Monday, April 04, 2005

Queen Selma and Princess Patty

Naming a child has got to be one of the most loaded decisions a parent can make.
What do you do? Do you follow fashion or tradition? Plump for originality, or hold out for the tried and true? Do you hang a family handle on a kid that has to be grown into like a pair of enormous boots (Cedric, Percival, Hermione, Eugenie) or do you saddle them with a name that’ll one day sound faintly ridiculous when prefaced with Grandpa or Grandma (Brittany, Tiffany, Cody, Jody)?
(A tip: try your name choices out beginning with ‘King’, ‘Queen’, ‘Prince’ or ‘Princess’. It quickly separates the iffy from the classic, and besides, you never know…)
You’ve likely heard the cautionary tales, and not a few urban myths surrounding unfortunate choices: the Hogg family - Ima and Ura, Mr. Hugh G. Rection, Anita Hoare and so on. I’ve written before about a couple of the odd (real) names that have cropped up in my circle: Verity Cronk, Webster Hairsnape (pronounced ‘Hairsnip’) the Hefflefingers and the Crappers. My own cousin was baptized a Wilma and deserves kudos and high fives for managing beautifully a name that for most of her pre-university years (and not a few afterward) was more often than not hollered a la Fred Flintstone (OH WIIIIIILLLLLMMMMAAAAA!!!!) than mumured passionately into her shell-like.
Some people dispense with imagination and go straight to the internet lists and baby name books for inspiration – a source that gives us interesting insight into the fads and fashions of the times, as well as the speed with which one name or another slips on or off the list.
There are a variety of sources for the top baby names for any given year, and with slight variations, most of them agree: the most recent top 10 (5 boys and 5 girls) for 2004 are:
Boys: Aiden, Jayden, Caden (top three with a variety of spellings) Ethan and Caleb. For girls: Madison Emma, Abigail, Riley and Chloe. I can’t help but feel nearly all of these names will soon be slipping and sliding off the lists like a formerly fashionable Brittany or a Tiffany on ill-fitting inline skates. Or – to be fair - even a Bertha or a Shirley on the old-fashioned roller type, minus the key.
So I checked back in the Social Security files to discover how the cookies had crumbled over the last 80 years or so, looking for trends and longevity. For instance in the year I was born (no fair peeking) Michael, David, James, John and Robert were the chart topping boy monikers, and Mary, Susan, Linda, Donna and Patricia were the overwhelming choice for girls. In fact until 1972 when she inexplicably fell off the list, Mary must have been the single most popular name ever, sitting pretty nearly every year with top of the heap confidence – with John and Robert fighting it out to reign supreme for the boys.
Jane, however, has never once in the last 85 years I checked, even made the bottom of the list.
But there is a sense, a feeling, that with the exception of ‘John Smith’, ‘Jane Wilson’ has to be up there with the all-time most common names going.
Not so.
But it’s not like we don’t exist at all. At last count I heard there were 6 Jane Wilsons in Toronto… not including my intersection.
(Idea for cheesy novel: interwoven tales of Torontonians, all with names recognizable as geographic locations. Ie: Rose Dale – and her twins, the adorable daughter Erin and mischievous Rex. Forest Hill, along with his new trophy wife Summer. There’s that dependable guy’s guy Don Mills. The exotic Queen Bloor - related to Queen Noor – who like the streets, will never have met. Of course we’ll have all sorts of heroic males with blisteringly studly names like Steeles and Carleton and tarty girls with names like Cherry Beach and Frosty Meadows. Just mix them together and watch the sparks fly! At this point, sadly, the name ‘Jane Wilson’ is just too plain and predictable to be cast in a role.)
But popular or not, the Jane Wilsons of this world share an unbreakable bond; a sisterhood of the plainly named: worthy, sturdy, established, even boring – words that could describe the qualities of either a Jane or a Wilson, now doubly dull. No frills = no thrills. And we like it like that!
I’ve come to like having a name that evokes the familiar… the traditional… the modest and safe. As plain as a pat of butter – as comfortable as a well worn pair of shoes. “You can depend on me,” promises a Jane Wilson. “There’ll be no surprises here.” Reassuring is what a Jane Wilson is, and for those looking for a little reassurance in a sometimes frightening, sometimes dangerous world, a little Jane Wilson can do you good.
Consider this: in response to a recent article I’d written for the Globe and Mail about my traumatic adventures in mammography, I received the following:

Dear Jane Wilson,
I'm turning 50 in a few weeks and my Dr. ordered a number of routine tests as part of my annual check up. One of the tests done two weeks ago was a mammogram which showed a dark spot in my right breast that requires further investigation. This morning I had an ultrasound and will have to wait until Tuesday at the earliest for results which may or may not lead to biopsy and surgery. Like you however, I chatted to the ultrasound technician who was very nice and reassured me that the 3 cysts she located appear to be fluid-filled (i.e. benign).
Long story short, you can imagine my reaction to your article on the eve of my ultrasound, first I was kind of creeped out, then I read through it and laughed - it seems we have a similar sense of humour (although I haven't named my breasts - I may after this is over).
Jane Wilson

I can’t tell you how pleased I was to hear that on a bad day I wrote something that made someone laugh – and not just someone, but someone who read it and felt it in a different way. A more personal message, engendering some small sense of hope and confidence during a shaky time, and all because of this odd coincidence between two strangers. We share the same fears, the same trepidation and the same hope; better than that, we share the same sense of humour.
Jane has agreed to keep in touch and let me know how her results turn out, and in return, I’m going to come up with some names for her breasts. All things considered I’ve decided to dispense with fad and fashion and pick a couple of classics that are bound to stick around for a while. I’m thinking Patty and Selma.
Something else for Jane Wilson and I to share.

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