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Silver Threads: What's in a name?

Bettye Anding

When I was born in 1935, Mother honored my grandmother by naming me Bettye. Of course, there was no final “e” in Mammaw’s version of the name, and since my full moniker is Bettye Ann, I’ve often wished she’d just put that “e” behind the two “nn”s in her afterthought.

I’ve spent many, many years spelling that weird “Bettye” for people who need to know it for one reason or another.

You really have to be careful when you’re naming a baby. Mother also might have considered the popularity of Betty in those days. I guess that 20 percent of the girls living in my freshman dormitory in college were Bettys, so some of us became known by our last names. If you yelled “Betty!” you drew a crowd, so I was “Tucker” to almost everybody pretty early on.

I got to thinking about all that the other day when a young friend delivered a baby daughter and named her Blake, and another told me her girl child will go by Sloan. Nice names, both; could cause confusion down the road.

But then females have been christened with traditionally male handles for years. And they’ve made them their own. How many male Shirleys, Vivians, Evelyns or Hillarys do you know? All English names once given exclusively to the guys. Josephine, Renee, Wilhelmina, Charlotte, Victoria, Roberta, Joanna, Michelle, Pauline and Paulette, Marian, Thomasina, Claudette, Julia are all feminized versions of names for males. Their histories go back a long way.

When I began this column, I wanted to offer some advice to young couples nearing parenthood and mulling over baby names. Here’s my first tip:

  • Don’t get fancy withe spelling of the name you choose. Years ago a syndicated columnist appearing in the Sunday Times-Picayune wrote that he had a new daughter whom his wife and he wanted to name Angelle. But they thought no one would be able to spell or pronounce the name. So they named her “Onjel.” True. And Bettye with an “e” has been hard?
  • Don’t give him/her initials that could prove troublesome. Not just in monograms, but in provoking jibes from other children. Mine were B.A.T. but it could have been worse. B.A.G. or B.A.D. Growing up during WWII, I had a friend whose initials were J.A.P.

Look at this list of the top baby names so far for 2017 (girls first, of course): No. 1, Emma and Liam; No. 2, Olivia and Noah; No. 3, Ava and  Lucas; No. 4, Isabella and Mason. Don’t choose any name on it. Your child could find her/himself in the pickle I was in should there by dozens of Emmas and Liams in their dorms.

Today’s young parents are going back to tradition when naming their children. It began when Emilys and Lydias appeared, children the same age of my grandsons, wearing names I hadn’t heard in a couple of generations. The ‘60s popularity of Mark had dwindled and John, James and Robert were back.

Somehow I doubt we’ll see more than a few Bettys. I think we wore that one out.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at bta7735@icloud.com.