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TIDBITS: What’s in a name?

Things change with time. Every era has popular nuances unique to that time period. It’s seen all the time in fashion, cars, hairstyles, homes, music, etc.
One trend that doesn’t get too much attention, though, is names.
Some have come and gone. Then come back again. Some have been around for centuries.
Some are religious in nature. Some ethnic. Some don’t have a known origin. Some are just odd.
Based on someone’s age, you can probably guess several names that have been a part of their lives.
For baby boomers like me, our grandparents were often from other countries or the first-born generation in America. Lots of wonderful ethnic names in this group. I’m going to focus on traditionally American names, though many of them are rooted in our ancestors overseas.
For example, two of my favorite traditional names — Mary and Hank. Seems like we all had neighbors or aunts and uncles by those names.
Hank was the guy that could fix anything — the car, the vacuum cleaner, the lawn mower, the screen door. Great guy to talk to. “Hank’s Fix-it Shop” has a comfortable ring to it.
Mary was sweet and sincere. She was a great cook, passing down many hand-written recipe cards and you could smell her homemade dishes from two doors down. She kissed you on the cheek.
Their family went to church on Sunday and if you were screwing around during Mass, Hank’s stern look  would make you stop. Possibly shiver. Even if you weren’t his kid.
Hank’s friends were John, Ernie, Chester, Bill, Vern, Joe, Frank, George and Lenny. If they got into a tough spot, they looked for Al, Mel or Tony. All of these guys had hands as big as garden rakes and could juggle bowling balls. Each had at least one heart attack while at work and still finished his shift.
Mary grew up with Rose, Bernice, Delores, Irene, Dorothy, Betty, Anne, Anne Marie, Mary Anne, Mary Jane, Mary Catherine and Mary Margaret. Between them, they had 158 children. Irene took a 25-minute break while planting tomatoes to give birth to twins, Shirley and Sheila. She made lasagna that night.
Today’s names have become more sophisticated. Their shortened versions i.e., Steve for Steven, Matt for Matthew, Jim for James, Dave for David etc., aren’t used as often as they once were. As a kid, if your first name was used in full, along with your middle name, you could bet it was your mom and she was mad. A slap to the head was coming soon.
Some unfortunate children now are born with a condition known as Inverted Name Syndrome. “This is MacKenzie Kim, Bailey’s sister. They are cousins with Davis Joe, next door neighbor to Wellington Sam, who is buddies with both Foster Greg and Wilson Pete, whose favorite hockey player is Duncan Keith from the Blackhawks.” People with this condition often attend counseling with No Last Name Anonymous, started by Joe Scott, Taylor Ryan and Allison Peyton from Albert Lea, Minn.
Some, newer/less customary names sound familiar and are interesting. Not sure of their meaning, though.
• Laird — child with more than one layer?
• Holden — born with a proclivity to carry illegal substances.
• Blain — very average looking baby with a typo on birth certificate.
• Lance — good guy to have around when needing to impale another guy on a horse.
• Nestor — great appreciation of bird habitats.
• Dakota — indecisive parents wanting to avoid conflict. Carolina’s folks were the same way.
Some traditional names making huge comebacks are really solid — Jacob, Josephine, Gabriel, Emma, Lucas, Olivia and Abigail.
However, a once-common name dropped off the charts a while ago and won’t be coming back anytime soon. Adolph.
Then there is a whole category of names, critically important for humankind — nicknames. Perhaps not as prevalent as in the past, but still necessary for levity. Some get hung on people whether they like them or not. Some stick for the rest of their lives. If you have a really good one, some folks won’t even know your actual name.
When coaching, I noticed a lot of nicknames usually meant players were comfortable around each other. It doesn’t necessarily translate into more wins, but it might be more fun.
I’ve known many guys with great nicknames — Zeke, Butch, Bo, Clubber, Bosco, Buzzy, Flash, Gib, Moogie, Moose and Bags, just to name a few. In fifth grade, George Vezmar said mine should be Bert. It seemed to work. Many of my friends still refer to me that way. It was really cool when my kids got called the same.
Not sure what happened to Duke and Ace, Lefty and Slim, but I hope we find them again. I still see an occasional Bubba, but not too many others. For Pete’s or Peter’s sake, we cannot let this custom die!
So, whatever you’re named, be proud. Whether it’s traditional or trendy, your parents gave this some thought. Or some kid in school said it’s how it should be. Either way, it will be your personality that makes your name unique.
• MIKE BERTOK is general manager of The Times. He can be reached at or 815-431-4014.

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