What’s in a Name? - Random Reasonings

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What’s in a Name?

When I was in college I had a good friend whose name was Nancy Smith. Which is a rather common name.

Nancy’s dad was Jim Smith, also a common name.

Jim was a PR exec who did a lot of travel for his work.

He found that his generic name was often a common one used by non-Jim Smith’s who were checking into hotels for clandestine extramarital affairs or other reasons when they didn’t want their true identity known.

Jim had a brilliant idea, which was, “What if a big group of legitimate real-life Jim Smiths checked into the same hotel at the same time? What would happen?

And with that idea, he started The Jim Smith Society in 1972 in Camp Hill, PA. It’s still going strong today.

The Jim Smith motto is “We don’t shun fun!” The hotel they used for those first years of Jim Smith Society meetings was the Allenberry Resort.

Back in the 1970s Mr. Smith got this started by using telephone directories at the library to find as many Jim Smiths listed as possible, and he mailed them post cards.

I can only imagine that first gathering of Jim Smiths, all checking in separately at the same hotel saying  “I’m Jim Smith, I have a reservation.” How do you keep it straight as to which Jim Smith is in which room?

I only met Nancy’s dad a couple of times, but I remember him as a really fun out-going guy. Figures, after all, he worked in Public Relations.

It makes me wonder, what kind of fun things could any of us start, based on nothing more than our names?

In 2020 Southern Living magazine published an online article listing names that could become extinct. Carol, my name, is one of them. Seems not many people are naming daughters Carol any more, and those of us who are still around are getting to be of a certain age.

The most famous living person named Carol is comedienne Carol Burnett. She’s 89 years old. Songwriter Carole King is 80 years old, but she can’t be included in my list of Carol’s because she spells her name with an e on the end. Carol and Carole are two different names even though they sound the same.

I’m hard-pressed to think of any other well-known Carols still living; regardless of whether the name is spelled with or without the e. Carol Alt, the former model and actress comes to mind. She is now 62.

In the 1950s, when I was born, there were 222,649 girls born named Carol. It was the 16th most popular name. I guess this means my name is old-fashioned and out-of-date. Perhaps there’s hope. Other old-fashioned names have had resurgences in popularity. Or maybe the grandchildren of people named Carol will embrace the name when they grow up and have children, and use the name Carol.

It bothers me that my name may become extinct. Makes me wonder why. I have always liked my name. When I was in high school I was one of three Carols in my small class of only 64 students.

In doing a search about it, I discovered that 1 in every 21,184 girls born in the U.S. in 2021, from the total 1.8 million girls born that year, were named Carol. That is only 84 out of the 1.8 million girls born that year, so not that many.

In 2019 there were 112 girls born named Carol; in 2020 it dropped to 100. So the decline in choosing the name Carol continues. At that rate of decline, the name will disappear before the end of this decade.

Which brings up another thought to me. It has been one of my pet peeves my entire adult life.

It is that women lose their full names and identities because of marriage. It’s not right. It shouldn’t happen. Men get to keep their birth-given identity all their lives. Women don’t.

It is impossible for me to look up old female friends on the Internet because I’m not certain what their last names are. Imagine trying find my college friend Nancy Smith now! When I Google that name I get 158 million possibilities.

When I first married in 1972 I became Carol Robertson. When I married a second time in 1978 I became Carol Aubitz. In 2014 I married a third time and became Carol Guild. But the people who knew me before all this marrying happened know me as Carol Goodling. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to link all those last names as the same person.

It’s time to get rid of that custom so women retain their same identity throughout their lives.

Which goes back to the fact that the name Carol is associated only with women of a certain age right now. And at some point, any new generation of Carols will be a very small one. Maybe the fun thing I can do next year is reach out to other Carols and start a campaign for preserving our shared name. I know I won’t live forever, but I certainly don’t want to be extinct someday.

“They say we die twice. Once when the last breath leaves our body and once when the last person we know says our name.”

Al Pacino

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  1. Excellent blog this week, CAROL 🙂 Sidney’s middle name is CARROL Hope all is well and you had an excellent Thanksgiving. I agree with you on the name dilemma – hard to find old friends when you don’t know their married name. It is also made harder because of all the commercial sites where you have to pay to search for info.
    I will send you and Dan more information about the Wall project this week. Everything is falling into place. I will get back to you by Wednesday. The charitable account is set up, I just want to be sure everything is done right and the contributions go to the right account, etc. I will also send copies of all the information the folks in DC have provided so Dan can reach out to them to apply for next year. I am happy to coach him on all the paperwork and people to contact

  2. Haven’t done any research, but suspect my name is dying a slow death, too. But I also suspect hard times are coming, and with that there likely will be an uptick in religion…and a revival of religious names for newborns.

    James is a prominent Biblical name. “There are two disciples named James: James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus. Another James, the half-brother of Jesus, was not a twelve disciple but was a leader in the early church of Jerusalem and most likely the one to write the epistle of James.” This and much more from https://www.mckenziesuemakes.com/a-biblical-dive-into-the-meaning-of-the-name-james/

    I hear you WRT females adopting their husband’s surname upon marriage. I don’t think a surname equates to an identity, but that’s just quibbling over the definition of what an identity is, and not the thrust of your argument, anyway. Funny how that works…one could make an argument most husbands should adopt the wife’s surname instead of the other way around. Seems to me most husbands are subsumed into the wife’s family; the wife’s family gets first dibs on the couple’s holiday visits, family reunions, and above all the grandchildren.

    I grew up believing my mother’s family was the benchmark. Nothing overt mind you, it was very subtle. I suspect it’s generally the same throughout our culture. The theme in our family was predominantly that my dad’s family was great, but my mother’s was better, if only slightly. Better food, more giving, less rigid…more worthy.

    My first wife refused to give up her name. We decided never to have kids (biggest regret of my life) anyway, so I didn’t really care too much about that. My current wife did change her name when we got married and I appreciated that she did – but have no idea why the appreciation. She was just honoring convention, but that convention was rooted in obsolete times. My mother was raised to believe her role in life was to be an extension of her husband, she was defined by him, she was his property and her job was to support him in every and any way. My dad had a brother and two sisters and all of them were raised with these expectations, too. Trouble was there was never any justification for any of those notions I can recall hearing, much less any mention of reciprocity.

    I agree wholeheartedly there is no reason for any man or woman to adopt the surname of the other, but which surname should their children adopt? I suggest a wholly new surname be assigned to the children at birth. Some original surnames were based on occupation…Miller, Smith, Baker, Taylor, etc. Other surnames are rooted in color…Black, White, Green, Brown, Black, Grey, etc. Many surnames are rooted in “Son of”, i.e. Wilson, Johnson, Williamson, Jackson, Hutchinson. I’m sure there’s an entire school of thought on deriving names. Perhaps a good start would be to simply provide children with a surname at birth that is simply distinct from either parent..

    Personally, I’m fascinated by American Indian naming conventions…Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, Standing Bear. (Wonder if Austin Powers ripped off the name of a stout warrior named Fat Bastard).

    Enough stream of consciousness rambling. I’ll just abandon this diatribe as is.

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