BN PODCAST

#83 Names and Women’s Rights

J: I’m Jennifer Moss.

M: And I’m Mallory Moss.

J: And we’re the founders of BabyNames.com. 

M: And we’re sisters, too (singing)

J: Yes, we are! And our first segment is always INTERESTING Names we’ve found since the last episode

J: Well there’s certainly a CELEBRITY baby name that is interesting, but I’ll save that for our celebrity news segment. So I want to talk about a tiktoker who got feedback because she named her baby Eleven. As you know, that’s a name from the series Stranger Things, only because the child in the series was considered a subject of an experiment. So she was given a number. There’s a long history of people being referred to as numbers – most of them pretty terrible. Now, you’re referred to a number when the “organization in charge” wants you to think of yourself as part of a unit (like in the military) or to minimize your humanness and individuality. In prison, you’re referred to as “Inmate number” or whatever, and most egregiously, numbers were assigned and used instead of names in Nazi concentration camps to dehumanize those who were imprisoned. These numbers were tattooed on their forearms. So taking all that into account, I would advise against giving a number to your baby as a baby name. 

Now Elevan has that internal V sound is becoming very popular – Oliver, Olivia, Maverick, etc. I have a friend who has a new grandbaby named Carver which I think is kinda cute if the last name wasn’t a reference to a fish. I’m not going to say what it is. But because of the history of numbers as names, stay away from Seven and Eleven. 

M: OK well you are definitely feeling that no towards 7 or 11. I don’t see any reason for the numbers as names things and when we do discuss the celebrity news big thing that people don’t start doing what he’s doing as well. We’re just going to say that quickly. We’ll get onto that later. I have picked the name Olena this time. It is a beautiful and strong name. I learned of it because it is the name of the first lady of Ukraine. The name Olena is indeed Ukrainian and it is a variation of Helen, meaning light or shining light. I think both Olena and Helen are beautiful names and we don’t we hear about any baby Helens anymore.

J: I know, I love that name.

M: And In the last 20 years, it has hovered in the 350-450s roughly according to the Social Security Administration name popularity list. I’m curious to see what’s going to happen in the next 20 years or so with Helen.

So for a boy, there’s that X sound that’s very popular right now. I thought of a name that seizes upon the popularity of the X sound in the middle of names. What about Hixson? 

J: Are you asking me or the audience?

M: Yes, I’m making it up.

J: You are? I think I’ve seen it before. 

M: Ohhh. Well what about Huxson?

J: I’ve never seen Huxson. 

M: I don’t know. I can see both of these names becoming more popular. So that’s all I got.

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J: So the topic of this month is Names & Women’s Rights – celebrating Women’s History Month! We’ll be covering first names, surnames, nicknames, and prefixes. But first, I’d like to start with the practice of women taking their husband’s surname in the contract of marriage. 

M: If you haven’t done so, listen to our episodes about Occupational Surnames as First names and The History of English Names. In a nutshell, surnames weren’t consistent in Western Culture until the Norman Conquest in the 11th century.

J: However, the English common law of the wife taking a husband’s surname began around the ninth century, with something called “The Doctrine of Coverture” was created. Now the Doctrine of Coverture said once a woman is married, she “becomes one entity” with her husband – basically they become HIM so the husband was then in charge of all of her property, her legal rights and decisions. It literally says “the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage” The. Very. Being. 

M: And because a woman was “one” with their husband and considered a non-entity, she, and all children took the husband’s surname.

J: But really the woman never had her own name. When she was born she was given her father’s surname, and then changed to her husband’s. 

Now as we said in previous shows, in upper class society, if both families (husband and wife’s) were of importance, and the names were identified with their class and high station, then often the wife would change her middle name to her original surname – like Mallory Moss Katz. Then those in the middle class followed that trend, because, well they wanted to seem cool and wealthy as well. But that’s not done much anymore, though. 

M: But in the mid-1800s, the United States passed the Married Women’s Property Act in several U.S. states where married women were allowed individual legal status for purposes of signing contracts, going into business, and buying property. Because a woman was then allowed to have a career on her own and “make a name for herself” more were exercising the right to keep their original surnames. 

J: BUT this is crazy: It wasn’t until the 1970s that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Tennessee law that required a woman to take the last name of her husband if she wanted to register to vote. This was at the time of the rise of the women’s movement: late 60s, early 70s, the rise of the ERA and Ms. Magazine. We’ll talk about that a little later. It became an equality issue to keep your birth name (even though it was still patriarchal because it was your father’s). But starting in the 1980s, couples started to hyphenate their surnames to show both were equal, however that practice went quickly out of style after about a decade because it was a hassle on forms and subsequently computer software that didn’t give you that much space. And then what are the kids going to do when they get married  – are they going to have double hyphenated names? Four? You can see how that would quickly be unmanageable.

M: In hetero marriages, about 20% of American women now choose to keep their original birth surname. And that’s actually lower than in the 1970s. In gay marriages, it’s less likely that one partner will take another’s surname outright. Most often both partners will either keep their surnames, hyphenate, or combine the two surnames into a new name – like a couple name.

J: Now there’s another phenomenon in women’s names, primarily in the 19th and early 20th century when women became so emboldened as to start having careers traditionally held by men. And that is using alternative or “pen” name that were identifiably male. 

Some of the most notable were authors like George Sand – one of the most popular authors in Europe in the 1800s. Original name: Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin.

M: George Eliot – English novelist in the Victorian era – Original name: Mary Ann Evans

J: Andre Norton – scifi author whose original name was Alice Mary Norton

M: Mary Shelley who wrote the HIT NOVEL Frankenstein, had to publish it anonymously in 1818 because she was a woman. The public and press  assumed that her husband, writer Percy Shelley was the author, since the book was published with his preface and dedicated to his political hero William Godwin. It wasn’t until 1821 – on the second edition – when she insisted her name be printed on the book as the author. 

J: I saw a good mini-series about that. It was good. AND this is crazy, and I didn’t know this at all until I did the research for this episode, but ALL THREE of the Bronte sisters had male pen names. Charlotte was Currer; Anne was Acton; and Emily was Ellis – they all used the surname Bell. Now when they were asked about it, Charlotte explained, “We did not like to declare ourselves women, because—without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called ‘feminine’—we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.”

M: Authoresses: I like that! And more recently – J.K. Rowling didn’t exactly adopt a male pen name, but she DID intentionally use her initials to camouflage her gender, because she wanted to reach a male young-adult audience. 

J: Now in job searches, studies have shown that female names will STILL get less interviews than male names with the same credentials and experience. Not much, about 2% less. There’s a great article about an applicant named Kim – male – who started putting Mr. in front of his name and his requests for interviews increased tremendously. 

There’s also an article about an Executive named Erin McKelvey who went into the tech industry in the mid-1990s. She was getting 0 response to her resume until a friend told her to gender-neutralize her name. Her friend Alexandra had shortened her name to Alex on her resume and got a much better response. So Erin changed her name to Mack (hey Mack!), short for her last name McKelvey. After that, she got a 70% response rate. 

We’ll link to both articles in the show notes.  

M: Speaking of Mr. and prefixes, let’s talk about the prefix Ms. Prior to the 1970s,  a woman used either Miss or Mrs., a prefix that was based on her marital status. 

J: Right, because of course a woman’s entire self-identity was determined by marital status. Right? If you were MIss and you were older, you were a “spinster” and something was wrong with you. If you were previously married (widowed or divorced) you kept that Mrs. because it had social currency! It meant you were worthy of a man coupling with you. 

M: But MEN had no such designation. Their prefixes had to do with occupation. Mr., Dr.,  Reverend, The Honorable, Sir (if you were knighted), Officer, Deputy. Nothing to do with marriage. So that wasn’t fair.

J: Until 1961 when feminist writer and Civil Rights advocate Sheila Michaels began the campaign for the prefix MS. She was fascinated as it was a term for a woman who did not “belong” to a man in any way. Michaels had first seen “Ms” on an address label on a magazine to her roommate and initially thought it was a typo. The prefix actually dates back to the 17th century Britain as a short form of Mistress. So it dropped out of style then came back to signify a woman whose marital status is NUNYA business!

M: Nunya! Sheila was friends with Women’s Rights activist Gloria Steinem who joined the campaign to make Ms. a legally recognized prefix and decided to make it the title of her new Feminist Magazine, which launched in 1972. Shortly afterwards, a New York congresswoman introduced legislation that said women did not have to disclose their marital status on federal forms. And eventually Ms. was used as a legal prefix nationally in the U.S.

J: Yay! Now prior to the women’s movement, a woman was referred to as Mrs. HER HUSBAND’s name. I remember even mom being addressed as Mrs. Donald Moss prior to her joining the women’s movement. Then she said nuh-uh! And invitations were always addressed as Mr. and Mrs. Husband’s name. In fact, Miranda (my daughter) and I were having this discussion last week, and then she got an invitation just yesterday addressed like that! Even today.

Now, I was watching the Gilded Age on HBO all about NY society around the 1900s, and class and when a woman’s name was mentioned, like Eleanor Hanson they were always like, “Oh, do you mean Mrs. Robert Hanson? Oh, yes, she can be invited to the ball!” Like the status and wealth of a woman’s name was totally dependent on her husband’s name.

M: Thankfully now we can build status and wealth under our OWN names! Speaking of the women’s movement, let’s talk about the effect it had on baby naming. Specifically when gender-neutral names started to trend and girls were also being given traditionally male names. As you might have guessed, both of those began in the early 1970s, with the rise of the women’s movement and equal rights. 

J: Right. Jordan, for example, as a boys name has been on the US charts since the year 1900. For girls, it debuted in 1978. Avery is similar – it had been on the charts since 1900 for boys, but for girls since 1989. Marion, Ashley, Whitney, Courtney, Allison, Vivian and Beverly all used to be primarily male names and now are most identified with women. In fact, the male Allison dropped out of the U.S. birth charts in 1946, the EXACT SAME YEAR it first appeared on the girls’ side. Isn’t that interesting? (By the way, I have a male friend Allison – about my age – who named his son Allison, too.)

M: So WHY then doesn’t it go the other way? Why don’t historically female names crossover to the male side? This is due to the gender-bias that females are “lesser humans than” males. Parents have a big fear that boys will get teased if they have a girls’ name, but much less of a concern giving a girl a traditionally male name. 

The terms “throw like a girl” or “you’re a sissy” or “don’t cry like a girl” all infer that boys having feminine traits are WRONG, disgusting, and inferior. But girls having, and I’m putting these in air quotes “male traits,” like strength and power and intelligence – well that’s okay and socially acceptable. 

J: Many females that were given traditionally male names – like actress Michael Learned – indicated that their parents had the name picked out long before they were born. Or that they only had a boy’s name picked out, or didn’t expect a girl. So what the hell, let’s just name her Michael. My college roommate Archie’s birth certificate name is Margery. But her parents wanted her to be called Archie now matter what gender she was, and she’s been Archie her whole life. I bet if she was born today, she would have just been given the name Archie. Nobigdeal. 

M: I think Archie is cute for a girl! I bet it will cross over. 

J: I hope so! I really like Archie for a girl. Now as we’re talking about name and gender there are some interesting results we’ve seen from our survey on transgender renaming. We have a previous episode on that, too, which is a great one!

M: Yes. Queue up that one after this.

J: Now in this survey, 66% of those who identified as female said it was somewhat-to-very important that their new name was obviously gendered. But for those who identified as male 70% said it was somewhat-to-very important that their new name was obviously gendered. So make of that what you will, but the results show it is slightly more important for trans males to have an obviously gendered name than females. Now the last thing I want to address is diminutive and “feminized” names – and I wanted to include this because I bring it up SO often in our podcast as something NOT to do to babies assigned female at birth.

Let’s break it down. Historically, adding a letter or set of letters, like a, or y or -ette (in French vernacular) or -ella in the Latin languages, served to feminize a name. Examples: Nicolas, Nicolette which became Nicole. Don became Donna. Charles, Charlotte. George, Georgia/Georgette. Michael, Michaela, Stephen, Stephanie, etc. You get the idea.

M: As we said in the names we hate ep, parents are now using a y substitute or -eigh instead of -ee to “feminize” a name Jordyn, Emersyn, Ryleigh, Camryn, Charleigh – I don’t even know how to say that – even Saylor. Somehow that Y indicates it’s more feminine. I’m not a fan but it’s not really a hate situation, I just think it’s overdone.

J: Agreed. But what I do have an issue with is diminutive names or what mom used to call “cutesy” names. Names that are historically used for animals, children, or to indicate the girl is small, petite, or delicate. I think that can have an adverse effect on a child’s psychology and well being. Not to mention what if she ends up NOT being small or petite! 

So one form of this is any name that is a nickname and/or has the short form with ie or y ending like Billie, Charlie, Suzie, Cece, or Jenny. Always give a child the OPTION of having an adult formal name. This doesn’t include formal names ending in the -ee sound like Ashley, or Emily, as those are not child /nickname versions of a name. In fact, there was a recent article about a 5-year-old who begged her parents to change her name from Charlie to Charlotte. FIVE! She said “Charlotte makes me feel strong, Charlotte makes me feel independent. Charlotte makes me feel pretty, Charlotte makes me feel creative and Charlotte makes me feel loved”

M: Wow. I guess she didn’t like Charlie. But what about that name I love… Birdie? Why do you think that’s so egregious (I mean i know because you’ve told me, but just in case someone is listening for the first time).

J: I think it’s unfair to give girls Names that are child-like, baby animals, or referring to something small. We’re talking BIRDIE, Bunny, Kitty (which are all babyspeak IN ADDITION to referring to baby animals). Pixie, Dolly, Baby. Save those for nicknames if you want so they can shed those horrid names if and when they want to. Now one such name, not so much used anymore, was Dotty (nickname for Dorothy) and it’s also a dictionary word meaning of being flaky. Doubly horrible.

M: And you’ve talked about the expectation or characteristic names which we do not recommend -names INFUSED with an expectation like Chastity, Honor, Heaven 

J: (and Nevaeh)

M: Treasure, Princess, Halo, Stormi, Dream, and even Hope and Faith to some extent. Women have enough of a hard time being taken seriously in MANY occupations – I mean, imagine a woman at the head of the board room saying “welcome to the meeting, I’m CEO, Treasure Princess.” Who’s not going to laugh? 

J: If I didn’t laugh out loud, I’d surely bite my tongue. Those names CAN put a woman at a huge disadvantage in business. Now, as we said in our episode “Does a Name=Success” you make your name, not the other way around. But why give your daughter ANOTHER disadvantage to overcome?

It’s also more likely a woman will use her diminutive nickname (Jenny for example) as an adult rather than a man using that in formal situations like work. You’ll see women go by Jenny or Vicky more than men going by Jimmy or Chuck on resumes and bios. Now as our culture becomes more and more informal, I believe that will slowly change.

M: And lastly something I think is just interesting – is that when naming a child after a parent, it’s more likely a son will be named after a father than a daughter named after a mother. In fact, in the 19th century, “matronymics” as it’s called, or a daughter named after the mother – was actually perceived as the mark of a girl born OUT OF WEDLOCK, whose father was unknown or had disowned the child.

Terrible! IT’S A PATRIARCHAL WORLD, I tell ya! We could go on and on, but we’d be here forever, but think on these things as we continue our way through naming our daughters during the 21st century.

M: And if YOU’RE expecting a girl  – instead of using Birdie maybe use Raven. {jenn: YES! }s 

J: Instead of Pixie use Persephone.

M: Instead of Princess use Diana!

J: There are so many strong names or names without a diminutive association, you don’t have to rely on those antiquated trends. 

M: Thanks for staying with us this far, after the short break we’ll be back with Celebrity Baby News, and boy, are we going to DISH!!!

[MIDROLL AD BREAK]

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AND NOW IT’S TIME FOR…CELEBRITY BABY NEWS! [dododoododododoo]

M:    Michael Cera, star of Superbad and several other comedies – like ohe of my faves Juno – was outed by Amy Schumer saying that he is a new dad. Apparently, Michael and his partner Nadine, welcomed a baby boy approximately six months ago. That’s all we know and we can thank Amy Schumer for saying it during an interview or we may never have known!

J:  Nadene? That’s not the name of a person in their 30s. That’s interesting! Well, Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas appear to be getting ready for baby number two. Although the couple remains silent, a source reported by In Touch Weekly confirmed that Sophie is pregnant and almost halfway through her pregnancy. Their first child was daughter Willa born in July 2020.

M: Actress Jennifer Lawrence has reportedly welcomed her first child! Jennifer and her husband, art dealer Cooke Maroney, reportedly gave birth to their first child in LA county, according to public records. No other information about their child is known, including name, gender, or birth date. We’ll bring you information as soon as we get it, we promise!

J: Is it bad that I really want it to be Katniss or Peta?

M: I really hope it’s not and yes, that is bad.

J: Los Angeles Rams player Odell Beckham Jr. has announced the arrival of his first child! The wide receiver, whose team won Super Bowl LVI (laughter from Jennifer and Mallory) you booger. She put LVI. I got it though! OK, so who earlier this month, welcomed his little one with his partner Lauren Wood on February 17th, (There you did it again. Febrrrrruary!). They named Zydn. Another Rams champ, Van Jefferson, had the night of his life earlier this month. On February 13th (I can only say it when I have a British accent.

M: It makes absolutely no sense!

J: Because people say Feb-you-ary without the first R and that trips me up. So on February 13, his team won Super Bowl and his wife Samaria gave birth to their second child: Champ Curtis Jefferson. Hmmm.

M: And a Champ he was! Alright so we cut this a little short this month so we could 

J: Address this last story!

M: Address this last story in depth. Sooo, of course we have all been excited at the gift that keeps on giving to Baby Names, and that is Elon Musk and partner Grimes welcomed a baby girl last December and kept it a secret until this month’s issue of Vanity Fair. And they named her Exa Dark Siderael (SIGH-DEER-EE-EL) with the AE pushed together.

J: Pushed together like Caesar.

M: Like Caesar, but she will go by the nickname Y. Why she goes as Y when her name is Exa I don’t get.

J: Because the boy X-AE-12-blah goes by X.

M: So it goes together. I wonder if the next baby will go by Z. So Exa is a reference to supercomputing a term called exaFLOPS. Do you know what that is, Jennifer?

J: It’s a supercomputing term! OK?

M: Yeah, I got it. Sounds like we both know that. Grimes said that Dark represents “the unknown” and that “Dark matter is the beautiful mystery of our universe.” Siderael is apparently a “more elven” spelling of sidereal, which she states means the true time of the universe, star time, deep space time, not our relative earth time.” She also relates that name to her favorite LOTR character, Galadriel who chooses to abdicate the ring. And whereas I never thoughtI would practice algebra as an adult, but Y follows X, who was born two years ago. X = X Æ A-Xii. At the time, Grimes went into detail about her child’s name sharing that, “X, the unknown variable crossed swords. Æ, my elven spelling of Ai (love &/or Artificial intelligence). A-12 = precursor to SR-17 (our favorite aircraft). No weapons, no defenses, just speed. Great in battle, but non-violent. And then A is for Archangel, my favorite song.”

Jenn, wasn’t there some legal ruling about that crazy name?

J: Yes, they couldn’t use 1-2 the numerals in the name, so they changed it to Xii which is the Roman numerals because they are alphabetical characters.

M: So what do you think about that crazy name?

J: Ridiculous! I think they want publicity and they are using their child’s name as a joke and to get publicity. Now then they created all this mythology around the names to make them sound like they were really thought out. But people do that when they are trying to con you. They add all this detail and backstory. That’s what I think is going on here.

M: You think they are trying to con us?

J: Con us into thinking these are normal names. 

M: Oh okay.

J: And that it won’t affect their children. Of course their children are born into a different echelon than the rest of us. They probably will go to private schools, or be homeschooled or tutored. So I guess you don’t really need to worry about that and maybe by the time they are in elementary school all the other kids will think it’s cool.

M: Who knows. They will be in their flying cars and jetpacks. 

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LETTERS FROM OUR LISTENERS:

J: And now it’s time for letters from our listeners. And we are only going to do one because there is a lot to unpack here. Go ahead.

M: READING

Dear baby names 

How is it possible that you have a meaning for Sergio as servant 

Are you crazy 

That is the dumbest definition anyone could have for an name

It is like I lying [or I think it’s supposed to be SAYING] max es for fart 

Or Elisabeth for [means] but crack 

Please could to do a better job

(THIS IS HARD TO READ)

We have now the Ferrari Sergio 

Please stop being stupid if we will have no choice but to sue you 

J: [read fast and low like an announcer] This email contains private and confidential information. Unauthorized use of private and confidential information is prohibited.

M: I don’t even know what to say about that.

J: Well, okay the Ferrari Sergio is a car so I think what this person is saying, who I would venture to say is named Sergio, just a guess, but now that this brand is here how dare you have the name of servant. But number one, you know we don’t make up the meaning of names. It’s call etymology and it’s the history of name and words. Now what I did is a little more digging on the name Sergio and indeed it is an occupational name meaning servant. Now it comes from a family name from the Latin “survus.” Or it could also come from the Latin “sarica” which was a cloth of wool mixed with silk or linen. So either of these would indicate the father’s occupation because it’s not SAR and it is SER it most likely comes from service. Now we can’t help that it means servant, I mean Kennedy means ugly head, like we don’t make these up. So if this is your name or your baby’s name I’m sorry you should have done your research before you gave your babies that name. I’m sorry because your name is probably Sergio and you are offended and we don’t mean to offend at all but we do have to report the truthful information.

M: And I would like to just say that Max does not mean fart and Elizabeth does not mean buttcrack.

J: It does not. Thankfully. Because we would get a lot of lawsuits from Elizabeths and Maxes if that was the case.

That’s it you guys, we have a new tick-tock channel so visit us at babynames DOT com and we have a lot of fun comment on that particular channel. We’re also on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, so join us and by our friends and we’ll interact with you or join us on our Facebook group: the babynames podcast.

M: Alright Goodbye everyone, we love you!