All in a name
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All in a Name

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After giving life to a baby, the next thing is to give this child a name. This is a daunting task, a serious undertaking, thus scary.

Allen (2), Bennett, Gary, Harvey, Jaye, Lou, Mickey, Nicki, Ray, Rickey, Roy, Sioux, Stanlee, Sydney, Toni. What do all these names have in common? They all are the names of FEMALES I have known. I have not included various spellings or all those who have passed through my life. These people have been young and old, American and non, Christian and Jewish, friends, relatives — in short, all over the place. I went to boarding school with the two Allens and we couldn’t even use their last initial to differentiate them because each last name began with F. I have gotten into the habit of asking people to spell their names since even simple, ordinary names have more than one spelling (Ann, Anne) or several (Carol, Carole, Carroll, Karel, Karyl), to name a few.

Jewish Names

In the Jewish religion children are named for people who have died to perpetuate the memory of the deceased. It is also believed that the soul of the loved one lives on in the child who now bears the name. Stanlee was named for a Stanley and a Lee. Different from Ashkenazic Jews (Jews of Central and Eastern European origin), among the Sephardim (Jews of Mediterranean or Middle-Eastern origin) they also give names to children of people who are still alive. That too has merit as relatives or beloved people who are still alive get to have the nachas of being honored while they are still living. In the Diaspora, Jewish babies are usually given a Hebrew name (boys at their Briscircumcision, and girls at their baby naming) and a secular name.

Either way, it is hoped that in receiving the name, the child will emulate the person(s) and carry on the virtues or gifts of the namesake even though sometimes only the initial or meaning is bestowed. These are customs or traditions — not law. Learning about the people whose name they carry is an excellent way for children to identify with the history of their own families and, by extension, the history of their ethnic or religious background. Among Native Americans especially, their children are named after creatures admired by the tribe (i.e. Running Bear, White Hawk) or nature. That is also true of Jewish names (Wolff or Zev in Hebrew).

Naming rules in other countries

In many countries there are laws about naming children. Argentina was one of the first, but now others do too, including China, Denmark, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, the U.S. and others. Most today are related to the internet or forms. The names can only have a limited number of characters, or only use the letters found in the nation’s language or linguistic rules. The name Jose is permissible but not José. For example, in Icelandic Harriet can’t be declined (a complicated grammar rule) and there is no C, so no Duncan. These childrens’ passports say “Girl” and “Boy.”

In Norway a name that is accepted or rejected is based on the number of people who have the name. If more than 200 people have that name, fine. If 200 or less have it, one must ask permission from everyone with that name. Some countries require the name be gender specific and allow no more than three given names. Creative spellings of more common names are also rejected.

In Germany they follow the Standesamt’s book that is “the international manual of first names.” In some countries you can be fined or jailed for not following the rule or not paying the fine. The Saudi government has a list of 50 forbidden names. If a name is too foreign, inappropriate, offends their culture or religion one can be barred from entering the country.  Subjects are severely punished. What most countries have in common though is to protect the child from a name that would negatively affect the well being of the child.  Some rejected names: Fish & Chips for twins, Monkey, “smelly head,” Anus, Satan, Adolf Hitler and Sex.

Celebrity names

Sonny and Cher might have had trouble with Chastity.  Little did they know… Penn Jillette named his daughter Moxie Crimefighter. Then there is George Forman. He had ten children; five sons, five daughters. All the boys are named George and one girl is named Georgette. And now vogue also plays its part. Many girls named Alexa, Karen and Siri are seeking to change their names. Sometimes marriage causes a problem. I knew someone named Rhea. This was a normal name until she married a man named Pollster.

Ada Culturally

There have been fictional characters with the name (the villainess in the first Nancy Drew book, Secret in the Old Clock), the main character in the books / movies: Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to ParisThe Piano and Cold Mountain. The Brooklyn actress, Susan Hayward, played the lead in Ada (1961). I couldn’t believe it when I was researching my “thesis” in my final semester at college about Vladimir Nabokov that his next book was Ada.

Historically too, Ada is a character in Dicken’s Bleak House and Byron, whose daughter Ada was addressed in his poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage as Ada! sole daughter of my house and heart.” Her married name was Lady Lovelace. She is known as the “mother of the calculator and computer.” From modern times,  Ada is in the cast of Eugene Oneill ’s play Dynamo. Ada is also a character in various video games, and an android in the comic book series Alex + Ada, as well as anime in “Pandora Hearts.” There is also a song Ada by The National

Meanings of Ada

Most names have meanings: My name in African languages – First daughter, which my namesake was and I was (and only for my dad). English –Wealthy. French – noble, not the aristocratic but principled and idealistic: not imposing or magnificent size or appearance. I’m only 5’2”. German – though some may disagree, sweet and pleasant. Teutonic – happy. Hebrew – Ornament. None of these are contradictory but sometimes a name has “backfired” like the urban legend about the Chevy NOVA.

Ada as my name

I was named after my father’s sister, who was the oldest and “star of the family” but unfortunately, died in her twenties. Although she was pretty and loved by everyone, I never liked my name. There have been actresses, dancers, singers and athletes with the name but even though Ada has had bouts of popularity it has never been a common name and has been an uncommon name most of my life. Thus I have had problems with it all my life. 

My maiden name was Mark. As a result I was often put in the boy’s roll call as it was not realized that Ada was my first name. As a kid, that was very embarrassing. People often mispronounce and spell Ada wrong, partly because it is not a well known name. Ada is used in African, English, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Polish and Romanian languages and in those languages it is pronounced differently. Since this is not an oral essay you can’t hear the pronunciations but let me try to give a sampling: Aida, like the Italian opera set in Egypt, Ava, Eva, Ida, like “sweet as apple cider,” Adah, Adda or AH-da or Eda. 

People sometimes say Oh! I had a grandmother or great aunt with that name. To help people with my name I go into my routine. I preface it with “I am not judging, getting personal or political.” When I can see they are not disabled, I say “like the American Disability Act.” Sometimes I ask if they are a dentist: American Dental Association, Democrat or Republican: Americans for Democratic Action. If they are a techie, I say “like Lovelace.” That also gives them a mnemonic device for remembering me and my name. Some people have actually said, “Oh what a pretty name.” The first day of eighth grade, my seat mate (Barbara) went home and told her family my name. It became her brother’s favorite.

Coming to terms with my name

As I got older I found things to like about my name. It is first alphabetically, a palindrome, short (when I got married, I had more letters in my last name than I did in my whole name), and now the fact that it is unusual. I can just say Ada and people know who it is. I think it matches my personality. I use my maiden name as my middle name instead of the one, after my great grandmother, Josephine. It is Joan and I feel that doesn’t fit me. My parents felt Josephine was too long between my short first and last name. And yet I had a friend, Trudy (“NOT GERTRUDE”) who called me “A.” Guess Ada was too long! My brother sometimes would call me Ada Jo. Many years later a tap teacher used it to count a beat: Ada Jo, Ada, Ada, Ada Jo.

Finally a story about a former boss, Richard Conway.  What could be a more normal, all American name?  He said he was teased by being called “Dick, the convict,” and “Wrongway Dick.” Thus there is a way to ridicule any name.  So Shakespeare was wrong about names.

Please leave your comments below. 

Read more by Ada Mark Strausberg.

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