voldemort.

Sometimes, things just sound better. “Robert Parker and Harry Longabaugh” doesn’t work like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu just isn’t as catchy as Mother Teresa.

The three names we still remember from the Russian Revolution—Trotsky, Stalin, Lenin—are all pseudonyms. Lev Bronshtein doesn’t have the same ring as Leon Trotsky.

Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. is known better to you as Snoop Dogg, Snoop Doggy Dogg, or Snoop Lion. Even Mitt Romney goes by his middle name. His first name is Willard.

But, whenever anyone suggests that so-and-so could never have made it to fame with their “real name,” I just think of the guy in the big house on Pennsylvania Ave. Here’s a list of the residents before him: Theodore, William, Woodrow, Warren, Calvin, Herbert, Franklin, Harry, Dwight, John, Lyndon, Richard, Gerald, Jimmy, Ronald, George Sr., Bill, and George Jr. Now it’s Barack (soon, Hillary?). The fact that Barack Hussein Obama does not go by Barry H. O’Bama is testament that it doesn’t matter much what you’re called, it matters more what you make of your name.

As Mr. Dylan said, “Some people—you’re born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.”

Image by Quinn Dombrowski from http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/4464205726/