George Carlin has an absolutely hilarious sketch in which he heatedly explains how he hates guys named Todd, not to mention Scott, Jason, Justin and all the other new-fangled names. He wonders whatever happened to guys with ‘real’ names, like Eddie. You know, like Fast Eddie, the poolshark Paul Newman played in The Hustler.
Now, all you Todds and Scotts, don’t get pissed off with me about this, George said it, not I. But, the real point of the issue is, how names, male and female have changed so profoundly over the years as they slip in and out of fashion.
Male babies born in Edwardian times and for decades after as often as not were stuck with the name Edward, consequently we get Carlin’s Eddies. My dad’s first name was George and, of course, the King at the time of his birth (1916) was George V. Georgie-Porgie Bush got his ‘George’ from his father, who quite possibly was named in deference to either the King of England or George Washington, who was probably named after George I or II of England.
Where the hell Ian came from, I have no idea. I hated my name when I was little because I didn’t know any other Ians. Then, when I was about 10 another Ian moved to the neighborhood, and that made it seem more acceptable since he was a pretty neat kid.
But, I don’t want to dwell so much on male names as I do on female. Female names today are profoundly different from when I was a kid. When I was in elementary school we just had a whole slew of Lindas, Carols, Judys, Trudys, Susans, Annes, Wendys, Dianes, Karens, Sheilas, Shirleys, Carolyns and Carolines, Debras (not to mention Deborahs) and a bunch of others. Like you could always recognize a ’55 Chevy, you could also recognize a female born around that time because she probably sports on of the aforementioned names.
The female names I like best, however, are the ones you just never hear anymore. Those were the names sported by friends of your mother or grandmother, depending on your age.
Like, when did you last run into a female born since 1920 who was named ‘Madge?’ The last Madge of my recall was the manicurist who soaked her clients’ fingers in Palmolive liquid. She not only was named Madge, she looked like a Madge. She could never have been a Chelsea, for example.
Those great old names had associations that were either fair or unfair, but all you had to do was hear the name of a woman you’d never met, and you formed a visual image of her. I’ll list a few of them. If one of them happens to be your name, please don’t take umbrage. You might, for example, be an absolutely wonderful Gladys (Wendy’s late Mom’s name, so I can get away with this example.)
Dot: Dot is a waitress in a diner. She has a pencil stuck behind her ear and she licks the tip of it before she takes your order on her pad. She has a heart-of-gold and always makes sure the truckers have their coffee topped up. The truckers love Dot.
Bertha: There’s no way around this. Berthas are big and fat. The name sounds big and fat. The Allies name the huge German cannon ‘Big Bertha’ for understandable reasons.
Lola: Lolas are a bit on the slutty side, but in a kind of sensual way. They are peroxide blondes who smoke heavily and like their martinis just a little too much. “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.”
Wanda: Wandas, on the other hand, are also a bit slutty, but in a more basic manner. Wendy has a perfectly respectable friend named ‘Wanda’ but I always have to bite my lip slightly when she mentions her name, just to refrain from making a lewd comment.
Myrtle: Now, there’s an old-fashioned name with which to conjure. You hardly ever run into Myrtles these days. Myrtles worked in the same small-town bank for 40 years; they were maiden ladies (as they were called in those days), but were quite jolly sorts, and pillars at serving at the church’s annual strawberry tea.
Daisy: My mother-in-law had a friend named Daisy whose last name, before she married was – wait for it – ‘Duck’. This is absolutely true. When the cartoon character came out she opted for using her second name, Margaret.
Mabel: Mabels worked in the local five-and-dime. They were salt-of-the-earth and if you had a question about any of the merchandise you always went to Mabel because she had been working there since Lincoln was president and she knew everything about everything within its walls. A different Mabel was a bar waitress, if you remember the old beer slogan: “Hey, Mabel. Black Label!”
Blanche: Blanche was the head nurse at the local hospital. Blanche RN, if you prefer. Severe but probably attractive in her day. She was rumored to have once had a torrid affair with a married surgeon, who then left her in his wake when he ran off with a comely young LPN named Marcia. Marcias were inclined to be on the cute and on the flirtatious side, in my experience.
Esme: Now, there is a nifty name from days of yore. My aunt had a friend named Esme, born like she was around the time of World War One. It’s a name I want to use in a story and think I shall. Salinger already did that, but since he’s dead now he can’t claim proprietorship of Esme.
Anyway, I could go on and on with this, but will refrain. But, please, think kind thoughts about all the Hortenses and Millicents you might have known in your life – you might never see their names pass this way again.