By Any Other Name

The older woman had white hair dyed pink. It looked pretty, but a tad unusual. She held out her right hand and introduced herself, “Hi, I go by the name Pinky!”

In my line of work, I felt free to ask personal questions. Glancing at her hot pink sweatshirt and black jeans, I questioned with interest, “Pinky is an unusual nickname. How did you get it?”

Grinning broadly, Pinky explained, “When I was a toddler, my Mama had a baby, so my sister and I stayed for a week with Grandma and Grandpa. One afternoon Grandpa wanted to take us to the park. My sister and I were excited but had to change clothes to leave the house. I insisted on wearing my pink pinafore, but Grandma couldn’t find it. I had a huge tantrum and refused to leave the house. It was the pink play suit, or nothing. For the rest of Grandpa’s life, he called me Pinky. Eventually so did everyone else. Most people don’t even know my real name.”   

I laughed, “I like your family story.” Looking at her pink tresses, I added, “I also like how you’ve embraced your nickname.” Pinky proudly patted her pink head.

A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, according to William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. But in the bible story about Job, chapter 34 verse 3, Elihu said, “The ear tests words, as the tongue tastes food.” That verse rings more to the truth to me.

The sound of a name and the mental picture we conjure up to go with it, flavors our perception of the person before getting to know them. If this were not so, why do families agonize so over naming children? I remember hearing my daughter and her husband discuss possible names for a baby. If a mean grade school classmate had the name one or the other suggested, it was no go.

I’m fascinated by the names people pick for their children. I’ve noticed that some parents pick a letter from the alphabet to start all of their children’s names. The letter D would be fairly easy, even if you had several children. But parents who pick Z probably shouldn’t plan on having a large family unless they were willing to name their children Zindy, Zandra, Zam and Zott. One mother, I’ve been told, named her babies alphabetically. She only got to G.  

I suspect some people who have highly planned family birth-certificate-names wish they had an interesting nickname. But true nicknames are funny things. They are usually neither sought out, nor planned but given at a young age and endure for a lifetime.

I’ve known men named “Red” because of their hair color, “Slim” because they were tall and thin. Paradoxically, I also know someone who went by the name “Tiny” but was anything but tiny! Maybe he had been a preemie?

Nicknames are fun but pseudonyms perplex me. When graduating from high school, I discovered a classmate I knew as Jim had the name William on his birth certificate. A girl named Sarah, went by Sally. I wondered, “If these families had wanted to name them Jim or Sally, why wasn’t that on the certificate?”

Pseudonyms are probably more common than we know. I worked with a fifty-year-old woman who helped move her mother into assisted-living. She discovered that her mother’s birth name was really Ruth, not Jeannette.

The mystery of pseudonyms extends even into my husband’s family. I was surprised to learn that his mother Lorraine, was registered as Eunice Lorraine. Many years later it made a weird sort of convoluted sense to me when I discovered Lorraine’s mother Fern had entered this world as Flora Fern.

I have a love-hate relationship with my own name. When I want to feel grown-up, I can go by my full name, Kathleen. An ex-boyfriend once told me that Linda was the most feminine name in this world. If he had been smart, he would have said Kathy!

The name Kathy seems childish and very common. I have often joked that between the years of 1945 and 1965, one third of all baby girls were given a name that shortens to Kathy. As a child I wished I had had a romantic name like Victoria.

It’s true that if I had any other name, I would still be the same person most people know as Kathy, but my ears love how pretty the name Kathy sounds when said by the people I love.

One thought on “By Any Other Name

  1. Very interesting story—thanks for sharing! Names certainly do cause questions, anxiety & great love—exciting to hear why folks have certain names!!!

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