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Friday, June 8, 2012

Names happen

When I was ten or eleven, and had a new baby sister named Janice—Janice, Dad said.  “I didn’t name her Janus"—my friend had a new baby sister named Kimberly.  It sounded wrong.  How could a kid go through life named for Kimberly-Clark, the Kleenex company. I come from a family that swapped names around, generation to generation.  

In retrospect, it was the cusp of not your father’s name.  Or mother’s, either.  It happened in my own family, right on the heels of Kimberly.  My Aunt Flo, faced with naming her daughter Ethel, after her mother, or Ethel, after her mother-in-law, named my cousin Barbara.  When my next cousin was born two years later, she named him Kenneth.  Barbie and Ken.

My mother was named Lenore Caroline, matriarchal family names.  Her brother, my Uncle Hank was named Henry Melvin, from his grandfathers on both sides.  His paternal grandfather, Charles Henry Rolf, actually had the same name as a sibling who died as an infant.  Except, the sibling was Henry Charles.  Thrifty people, those German immigrants.

My grandfather expected my mother to be a boy.  No girls had been born in the family for generations.  He was so surprised he dubbed her Nicodemus, and she was called Nikki by everyone except my grandmother.  All my aunts, uncles, cousins called her Nikki or Aunt Nikki.  My dad called her Nikki. 

When I married the naming situation was serious.  My husband was adamant our first child would be a boy, and would be named after him.  Another Junior.  When she surprised him, he named her Joanne (after me) and Elizabeth (after the girlfriend who dumped him after high school).  I was not about to have a big Joanne and a little Joanne in the house, and had no problem with Elizabeth, except for its length, so I told everyone to call her Beth.  It’s worked out well.

My second daughter also acquired a name she wasn’t given.  Her father again intended her to be a boy and be named junior.  Foiled again. I suggested a name to honor her Irish heritage, but quit that idea immediately on learning he would convert it to an ugly nickname.  For a girl, he said, he wanted Michelle. The name du jour in 1967.  Of Beetles renown.   She was Michelle from September, 1967 until July, 1968, when my brother and sister-in-law had a baby, and named her Michelle.

“We can’t have two Michelle’s in the family,” Helyn informed me.  Yours will need a nickname.  I protested ours was named before hers was even conceived.  “But we liked the name first,” she settled.  I’d never liked Michelle; Shelly was fine with me.  In truth, I don’t think my husband called her anything but Shelly.  And, my brother’s Michelle has always been Michelle.  A good name for each of them.

My granddaughters have traditional family names.  Shelly used my dad’s sister’s names, Laura and Ruth, for two daughters, and Beth named her daughter Caroline Lenore to honor her grandmother, Nikki.  Her son, France, may still be on the road to his name.  Born William Francis, he got his first name from his father and his second name from the gourmet hot dog establishment in the lobby of the hospital.  In honor of its being open on Christmas Eve, when he was finally born.  We call him Francis, but I’m thinking he’ll grow up to be a mighty tall Frank.
Nikki, standing by her father

Walter Ernst Rolf, Lenore Caroline Rolf, Henry Melvin Rolf, Ethel Lenore Cox Rolf


  1. The family really branched out when they named me lol...but we named our daughter with family names and she did the same with her kids. "A really tall Frank?" What a hoot.

  2. "Thrifty people, those German immigrants" - LOL I've posted about how naming has changed in our children's generation but after reading your post maybe it's always been a complex decision. My wife grew-up next to an Irish family that gave all 4 or 5 girls the first name of Mary. They all had nicknames. Other than a few names that I dislike I don't have much opinion on names. I'm surprised you agreed to the middle name of Elizabeth if it really was because of an ex-girlfriend.

  3. I'm named after my maternal grandmother and my maternal aunt. Edith Ellen, both old fashioned names. The women on my father's side were not to be honored since they didn't like my mother and she didn't like them either. My brother's daughter gave birth this week to her first child. they named that poor baby Mabel Ada. Old before her time.

  4. I really, really don't like my middle name :-).

  5. Well of course you have to use family names! New names are much too expensive! I'm named mostly after my mother. My brother and sister are both named after my father, and every generation has an Everett. A good sturdy name like Everett never wears out!
    A totally entertaining post!

  6. All of my brothers' second names are family names. There was such a dearth of imagination that my eldest and middle brother share their middle names.
    They started afresh with me and, ungrateful soul that I am, I flatly refuse to answer to my full name. I pay tax in the abbreviated version, I bank with it and it is on my passport.

  7. I am amazed you know all the history of the names of your family and I like the name Nikki and Shelley. My brother was named Larry Allen and I am Linda Ellen, after that it was a sister Cheryl Ann and brother Robert Dale - I do like the name Dale quite a bit as it is little used. Some little used names are nice, others are too contrived. My brother insists on being called Robert. I once had a boyfriend who insisted he was Lawrence, not ever Larry. Ha, names and their stories are so interesting, great post.

  8. You are in good form Joanne, that was brilliant. Harry may wish his parents hadn't reused family names; he is named for both his great-grandfathers, but everyone seems to think it is because of Harry Potter...

  9. Brilliant, as always! I love these little peeks into your family's history! Nobody does it better!!!

  10. I have two middle names, Emma and Maria, one for each grandma. I broke away totally with naming my children, my mum was very disappointed that I hadn't chosen german names, but I wanted names for them that wouldn't get them teased at school. When I received the family tree album many years later, I discoverd that my dad's family was full of Marias and Josephs (some Josefs) and on my mum's side there are generations of Emmas or Emilies marrying Bernhardts.

  11. Joanne, your husband did the naming? Really? I'd love to hear more about that because it sounds like you had no input on the decision. And after his ex-girlfriend??? Wow!!!
    My husband and I shared the naming of our kids, using several family names we had in common like Charles (my grandfather, his brother) and Samuel (my other grandfather, his grandfather). I was 37 before I finally had my first baby and he was such a miracle that we gave him two middle names because we thought we'd never have any more! His first name, Angus, came from my husband's godfather, Uncle Angus from Nova Scotia, but it was my pick. I had been scrolling through family trees and I saw that name and went YES! Such a strong name! His other middle name came from my best friend growing up, Mark. When, surprise, my second son came along, we went with Samuel Stephen (after my husband's best friend) Charles. Lots of names for such little squirts! But their first names totally suit them. Sam, especially is SUCH a Sam!
    Sorry for rattling on so much. I really enjoyed your tale of names – obviously it sparked a big reaction in me!!!

    1. And I can't believe I forgot to say this - Angus's other middle name is William, named after my father, who I loved and adored and miss every single day.

  12. I love old names and family names and hate these Hollywood names that are popular today. However, I have to admit to naming a daughter Heather. It came from a book I read when I was younger. Funny thing though, for some reason back in 1970, quite a few girls were named Heather. It must have been a popular book.

  13. I'm the Janice,not Janus, part of this post and I need to chime in that there were rules to our names as well. The first and second names had to have 6 letters each. I think Joanne and I had J names because dad was John, but I don't know that for a fact. Dad did tell me my middle name was from a childhood sweetheart. He may have made that up to make me feel special, but then again, I am special! I am the kid who got to eat toast for breakfast so I wouldn't go to school hungry! I refused to eat any cereal.

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  15. I was named after a grandmother who insisted. Her real name was Mariam but she was sent off to a French convent after being orphaned. The nuns didn't like her name so changed it to Linda. My name is now dated. Nobody uses it anymore and it's oldfashioned. I can tell how old a person is if they share my name.

    I thought your family naming history was pretty neat.

  16. Thanks for visiting my site. Re your comment on Ken and Barbie - we have friends who divorced. He married Barbara and she married Ken. It was their children who pointed out the Ken and Barbie connection.