July 23, 2006

What's in a Name?

When I was born, my parents, in their great sagaciousness, opted to give me just two names: a first and a last. Whatever profound inspiration guided their decision, I was forever destined to leave a blank when instructed to fill in either my middle name or middle initial.

I'm sure they meant no harm. Don't get me wrong, I am truly grateful for the names I was given. But being known as "Suzanne (nmn) SecretSurname" is a terrible fate for a child to endure. Yet I kept on keeping on. What choice did I have? Akin to A Boy Named Sue, the lack of a middle name made me stronger, thickly calloused to the stigma heaped upon me by those more abundantly name-endowed.

My eighteenth birthday rolled around. My father, knowing by then how I mourned my dearth of name quantity, offered as his gift the opportunity to choose my own middle name with all the inherent legal folderol.

I was unprepared for my mother's reaction. She was decidedly displeased. But I was almost 18 and, typical of a teenager, more focused on my own desires rather than those of my mother. I accepted my dad's offer.

My search for a middle name began. It was arduous. It was intense. I mean seriously. Think about it. I was to choose my own name? I tried on thousands, from the ludicrous to the mundane. I made lists and crossed things off. I said them outloud and practiced signing them. I asked the opinion of others in my family. I did not ask my mother. She was not of the mind to be a fair judge.

In the end I chose a new first name instead, scooting my former first name over into the no-longer-vacant middle name slot.

Now you know: "Suzanne" is my middle name. My first name is rarely used, most often as merely an initial perching authoritatively in front of "Suzanne." It adds, I tell myself, an aura of panache to my signature and confuses people who know me only as "Suzanne."

My name experience naturally came to mind when I became pregnant. Being in the era prior to routine ultrasounds, we didn't know The Boy was going to be a boy. But since I really wanted a boy, I upped the odds in my favor by telling everyone I really wanted a girl. (Isn't that the way it works? It was for me. Tell not my true desire or it won't come true. I'm certain my strategy influenced the end result. I have since outgrown that approach.)

So certain was I of my success in producing what I secretly desired, I didn't spend too much time thinking about girl names.

But oh how I agonized over a boy name! It must be strong. It must roll off the tongue with a pleasant cadence. It must not lend itself easily to mockery and unpleasant nicknames. It must reflect his heritage and tie him inextricably to his familial genus. An added bonus would be for the first and middle names to be easy to spell and pronounce, considering his SecretSurname was predestined to be butchered in both oral and written forms throughout his lifetime. (Trust me on that. It is an unavoidable reality.)

Now, with wisdom only maturity can bring, I completely understand why my own name dissatisfaction had wounded my mother. If The Boy were to change his name or express displeasure with the one chosen so carefully for him, I would surely snivel and whine.

I don't really know if The Boy likes his name. He's never said one way or the other. Truly he must, as it is perfect for him.

Perhaps I'll ask some day.
Then again, perhaps I won't.
What if I don't like the answer?



Gina said...

I'm not really that thrilled with my first name, but my maiden last name was nine letters long, so I think my parents were just looking to keep it really short.

And I did the same thing going over names for Mr. P, it took us forever to agree on one.

Interesting that you chose a new first name, but still use Suzanne.

sporksforall said...

I'll echo Gina's sentiment that choosing a new name and putting it first is pretty provacative. I always wanted to be an initial followed by a name. But given my middle name, that wouldn't work out so well.

Taradharma said...

I'm always amazed at how important our names are. Who would I be if I went by a different name? Would that make me different from who I am?

I named my daughter Laurel, which I love, but most of the aunts, uncles, grandparents were, like, "WTF?" So as an offering, we gave her a family middle name. That seemed to calm them all down.

Too weird. Maybe you don't want to ask the boy....

Sapphique said...

I chose my name when I came out (and it's NOT Sapphique in real life, needless to say) and it took most people ages to remember to call me by my chosen name. However my daughter, who was 3 years old at the time, never got it wrong, not once. Amazing child. Later, when she was 11 years old, she complained about her name (it's very unusual.) We asked her what she would like to change it to and she thought long and hard and then told us the same name she already had except she changed a "v" to a "t" and then never answered us whenever we'd refer to her by her chosen name. After a while, we gave up and went back to her given name. She never mentioned it again. I think the very fact that we would allow her to choose for herself reassured her, and she could let it go.

Elizabeth said...

But Gina...you're such a Gina.

Just think about all the things that rhyme with The Boy's name. If it's a lot of stuff that's not good, then you probably don't want to ask him.

nina said...


I wasn't given a middle name either... but I was given a reason. My mother told me that when I married I would have my last name as my middle name and take my husband's name as my last...that would be a long enough name.


I love the idea of choosing my own middle name though... just the thought that I could do this will save me years of therapy. What do you think of the name Nina?

Anonymous said...

I hated my middle name. It sounded like a boy's name! People teased about it. Question for you, does "The Boy" ever read your blog? I am sure he's a busy bee and all, but maybe he would tell you what he thinks if he knew you wondered. Most good sons are eager to please so even if he hated his name he would tell his mom in a loving way right?! I named my son a very long name, which we have since shortened in a nickname that is very unique. He likes it, but mostly he likes hearing himself being referred to as "The Boy!" I showed him the picture of your son in the freezer case at the grocery store, and he thinks he looks pretty cool. ("My" Boy being seven, you can imagine the laughter that photo evoked!)

Middle Girl said...

I love my middle name, yet I rarely reveal it.

My daughter, who shares my middle name-generally uses her first name & middle initial.

My son doesn't have a middle name-he used to talk about it so much that I offered him the same deal your dad offered you. He declined.

My daughter wonders if at some point if he would be forced to change his name or adopt a stage name.

Son doesn't think it would ever come to that, while his first name is pretty common, the surname is not.

I wonder.

Quite an interesting tidbit (blank) Suzanne (blank).

Anonymous said...

I also was born middle nameless, but my first name more than made up for it. I divided my first name and only use 1/2 of it, and the rest I slid over to my middle. When my daughter was born, she was to be stuck with the name Marianne. I figured that was long enough for anyone and she could choose later. It must have been the drugs of childbirth, but I knew she needed a middle name - if only to know when she was in trouble. So now the poor child is stuck with Marianne Ruth. Oh the shame for her to have a name that is not on the top 100 popular names.

Gunfighter said...

I love my names, bith first and middle. My last name is so common as not to be believed.

I think it is cool that your dad gave you the choice that he did... My brother, who has no middle name, has spent endless years moaning about it.

Anonymous said...

My parents gave none of us middle names because we would get one at confirmation (it's a Catholic thing). Of course, it's not on many official forms.
I used my middle name once as if it was my first and got into trouble worthy of a three-act play.
Names are dangerous.
My partner had a middle name, but at 17 changed his middle and last name to his adopted father's name.
Why did you change your first name and then never use it?

maxine said...

Maxine Lynn is the given and the path to that is odd in itself. My father's father was Max. Plain old Max, much to my mother's dismay. Max died while my mother was pregnant with me, so as dictated by Jewish tradition(not like they were practicing Jews or anyhting), the next baby born would take his name.

I think my mother spent every waking moment after Max's passing hoping for a girl as she was not fond of plain Max and with a boy there would be no modification.

My sister's name is Lynn. She is a product of my mother's first marriage and why I was given Lynn as a middle name I might never know.

The worst of the hateful nicknames really grated on me for a long time, but it is faded now enough that is someone called me Maxipad I would likely laugh hysterically. Equally possible I might deck them.

Anonymous said...

Well Mother,

I must ask. Do you think that the name that you have so graciously bequeathed me is worthy of pride?

I think my feelings about my name are far too convoluted to express in a short blog response. If you are genuinely interested all you have to do is ask me. :)

~"The Boy"

Suzanne said...


Yes, I think your name is worthy of great pride. It is everything I ever hoped it would be and more. As are you.

We'll discuss those convoluted name feelings of yours over a beer next time you're home. My curiosity burns.

SassyFemme said...

When I was a kid I hated my name, thought it much too plain, and all my relatives used my first name (Ann) AND my middle name (Mary) together, as if it were one word. As I grew older I grew to love my name, minus the use of the middle name.

So did you realize your son read your blog before you saw his comment?

Suzanne said...

Yes Sassy. I know he lurks, and has commented once or twice previously.

Secretly I was hoping he'd pop in and tell me how much he adores his name. Instead he chose to be a smart ass, which works for me too... heh. :)

KMae said...

I was born Candace A. Chapman, then adopted at 3 months old so my name was changed to Kathleen Mae Bootleheimer. Well, it's not really Bootleheimer, HAHA but I wont put it out there since no one else here has or does.

So I grew up being called Kathy or Kathymae (all one word) being it was the south. I hated Mae & I hated Kathleen. I started flying in NYC & friends came up from Texas, calling me Kathymae, & it started to spread, which was the worst fate in Greenwich Village... but at least I DID know they were calling me, because there were a gillion Kathys back in my day.

A close friend started calling me KMae & that one got passed around. Doris' Middle name is Mae, so we are "The Maes.." We were going to get a doormat that said The Maes when we bought the house 10 yrs ago, but that never happened.

Teresa said...

A middle name of your own choosing may be the coolest gift I've ever heard of a parent giving to a child. That sounds like one swell dad you've got there. Mothers, on the other hand… Excluding you, of course. You're such a cool mom your son reads your blog!

Anonymous said...

Wow, what an interesting post! I was just stopping by your blog and stumbled across this.

The convention of middle names is a great idea, I think, and a good fall-back for people who don't like their given first names but don't want to go through all the hassle of a name change.

I never really cared for my given first name - it sounded unbearably nerdy, being associated with symphony conductors and logical Vulcans. (A certain Canadian folksinger helped to take some of the curse off of it, but not enough.)

After I converted to Judaism, I had my name legally changed and my Mom just flipped out. I didn't even insist that my parents use my new name, but it didn't matter. But really I think it was a gesture of independence too, because my family of origin (and my mother in particular) were very dysfunctional and controlling.

("Boy Named Sue" ... what an amazing song! A lot of us can relate. And what a radical take on gender roles, too.)

Honestly, the fact that you can write this post tells me that you have a very healthy relationship with him and can respect his individuality. I think he'll be happy with the name you gave him - and if he's not, you'll deal with it fine.

PS - You know, there was a certain Canadian singer who did a lovely song called "Suzanne" ...

The Scarlet Pervygirl said...

I've hated my name since about third grade--right around the same time I became convinced I was worthless and repulsive. And, much later, right around the time I began to suspect I WASN'T worthless and repulsive . . . I started liking my name again.

So if the Boy doesn't like his name, it's not any reflection on how he feels about you, or even necessarily about how he feels about his name. Particulary if you ask him before he's done cleaning up the mess puberty left. Give him until he's at least 23, then ask.

The Scarlet Pervygirl said...

Clarification: I didn't mean to imply that the Boy's opinion of his name isn't a valid one, or that if he doesn't like it it's because he secretly doesn't like himself. I don't think either of those things are true; I just meant that your feelings shouldn't be too hurt if the way he feels about his name isn't entirely positive, because there are a LOT of different things that can go into liking your own name or not liking it; how I feel about my name is just an example of that.

Nor do I think that opinions become more valid after achieving adulthood; for me, though, being asked about my name before the age of 23 was about the equivalent of demanding my opinion about the war in Iraq at 7.00 on a Thursday morning and before I've had any breakfast or coffee. I was projecting my own experience onto your son, and I apologize; I didn't mean any offense.