It…looks like the popularity of first ladies’ names falls more sharply than the popularity of presidents’ names during their time in office. But again, it’s not clear just from these charts if that’s a true presidential spouse effect, or just a reflection of the natural long-term trajectory of those names.
From Keith Ng’s My last name sounds Chinese, in response to the erroneous claim by New Zealand politician Phil Twyford that Chinese people are buying up property in Auckland:
The subtext of this story is that people with Chinese-sounding names are foreigners full of cash who are buying all our houses and chasing hardworking Kiwis out of their homes. This is straight-up scapegoating, placing the blame for a complex, emotive problem at the feet of an ethnic group.
Phil Twyford, Labour, and the Herald – you are fueling racial division in this country. You are encouraging people to question whether ethnically Chinese people ought to be able to buy houses. You are saying that people with “Chinese-sounding names” are dangerous foreigners who will destroy the Kiwi way of life with real estate purchases.
“The people of the United Kingdom know the name of a great ship when they see it,” said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Royal Caribbean International. “Like the rest of the world, we fell in love with the name Boaty McBoatface when we heard it, and we knew immediately that Royal Caribbean could use James Hand’s talent to name our next ship.”
The “name our next ship” part is an April Fools’ Day joke, but (as far as I can tell) the offer to send Hand on a free cruise is legit.
Imagine if the plug-in devices that made housework more efficient were, like Alexa, sold with women’s names and talked about with female pronouns. “Could you hand me the Amanda? She’s in the hall closet.”
I used Julie [a “virtual inbox assistant”] only once, sending an email to a friend, copying the app email, with a time and date to meet for coffee. Julie emailed back promptly confirming the appointment, and it added the meeting to my calendar. The product is an interesting idea and easy to use, but interacting with a fake woman assistant just feels too weird. So I shut “her” off. This Stepford app, designed to make my work more efficient, only reminds me of the gendered division of labor that I’m trying to escape.
Can negative first names cause interpersonal neglect? Study 1 (N = 968) compared extremely negatively named online-daters with extremely positively named online-daters. Study 2 (N = 4,070) compared less extreme groups—namely, online-daters with somewhat unattractive versus somewhat attractive first names. Study 3 (N = 6,775) compared online-daters with currently popular versus currently less popular first names, while controlling for name-popularity at birth. Across all studies, negatively named individuals were more neglected by other online-daters, as indicated by fewer first visits to their dating profiles. This form of neglect arguably mirrors a name-based life history of neglect, discrimination, prejudice, or even ostracism.
I remember the day I first learned about her. I was eight. My father was in his chair, holding a small white box. As my mother explained that he had a dead daughter named Jeanne, pronounced the same as my name, “without an i,” he opened the box and looked away. Inside was a medal Jeanne had received from a church “for being a good person,” my mother said. My father said nothing. I said nothing. I stared at the medal.
Parsed from the Greek, necronym literally translates as “death name.” It usually means a name shared with a dead sibling. Until the late nineteenth century, necronyms were not uncommon among Americans and Europeans. If a child died in infancy, his or her name was often given to the next child, a natural consequence of high birth rates and high infant mortality rates.
A post about Union Banner Hunt by Andy Osterdahl of The Strangest Names In American Political History:
Union Banner Hunt was born in Randolph County on September 2, 1864, the son of Joshua Parker and Rachel Howell Hunt. His full birth name is listed as “Union Banner Basil Morton Hunt”, and the 1914 work Past and Present of Randolph County gives some interesting anecdotes as to how his unusual name came about: “At the time of his birth his brother was confined in the Confederate Prison in Andersonville, Ga., having been captured at the Battle of Chickamauga. Hence the name “Union Banner”. Basil (pronounced “Bazil”) is an old family name, and “Morton” is for the great war Governor of Indiana.” This same book mentions that Hunt was “not responsible” for his unusual name and “neither is he ashamed of it.”
Ryder’s unconventional childhood has been exhaustively documented and occasionally used to explain the more disturbing events in her life, but the actress — christened Winona Laura Horowitz and named after the Minnesota city in which she was born — speaks fondly of the four years she spent in a commune in Elk, Northern California, from the age of seven.
Winona’s younger brother Uri, born in the 1970s, was named after cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
Have you come across any interesting name-related quotes lately? Let me know!
Women’s History Month is almost over, so let me squeeze in a post about Fifinella, a rare-but-real name with ties not only to the pioneering female aviators of WWII, but also to Walt Disney, Roald Dahl, Tchaikovsky, and a champion British racehorse.
Fifinella began as a children’s Christmas play. It was co-written by Englishmen Barry Jackson and Basil Dean, with music by Norman Hayes. Fifinella was first performed at the Liverpool Repertory Theatre in December of 1912.
The play — sometimes called “Fluffy Nellie” — “included 14 scenes and a harlequinade.” It was also adapted into the book Fifinella, a fairy frolic (1912) by Basil Dean’s then-wife Esther Van Gruisen.
The next year, an English thoroughbred horse was born to dam Silver Fowl and sire Polymelus. The chestnut filly, owned by newspaper proprietor Sir Edward Hulton, was named Fifinella.
Fifinella went on become the last horse to win both the Derby and the Oaks in a single year, 1916.
That’s the same year English author and former Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot Roald Dahl was born — reason enough, apparently, for him to want to use Fifinella in his very first children’s book The Gremlins (1943), “a story drawing on RAF folklore which held that little creatures were responsible for the various mechanical failures on aeroplanes.”
The gremlins are convinced by a pilot named Gus to make peace with the RAF and join forces with the British to combat a more sinister villain; Hitler and the Nazis. The gremlins are then re-trained by the RAF to repair British aircraft instead of destroy them.
In the book, “fifinella” isn’t a name but a noun referring to a female gremlin. (Baby gremlins are called “widgets.”)
The book was put out by Walt Disney Productions and Random House. Walt Disney had wanted to make the book into a movie, but the movie never happened.
The gremlins “did live on in the form of military insignias,” though.
Walt Disney himself granted at least 30 military units permission to use gremlins as mascots/insignias during WWII, and even “assigned several artists to create these one-of-a-kind designs on a full-time basis.”
Units with gremlin mascots included the 17th Weather Squadron of San Francisco, the Royal Netherlands Military Flying School, and the Royal Canadian Air Force ‘Sky Sweepers.’
But the most famous gremlin mascot, Fifinella, belonged to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), a paramilitary unit of 1,000+ women who flew non-combat flights in order to free male pilots for combat service.
(She had been an unofficial mascot of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), which in August of 1943 merged with another group of female pilots to become the WASPs, even before permission was granted.)
The WASPs put Fifinella’s image on everything from patches to letterheads to matchbook covers. The Fifinella mascot even made an appearance in a mid-1943 LIFE article about the WASPs.
After the WASPs were disbanded in late 1944, ex-WASPs created the Order of Fifinella, a group that was both social (e.g., organizing reunions) and political (e.g., working to gain recognition as veterans).
Finally, one last Fifinella reference: In late 1945, Austrian tenor Richard Tauber recorded an English version of “Pimpinella – Florentine Song” (1878) by Russian composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. One of the many lyrical changes he made was replacing the name Pimpinella with the name Fifinella. (Here’s Richard Tauber singing Fifinella.)
So the name Fifinella has been around for at least a century. It’s been associated with theater, literature, sport, war, feminism and music. Has it ever been used as the name of a human being?
Yes, but rarely. I’ve only found a handful of Fifinellas, and all of them were born outside the United States:
Fifinella Downes (later Clarke), Australia
Fifinella “Fif” Beatrice Evans, d. 2007, England
Fifinella Flavell, b. 1923, England
Fifinella Hill (later Gratwick), Australia
Fifinella Lewis, b. 1914, Ireland
Fifinella Mallard (later Newson), 1901-1969, England
Fifinella Charlotte Agatha Nelson, d. 1947, Australia
Fifinella Patricia Russell (later Ceret), b. 1927, Ireland
Fifinella Silcox (later Mccluskey), b. 1948, England
So it’s definitely an unusual name. It’s also quite whimsical, and it has a ton of nickname potential (Fifi, Fina, Nell, Nella, Nellie). Do you like it? Would you ever consider using Fifinella as a baby name?
A pair of real-life “Danger is my middle name” babies have been featured in the news lately:
Rafferty Basil Danger Wills, born in January to Felicity and Sam Wills of England.
Stephen Danger James, born in January to Telita and Dean James of Australia.
But these aren’t the first dangerously named babies to make headlines. Here are some earlier examples:
Nash Edward Danger Gray, born in 2011 to Jon and Ruth Gray of Nevada.
Bodhi Danger Huxhagen, born in 2011 to Rowan and Belinda Huxhagen of Australia.
Billie Danger Lampard (girl) and Ridley Danger Lampard (boy), twins, born in 2010 to Amy and Glenn Lampard of Australia.
Radley Danger Chapple, born circa 2008 to Peppa and John Chapple (photographer) of California.
Maxwell Danger Rogers, born in 2006 to Chloe Maxwell and Mat Rogers (athlete) of Australia.
Broderick Danger Scott, born in 2006 to Sarah Wilner and Kevin Scott of California.
Jakob Danger Armstrong, born in 1998 to Adrienne and Billie Joe Armstrong (musician) of California.
And I’ve come across a few other examples that never made the news.
So, just how common is the middle name Danger?
The SSA doesn’t publish middle name data, so there’s no official set of numbers we can look at. Fellow baby name blogger Laura Wattenberg claimed last year that Danger was a “really popular middle name for boys right now.” I disagree — Danger is still uncommon/bizarre enough to be newsworthy, after all — but it does look like Danger has been picking up steam lately.
Would you ever consider (I mean seriously consider) giving your baby the middle name Danger?
Author Edward Gorey, born on 22 February 1925, would have been 86 today. To celebrate his birthday, let’s check out the names he used in his most famous book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies (1963):
He used interesting (sometimes odd) names in his many other books/stories as well, such as Ortenzia, Gertrúdis, Jasper, Ambrogio, Herakleitos, Agnes and Basil in The Blue Aspic (1968), Embley and Yewbert in The Epiplectic Bicycle (1969), Lambert, Amanda, Augustus, Emily and Neville in The Dwindling Party (1982), and Theoda in The Tuning Fork (1983).
Do you happen to own anything by Gorey? If so, please comment with a few character names!