Baby Names

I love baby names so much. There are very few topics that give me more pleasure in discussing. So I was super excited when Nameberry asked me to write a couple of blog posts them. My first? The outlandish world of Mormon Baby Names. Mosey over and have a read!



We are everywhere.

Unless you are one of us you do not understand the trauma of being one of three girls with the same name in every class you’ve ever been in. You don’t comprehend the pure suckiness of always having to follow your name with an initial because Jenny C. is one side and Jenny F. is on the other.

Sure, our mothers claim that they had no idea, none at all, that the name was so mega-popular. In my case I was named after my great aunt Jennie (Jennie was in the top ten in the 1870’s. Weird!).  But none of that matters when people are trying to figure out which Jennie’s phone number is written on the stall of the middle school bathroom.

It’s kind of a non-name, like having beige walls in a house. You don’t even notice them because they’re so not interesting; so dull; so bland.

In high school the Jennie situation got completely out of hand. In our class of 90 girls there was me, Jennie Davis. Then there was her, also Jennie Davis. So it came down to middle names: her Lyn to my Hildegard.

Yes, that is right. My middle name is the clunkiest of clunkers. The name they give Hippos in children’s books.

When you have one name that is the ultimate yawner you start to love the brazen uniqueness of something completely wacky. I started going by Hildie off and on because of high school. Mostly just to make it easier for myself. Also because I loved being the only person with that name.

Oh yes, except for my mother, Hildegard. She has always gone by Lorie (not sure where that came from) to differentiate herself from her mother. Also Hildegard. It’s the name of an oldest daughter of an oldest daughter of an oldest daughter*. Here are the three of us shortly before my grandmother died (I’m the baby, obviously):

Hildegard means something to me. I was thrilled to get rid of my last name when I got married but there was no way I was getting rid of Hildie.

So what’s the point of all this?

I’m dumping the name Jennie.

I can’t stand it. It’s just not me. Or rather it’s just everyone.

I’m sorry if you think this is completely bizarre. I’m simply trying to explain to you the reason behind it. I will probably remain Jennie in real life. I mean, it’s not like I’m having a mid-life crisis or anything. It’s only that on the interwebs, where you are nothing more than a name and a tiny avatar picture, it’s kind of hard to figure out which Jen/Jenn/Jenny/Jennie/Jennifer goes with which blog. If I suddenly become famous and have to be Hildie all the time, that’s fine too. I am just as much Hildie as I am Jennie.

So, hi there, my name is Hildie! What’s yours?


*I gave Hildegard to my oldest daughter too. But I gave her a buffer middle name in case she couldn’t handle it. So India Jane Hildegard she is.

I had to throw in this cute picture of my grandmother Hildegard waitressing in her hometown of Vienna, Austria.

 Did you know there is a Baby Name season? Well, there isn’t really.  But the Social Security Administration recently released their list of the 1000 Most Popular Baby Names for 2009 (you’ll need to scroll down to the section that says “Popular Names by Birth Year” and select “top 1000”. Also listed are top 100 in each state and top twin names. I love it!)  Which means that baby names are in the news these days.  Plus there are lots of spring births so that makes it baby name season too.

Baby names are one of my favorite things in the whole world.  Like most girls I started picking out names for babies early.  I remember my first list at about age 10.  My favorite girl names were Yvonne and Yvette (um, yeah, don’t quite know what I was thinking).  By the time I was 13 my favorite names were Dana and Dennis.  Fortunately most 13 year-olds don’t have babies.  So my choices were left to mature.  As I got older I got more and more into Merry Olde England.  My choices reflected the delve into Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and the Queen of Outstanding British Names: Georgette Heyer (if you like Jane Austen and have never read any Georgette Heyer, get ye over to Amazon! Her books are lovely romantic trifles.  Very sweet and proper and English.)  My favorite baby names included Ebenezer (!) and Jemima.  But it’s one thing to imagine those names and quite another to actually bestow them on a child who is living in a world of Aidens and Brinleys.

When I got pregnant way back in 1995 the internet was a tiny footnote in our culture and the SSA didn’t have their Master List.  So it was very hard to gauge what was popular and what wasn’t.  First time parents–even today–rarely have an understanding of what names are actually common since they have very little exposure to other children.  For example, before I had kids I loved the named Chloe.  To me it seemed unusual and fresh.  I had never met a Chloe in my entire life. But it has turned out that thousands of other parents were thinking that exact same thought. There was an explosion of Chloes. There is at least one in each of my kids’ classes.   For some reason we didn’t choose it and went with India instead.  I have to say I’m relieved.

Some people might not be bothered that there is another child with their child’s name.  Or several children, as the case may be.  For many years I assumed that everyone wanted to give their child a unique, unusual name.  But that is not so.  Most people find a name that they like and if it turns out that it’s common, meh, who cares?  There is a reason why popular names are popular: they are nice names and that’s why people pick them. I grew up with a common name and I hated it.  Hated it!  I never wanted to do that to my child.  But I also don’t like KRE8IVE names.  They’re just not my style.  In case you have never noticed, my kids names are over to the right.

Here, in a Venn diagram, is how I pick names:


–Let me just pause here to say that if you have picked any super common or made-up names for your children, don’t worry.  I’m not judging you any more than I would judge you for your choice in furniture or shoes.  We all like something different, so no biggie. I might call my sister and say something behind your back, but that’s about it.  Kidding!–

The cool thing about baby names is that they are the great equalizer.  Unlike shoes or furniture or cars, baby names are free.  Anyone can pick any name they like (well, not any name).  You can pick the same name that Bono gave his child, or the Sultan of Brunei or the homeless lady on the corner.  So what a person chooses really says a lot.  Because theoretically the world is a parent’s oyster. I love how free that makes me feel.  

The name my mother chose for me says that she was utterly clueless about what was popular*. I have the worst of both worlds as far as names go:  the super-commonest name of the 70’s (sort of.  I was born Jennie.  Not Jennifer.)  When people yell “Jennie!” I don’t even turn and look because there is always another one nearby.  But it is not spelled the traditional way.  So I spent my childhood without the personalized pencils and bike license plates that all the Jennys were lucky enough to have.  Moral of the story: you can spell your kid’s name any weird way you choose, but it’s still going to sound the same when you yell it across the playground.  In the meantime you’ll just drive yourself and your child bonkers having to correct the spelling constantly.  

I have so much more to say on this topic (could I get a PhD in baby names?  Because I totally would) but Mister is bugging me to turn off the light and go to bed and this post is long enough as it is. Don’t fret, though.  I’ll be talking about baby names again next week.

*She made up for it with her next child.  My sister’s name is Arianne. I was always so jealous that she could call people and just say her first name.  I always have to tell people my first and last name when I call, to differentiate myself from the five other Jenny/Jennie/Jeni’s everyone knows.

You know how I never give out my last name on this blog?  That’s because it’s very unusual and I don’t want my readers who are kidnappers to come and steal my children.  But I have no qualms about telling you my maiden name.  No siree.

Jennie Davis (not Jennifer).

If you google that name you come up with over 13,400 results.  And from what I can tell, none of them are me.

There is a girl in my current ward who is named Jennie Davis and it’s very trippy.  When I first met her I exclaimed, “hey, that’s my exact maiden name!”  She shook my hand and replied blandly, “you’re about the 300th one I’ve met.” Aaah, the perils of being Jennie Davis.

In my high school class there were 90 girls.  Two of us were named Jennie Davis.  So I had to go by my first name and middle initial. 

There is a park in Redlands, California named “Jennie Davis Park”.

Do you think I find any of this cool? I do not.  I always hated having a common name.  Hated it.  I longed to be like my little sister, Arianne.  She could call people and simply say, “hi, this is Arianne” and they instantly knew who she was.  I on the other hand, had to say, “hi, this is Jennie.  Jennie Davis.  The one in your English class.”

My mother claims to not have known that the early 70’s were overrun with Jennies/Jennys and Jennifers.  I guess I believe her, but I still have to shake my head.  How could she not know?  They were everywhere!

I considered changing my name for a while.  My mother told me I’d have to come up with the money on my own.  $50 is a lot of money for a 4th grader.  Especially with all those toys beckoning (I’ve always been entirely unable to save money.  Ask my sister who was always loaning some to me.  Or my husband.  He’ll tell you all about my lack-of-saving skills.)  I thought about changing my name in high school as well, but I figured changing it that “late in life” would make it confusing for everyone I knew. I completely wish I had, but I think it’s much too late for that now.  Having kids make things like that complicated. 

(Don’t even ask what name I was going to change it to because that name is now the password for half of the sites I visit on the internet. Sorry.)

Once I started having children I wanted to make sure they didn’t suffer a similar “generic name” fate.  Even though we have an unusual last name I wanted to make extra sure they were the only kids with their names in their class, if not their entire school. So far I’ve done pretty well.

Jennie Davis is technically not my name any more. I dropped “Davis” when I got married and kept my middle name which is super weird unusual and actually means something to me. 

So the moral of this story is this: if you have a common last name be aware–please, please be aware–that you are going to have to go out on a limb to find your child an interesting name. Otherwise, your child will be writing blog posts in a dozen or two years about the trials of being named Emily Johnson.

P.S. Mom, do not comment about my last name, my middle name or your maiden name! Let’s make it at least a little difficult for people to find me, O.K?

“The List” came out a couple of days ago.  The one from the Social Security Administration that details the top 1000 baby names given in the U.S. last year.  I just have one thing to say:

Dear Expectant Parents,

I know that you are excited about your newborn baby and want to choose a great name for him/her. Let me be frank with you.  If you want to pick a creative, fresh name, then pick one.  Don’t think that you can pick a tired, overused name and spell it differently and that will be just as good.  It won’t.  Nobody will think you are being original or cool; You’ll just look like you don’t know how to spell.  Aiden, Aden, Ayden, Aidan and Aaden all sound the same when you’re yelling across the playground.

(This means you, parents of Dillan, Khloe, Jakkob, Emely, Karsen and Allexus.)

P.S. Take it from someone who is named Jennie–yes, it’s spelled that way on my birth certificate.  It’s the worst of both worlds: the most common name for girls my age, but none of the perks: no personalized pencils, bike licence plates or keychains.