What's In a Name?

September 1994By Charles Helms

Charles Helms is a Dallas attorney with a D.Phil. in Theology from Oxford. He and his wife have named their sons after the Apostles.

Far be it from me to be judgmental. The names my friends give their children are their business. But ever since my otherwise sensible college roommate named his first-born daughter McKenzie, I've been off the reservation.

What do girls' names like Jordan, Chandler, Avery, Cassidy, Haden, McCall, Brooke, and Brittany have in common, other than usefulness in connoting a yacht club? First, they are unrelievedly masculine. It is as though Mom and Dad were thinking, “We want for young Lindsay to be taken seriously after she is graduated from Princeton and moves to the corporate boardroom. It won't do to name her Mary Margaret.”

Could be. Certainly Mary, Margaret, and Michelle sound a lot more feminine than Mallory, Macey, and Maguire. But why stop at McKenzie? If boardroom virtuosity is so important, why not put the poor kid out of her misery and name her Carnegie or Forbes or Trump? (Still, one thinks of a certain politician named Margaret who did rather well de­spite the handicap of a ladylike moniker.)

Second, these names are unrelievedly Anglo-Saxon and Celtic. Though Yuppie parents loudly yap about diversity, they obviously want for little Taylor­-with-two-middle-names to grow up to be a WASP. She may not be a blue-blood, but she'll need more space on application blanks than a Mayflower prep­pie-with-hyphenated-last-names.

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Pretty much spot on - except re Austin- my grandfather and a devout Irish Australian Catholic had this name- its a variant of Augsutine- and you have at least 2 great and saintly patrons there. Posted by: aconway
March 02, 2007 05:39 AM EST
Aconway is correct: great article; spot on! He's also correct to say that Austin is a common and dignified Anglo-Irish name -- a diminutive of Augustine. The American diminutive is more commonly "Gus" -- for better or worse. However, the vast majority of Americans who are naming their girls (!) and boys "Austin" have never even heard of St. Augustine, save for the city in Florida. As in 1994, when this article was first published, today it is faddish for Pagan or Pago-Catholic parents to name their kids after cities. Thus, like the lamentable Paris Hilton, boys and girls are now called Austin (as in Texas), London, Denver, Phoenix, York, Hanover, Dallas, and so forth. Thankfully, I've yet to meet a girl named Detroit or a boy called Pitsburgh. Posted by: charing cross
March 02, 2007 11:42 AM EST
Brandon is a variant of Brendan - St. Brendan being one of the 12 Apostles of Ireland. My parents were well aware of this fact when they named me.

Its a good article, but I couldn't let that one slide.
Posted by: Brandon
February 15, 2013 01:42 PM EST
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