After 18 Years as YingYing, She Decided to Change Her Name to Something More American

YingYing Shang has wanted to change her name since she was 7 years old. She was teased to tears and made to feel “foreign” even when teachers and acquaintances had not intended to hurt her feelings.

It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to have a weird name until you have one. (That’s why it bothers me when “name experts,” like Pamela Redmond Satran and Aela Mass of Nameberry, recommend names likely to cause embarrassment, teasing and even bullying.) Here’s a quick glimpse of what YingYing went through and why she was so motivated to change her name:

“Having an ethnic name in America has its difficulties. Growing up, my given name, YingYing, was distorted in more ways than you can possibly imagine — sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. The simplest situations that necessitated introducing myself to a stranger would make me cringe in apprehension. I learned to anticipate the extended pause when a substitute teacher reached my name on the attendance list, and raise my hand preemptively to spare them the pain.

“Last name Shang? It’s YingYing. That’s YingYing, with two Is.”

The simplest tasks, from ordering a Starbucks to giving my name to a service attendant at the mall, were fraught with mishaps.

Even when my name was spelled and pronounced correctly, an ethnic name comes with the unshakable assumption of foreignness.

Despite being 17 and supposedly hardened to the cruelty of the world, there was still a particular sting when an anonymous commenter wrote snidely on one of my pieces, “There’s a grammar mistake, but good luck telling someone named YingYing Shang about an English error.”

I’m impressed by the name YingYing chose as her new “American” name, Eva. It’s an alternate form of Eve, a Hebrew name that means “life.” And it’s a short form of Evangelina, a Greek name that means “bearer of good news.” Maybe Eva noticed that girls’ names ending with an “a” are increasing in popularity and that Ava is currently the #5 most popular girl’s name. The long “e” vowel sound of Eva reminds her of the repeated long “e” vowel sounds of YingYing. So after thinking about changing her name for eleven years, I think Eva Shang made a wise choice in selecting her new “American” name.

I’m grateful to YingYing for sharing her story so we’ll be more empathetic when we meet people with awkward-sounding names they didn’t choose and I’m grateful to xoJane for publishing it.

 

 

 

11 Alternatives to Old-Fashioned and Ancient Boys’ Names You Can Use in 2014

I have no idea why Pamela Redmond Satran spends so much time and energy recommending and promoting clunky, old names that are rarely used for very good reasons. I’m referring to boys’ names like Randolph, Archibald, Dashiell, Benedict, Finian, Wolfgang, and Horace, (to list just seven names from Satran’s most recent posts). One thing is for certain: calling out-of-date names stylish doesn’t magically make them stylish. Ralph Lauren loves to study old fashions, but instead of stitch-for-stitch replication of fashions, say, from the 1890s, 1920s or 1940s, or 1960s, he updates those fashions to give them a more contemporary look–so people will enjoy, and look good, wearing them.

Of course, that takes time, effort, inspiration and a desire to be of service to one’s customers (which, switching back to baby names, would be readers). In a previous post I labeled some of Satran’s least usable recommendations odd, old-fashioned, off-putting and ancient. Seems to me an interest in unusable old names could be put to good use by simply refreshing or updating those “dinosaurs.”

Presenting: 11 Contemporary Options to Old-fashioned or Ancient Names for Boys

Randolph Fictional Namesake: Randolph Duke, old-fashioned, bow-tie-wearing Wall Street tycoon in “Trading Places” (1983) as portrayed by Ralph Bellamy.
Instead of Randolph, consider Randall.

Mortimer Fictional Namesake: Mortimer Duke, old-fashioned, bow-tie-wearing Wall Street Tycoon in the 1980s in “Trading Places” (1983) as played by Don Ameche.
Instead of Mortimer, consider Morgan.

Archibald Namesake: Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982) Poet, Playwright and Librarian of Congress in the1940s, ’50s and ’60s
Instead of Archibald, consider Archer.

Cornelius Namesake: Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1807) American steamboat steamship and railroad magnate in the 1830s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s)
Instead of Cornelius, consider Connor.

Benedict Namesake: Benedict Arnold (1741-1801) was an American hero in the battle for Fort Ticonderoga in the 1775 who was passed over for promotion by the Continental Congress. In 1780 he was given command of West Point and, in an act of treason, he tried to turn West Point over to British. Later he served as Brigadier General for the British and eventually moved to Britain.
Instead of Benedict, consider Bennett.

Wolfgang Namesake: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was one of all-time great classical composers and musicians who composed more than 600 works.
Instead of Wofgang, consider Wolf.

Phileas Fictional Namesake: Phileas Fogg, protagonist in the 1873 Jules Verne novel, Around the World in Eighty Days.
Instead of Phileas, consider Phillip or Phil.

Dashiell Namesake: Dashiel Hammett (1894-1961) author of hard-boiled detective novels and screenplays, including The Maltese Falcon, and The Thin Man.
Instead of Dashiell, consider Dash.

Finian Fictional Namesake: Finian, the protagonist of Broadway Musical, Finian’s Rainbow (1947) who moves from Ireland to Missitucky to bury a pot of gold in the hope that it will grow.
Instead of Finian, consider Finn.

Valdemar and Waldemar Namesakes: Fifteen Kings of Denmark, Sweden and Prussia from the 1141 to 1945.
Instead of Valdemar, Waldemar and Waldo, consider Walden.

Horace Namesake:Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65 BC to 8 BC) was known to the world as Horace, the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.
Instead of Horace, consider Horst.

 

Pamela Satran Hides 15 Usable Names In a List of 100 Mostly Unusable, Rarely-Used Names

I have no idea why Pamela Redmund Satran would want to scatter (in effect hiding) 15 usable names in a long list of Rarely-Used Boys’ Names most of which are problematic for any child who gets them. Why? Because they will strike many as cartoonish, odd, off-putting, old-fashioned, ancient, strange and/or unrecognizable.

Here Are 36 Examples of Problematic Names That Aren’t Used Much Any More for Good Reason:

Cartoonish names: Linus, Abner, Casper, Waldo, Kermit, Homer
Odd names: Basil, Eamon, Vladimir, Boaz, Wolfgang, Caspian, Cosmo
Off-Putting names: Benedict, Enoch, Valentine, Ambrose
Old-fashioned names: Archibald, Woodrow, Clarence, Cornelius, Alistair, Thaddeus, Rupert, Randolph, Phineas
Ancient names: Obadiah, Esau, Horace, Horatio, Leander, Ignatius
Strange, Unrecognizable names: Ozias, Osias, Amias

Why would Pamela Redmond Satran choose to hide 15 pretty good names among such a long list of mostly unusable, unusual names. Maybe the idea of discriminating between names that will strike most people as usable and names that will strike most people as unusable is not in her job description. Or, maybe she’s penurious and likes the idea having someone like me organize and edit her list, without paying me a penny.

Here are the 15+ Usable Names Satran Tried to Hide:

Gordon
Grey, Gray
Glenn, Glen
Otis
Ralph
Nigel
Clyde
Clifford
Harris
Finnian
Robin
Wallace
Dashiell
Montgomery
Monroe

Notice, I didn’t say these were great names, but I think you can use them without too many problems. You may think Finnian is old-fashioned or odd. But if you’re familiar with “Finnian’s Rainbow” (a great Broadway musical) you’ll probably think the name is charming and if you go for cool nicknames, Finn is a winner. I also like these nicknames: Dash for Dashiel, Cliff for Clifford, Harry for Harris, and Monty for Montgomery. BTW, it helps to know that Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery (a Brit) defeated the Germans commanded by “Desert Fox” Erwin Rommel at El Alamein.

But Clyde is cool as is.  It was made cool by Warren Beatty who played bank-robber, Clyde Barrow, in “Bonnie & Clyde” and by Walt (Clyde) Frazier of the New York Knicks who stole baskeballs the way Clyde Barrow stole money. Batman and Robin were a great team and Robin pulled his own weight. And if you’re an aficionado of single-malt scotch whiskey, it’s hard not to like the name Glen as in Glenlivet, Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie.

I probably like Grey because of Grey Advertising, Grey Goose and “Grey Gardens.” If you’re looking for a color name, Grey is more nuanced than, say, Red or Blue.  I’d use Grey if my last name started with a “G.” Grey Gordon. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  But, to be honest, I prefer Gordon Grey. I suppose I like Gordon because it goes well with Grey, if that happens to be your last name. Grey Goldberg? Maybe not. I’d suggest Gary Goldberg, but Gary isn’t on Satran’s list.

Can you see how baby-naming is about finding exactly the right name–with the right meaning, the right sound and the right vibe? Take your time; it helps to weigh all your options over a seven or eight month period. Here’s an important take-away: Never look for names in a list created by someone who doesn’t care enough to sort out the most usable names from the least.

 

 

 

 

Isaac (Hanson Brothers) Hanson Announces the Birth of a Baby Girl with Two Musical Names: Nina Odette

Sometimes those short birth announcement stories in PEOPLE provide an interesting slant on celebrity baby names. I read the news–that Isaac Hanson and wife Nikki had given birth to their first daughter, Nina Odette quickly. I slowed down when I got to the part about Nina’s older brothers: Clarke Everett (who will turn 7 next month) and James Monroe (5 ½). Here’s what caught my attention: when Hanson said, “I know that Everett and Monroe are excited about being big brothers.”

Now you’re probably wondering: What’s the big deal about Everett and Monroe? Did you notice that Hanson referred to both of his boys by their middle names, not their first names? Consider this:

-Their baby girl’s middle name, Odette, may be more important than Nina in the Hanson household.

-I flip out when some celebs (like Thandie Newton) give their children middle names (like Jomba) that are unfamiliar and may not provide a solid fall-back or safety option for an unusual first name (like Booker).

Nina is a cute name that has many sources and many meanings. It’s a familiar form of Hannah, which means “gracious;” It’s a Spanish name that means “girl;” and it’s a Native American name that means “mighty.” But what Nina has going for it is Nina Simone: a brilliant and unique jazz, blues and folk singer and songwriter who was a major figure in the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s.

Odette gives Nina another strong name to use as needed. It’s a German and French form of Odelia: a Greek name that means “melodic”; a Hebrew name that means “I will praise God”; and a French name that means “wealthy.” Odette makes up for the informality of Nina. But what I like best about the name is that it gives Nina a middle name that comes with a strong musical pedigree, too: Odetta, a folksinger from the 50s and 60s had a voice so beautiful and compelling Martin Luther King called her “the queen of American folk music.”

With two names known both for music and a strong interest in civil rights, Nina Odette has a promising future, indeed.

 

 

Pamela Redmond Satran’s Latest Post Features 62 Rarely, If Ever, Used Awful, Ridiculous Names Like Nero, Hebe and Lettice

Pamela Redmond Satran has a new trick: She starts her article about “82 Stylish names” with a list of ten girls’ names and ten boys’ names listed among Nameberry’s top 1,000 names parents have clicked on lately. I can independently confirm that a few of those names are genuinely appealing. For girls: Beatrice, Isla, Ivy, Maeve and Maisie; for boys: Beckett, Declan and Finn. (I’ve seen these names on popularity lists in the U.K., Canada and elsewhere. And Finn is on my list of Cool Names for Boys.) But, before I go on, I should probably point out a few negatives among the names Satran describes as being “atop the current style wave.”

Hazel is associated with Witch Hazel, a natural remedy for treating cuts and bruises. Unfortunately, Hazel is likely to be called Witch Hazel or teased as a “witch.” Or Hazel may be called Hazelnut or teased as a “nut,” because hazel shrubs and trees produce hazelnuts.

Jasper, in children’s literature, is an African-American boy who (stereotypically) loves to eat watermelons. It’s an unfortunate association likely to make the name uncomfortable for African-American boys. (However, in fairness, Jasper is also a type of spotted or speckled rock collected by rockhounds.)

Atticus is an ancient Latin name that means “from Attica.” As much as I love Atticus Finch, beloved protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird, non-literary types are likely to confuse Attica with a prison in New York state that was the site of a famous riot, or junk found in the attic.

After listing ten girls’ and boys’ names clicked on by visitors to her website, Satran goes right back to her “old trick” of recommending names that are the same or similar to names she has previously described as having been used by ten or less children in the U.S. (probably because they are so awful, archaic, impractical and/or ridiculous). Here’s how she describes the names she previously described as “cool and unusual” and Satran’s colleague, Aela Mass, previously described as having been found in a cemetery by her dog:

“..here’s a new style wave on the horizon, one that parents in search of more avant garde names will want to have their eyes on. This next wave takes current styles and trends to more extreme levels.” I’ve described this process as being like “alchemy,” a faux scientific process which claimed to turn “dross into gold.” (“Dross” is what the dictionary describes as “a waste product or impurity,” or as “worthless.”)

Question: how can names that parents have abandoned and don’t use any more because they are two archaic, too esoteric, too unappealing and too impractical possibly be considered “a new style wave”? The truth is: most of them are unusable because they are awful or ridiculous names.

Awful, Ridiculous, Impractical and Rarely (If Ever) Used Girls’ Names Included in the List Satran Calls “a New Style Wave on the Horizon.”

Doon: Unfortunately, this name sounds like doom, so it will need to be enunciated very clearly to avoid sounding like a horrible prediction. Literary types familiar with Lorna Doone are likely to misspell the name by adding an “e.” Ditto for cookie lovers. Doon is likely to be called either Lorna or Cookie.

Eulalie: This antique name is a name-book neighbor of Eudora which was recommended in one of Satran’s “Cool, Unusual” articles. Unfortunately Eulalie sounds like Eudora’s crazy older sister. And Lalie as a nickname is not exactly the coolest moniker in town.

Feodora: Unfortunately, this esoteric and rarely-used name sounds so much like Theodora that it is likely to be misspelled and mispronounced—which won’t be a pleasure for the poor little girls getting this name. These are practical problems a lovely meaning (“gift of God”) can’t overcome.

Freesia: What’s Freesia? A flowering plant found in eastern and southern Africa. For non-botanists, Freesia is an unfamiliar, strange name that sounds very, very cold.

Hebe: This name was previously included in Satran’s last “Cool, Unusual Names” article. I pointed out that Hebe is a pejorative slang term for Jews (like kike). How foolish of Satran to repeat this faux pas.

Hero: Another foolish repeat from Satran’s last “Cool, Unusual Names” article. I pointed out that Hero refers not only to a brave fictional protagonist, but also to a big, thick fattening sandwich often filled with “junk meat” (bologna and salami) and a dollop of mayo. In addition to this junk-food reference, Hero is also a “pompous title” like Princess or Queen or Messiah which places a psychological burden on the unlucky child who is given one of these unrealistic names.

Kassiani: This esoteric and rarely (if ever) used name is unlisted in every name book I checked and is unlikely to ever be spelled properly by anyone but Satran (assuming she has spelled it correctly).

Lettice: This name is ridiculous for two reasons: It sounds like Lettuce (a ridiculous name for a child) but it is also likely to be misspelled by everyone but Satran. I was recently reading a book by Alexander McCall Smith which introduced a pompous character named Professor Lettuce. Smith was able to come up with three or four jokes at the expense of Professor Lettuce’s unfortunate name during a single conversation over lunch (which included salad).

Malou: Malu (with an accent over the u) is Spanish name that’s a compound of Maria + Luisa. As if that name wasn’t esoteric enough Satran recommends an even more esoteric name she probably just made up. People would recognize Marilou, but not many (if any) will recognize or “get” Malou.

Turia: This is not a new breed of dog related to terriers. Nor is it a reference tarriers (Irish workers hired to drill holes in rock where sticks of dynamite could be inserted to clear the way for American railroads–who are celebrated in a folk song called “Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill.” This name is probably a variation on an esoteric Catalan name. It will come across as unfamiliar to one and all and will undoubtedly be misspelled by most.

Sybella: This is little-used English form of Sybil, was probably included in Satran’s list because the name Sybil was given to more than ten children.

Awful, Ridiculous, Impractical and Rarely (If Ever) Used Boys Names Included in the List Satran Calls “the New Style Wave on the Horizon.”

Acacius: Acacia is a spiny tree or shrub related to the pea family. And Acacius is a name hardly anyone but Satran will be able to either recognize, spell or pronounce properly.

Cassion: Like Acacia, Cassia are trees or shrubs related to the pea family. And Cassion is another name hardly anyone but Satran will be able to either recognize, spell or pronounce properly–particularly because it rhymes with passion, which is what most people will think the little boy named Cassion said his name was. (To Satran’s credit, she must have used great restraint in not adding Passion to this list of supposedly “stylish” names. Passion is a great name for a perfume–but not for a child.)

Enoch: It should be enough to state that Enoch sounds like eunuch, a term which describes a boy or man who has been castrated. What makes the name even worse is that famous namesake, Enoch Powell, a conservative British Politician famously opposed a law which would have prohibited racial discrimination in his infamous “River of Blood” speech.

Florin: This strange name is actually the name for several different kinds of money: a Dutch guilder, a British coin worth two shillings, and a gold coin used in Florence. It’s like calling someone Dollar, or Dime—which is why hardly anyone has or will use it as a name.

Gower: John Gower was a poet and friend of Geoffrery Chaucer. Unfortunately he’s not nearly as well-known as Chaucer, so his last name is quite unknown as a given name. That’s why Gower appears on this list of rarely, if ever, used names. (Satran passed over Geoffrey and, instead, picked the surname of Chaucer’s little-known buddy.)

Nero: I can’t claim Nero is unknown as a name; it was the name of perhaps the most cruel and inhuman emperor of Rome. Nero persecuted Christians (burning them as a source of light), executed his mother, famously “fiddled while Rome burned” and committed suicide to avoid assassination. I have no idea who would want to name their child after such a manic. Nor can I think of anyone else who would recommend the name Nero. Calling Nero a  “stylish name” is even more irresponsible and absurd.

Oberon: Oberon was the “king of the fairies” in medieval literature and in Shakepeare’s “Midsummer Nights Dream.” High school kids study Shakespeare, which is when a boy named Oberon would start to be teased, harassed and bullied. This is another example of a name that demonstrates Satran’s absolute cluelessness about the practical consequences of using the “stylish” names she so enthusiastically recommends and promotes.

Smith: Maybe Satran doesn’t know that Smith (along with Jones) are the two most common surnames in the U.S. For that reason Smith Johnson or Smith Thompson or Smith Jones will sound like hyphenated last names rather than “given names” followed by a surname. This is another practical issue that should have been obvious to Satran–if she gave it a moment’s thought.

Paladin: I remember Paladin as the name of a TV gunman played by Richard Boone in a TV show called “Have Gun Will Travel.” Historically, paladins were fierce warriors from the court of King Charlemagne. They first appeared in “The Song of Roland” whose job it was to kill the Saracen (aka Muslim) hordes. At a time when gun violence is completely out control and a huge political problem for parents who want to protect the safety of their children against untreated, mentally disturbed people who are able to buy guns in the U.S., I wouldn’t recommend a name that calls to mind the slaughter of Muslims, in the name of Christianity, and a TV show called “Have Gun Will Travel.” Would you? But by now we all know that the woman who recommends Nero also recommends the name of the TV character whose motto is “have gun, will travel.”

If you didn’t believe me when I wrote that Satran’s list of 100 “Cool, Unusual Names” “should have come with a warning,” I hope you believe me now. I find Satran’s complete disregard for practical and moral issues related to baby-naming hard to justify. I’ve praised several of her most recent  articles to demonstrate I don’t dislike Satran personally. Unfortunately, more often than hot, I find her recommendations to be irresponsible and potentially harmful to the children who will bear them. I will continue to praise her good work and condemn her irresponsible work–until she gets the message. As it happens my condemnations of her irresponsible behavior are among my most popular posts. Apparently, many readers find the names Satran (and her sidekick Aela Mass) recommend and promote both egregiously awful and laughable.

 

Thandie and Ol Picked Jomba as Their Baby Boy Booker’s Middle Name

How strange it is to read a birth-announcement article (about a baby boy named Booker Jombe) illustrated with gorgeous 4-color photos featuring beautiful Thandie (“Crash”) Newton and handsome hubby Ol Parker, and think: I need to look up four of those names: Booker, Jombe, Thandie, and Ol. Where do those names come from? What do they mean?

I picked up my handy-dandy name book: 100,000+ Baby Names. Here’s what I found:

Thandie is a beautiful Zulu name that means “beloved.”

Ol is a short form of Oliver; a (Latin) name  that means “olive tree.”

Booker is an (English) name that means “bookmaker,” “book lover,” or”Bible lover.”

Jomba is still a puzzle to me and to all seven of the  websites I visited. However, I suspect it’s an African name that may or may not be related to Jambalaya—a tasty creole dish.

What I’m getting at is: Thandie and Ol have unusual names that are not familiar to Most North Americans. They gave their daughters unusual names: Nico and Ripley, both of which are more commonly used for boys than girls. But they gave their son a first name that might suggest a bookie, a book nerd or a Bible hugger and a middle name that will be a conundrum to most people and most name experts.

It’s reasonable to suspect that  Booker may not like being called Bookie (a slang term for bookmaker).  In that case he’s pretty much left with a middle name that’s “a puzzle wrapped in an enigma.” I got the impression from what I read that Newton and Parker were overjoyed to have a baby boy to join their two daughters. But naming him Booker Jomba is not the warmest welcome they could have arranged.

Busy Philipps on Baby-Naming: Name Your Baby What You Want to Call Them

At the end of her stimulating article about Busy Philipps’ much criticized approach to baby-naming, Sara McGinnis writing for Baby Center asks readers what they prefer: To pick a traditional (formal) name from which nicknames can be derived? Or to follow Busy Philipps’ practice of naming babies what you want to call them?

McGinnis quotes Busy Philipps (whose given name was Elizabeth Jean Philipps) from an interview on “Today,” “Since I grew up with a nickname — Busy being short for Elizabeth — when my husband and I started to have our babies, we decided that if we wanted to call our kids something, we would just name them that thing that we wanted to call them.” Needless to say, Busy is not short for Elizabeth. Liz , Liza and Beth are short for Elizabeth. Busy is either a name she picked up as a child from a sibling or friend who couldn’t say Lizzy or who inadvertently smushed Beth and Lizzy together–or because she was a human version of the Energizer Bunny.

Philipps’ unconventional style of baby-naming resulted in daughters named Birdie and Cricket. I’m not the only commentator who calls these names  juvenile and demeaning. In her interview Philipps mentioned that Birdie might want to be a professional ice-skater or an astronaut. Do you think that the name Birdie would be a plus in either of those pursuits or would look impressive on her college or job applications? Cricket and Birdie may be cute names for toddlers or preschoolers, but those names are likely to be burdens in high school, college and adulthood.

I’m surprised that Elizabeth stuck with the nickname she picked up as a child. The name Busy projects the image of a multi-tasker in fast-mo (the opposite of slow-mo). The best thing I can say about it is that Busy is a unique and memorable name, like Dweezil, Moon Unit, Apple, Peaches Honeyblossom and North West.

Problem is: neither Birdie nor Cricket are “versatile.” Both names work well during early childhood because they sound “cute,” but at some point in a girl’s life, brains, talent and character become more important  than cute-little-girliness. And from that time on, the juvenile names become a burden. I was called a diminutive nickname for my given name through high school and college. The only way I could lose it was to switch to my middle name when I started graduate school.

So if you want to call your daughters Birdie and Cricket, name them Bridget and Christine and call them by their nicknames through the preschool years and then let them figure out which forms of their names they’d like to use as they grow up and get on with their lives.

You may enjoy Sara McGinniss’ article because it comes with some attractive photos of the telegenic Philipps and the two young daughters whom she named after diminutive chirpy critters.