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Shell Shocked: What’s in a name?

By Staff | May 18, 2016

Don’t you think we’re going a bit overboard on the names we stick our newborn with? My niece named her third boy Harrison. By the time he was a year old her friends and relatives began to call him Harry. She was horrified.

It hadn’t occurred to her that the shorter version of Harrison was Harry. In her view she had named her son to be a Harrison and not a Harry. She decided that from that point on “Shea” was the shorter version of Harrison. And so Harrison became Shea even though his mom didn’t change his given name legally. In later years when asked what Shea was short for he couldn’t say Sheavin, or Sheaston, or even Sheabian. He would have to say Harrison, which would elicit arched eyebrows.

How could he tell his friends that he’d be known as Harry if his mom hadn’t gotten upper crust on him? Does anyone ever call Harrison Ford “Harry?” I’ve never heard him referred to that way. There are certain first names that truly don’t lend themselves to shorter versions. It’s okay for Gerald and Jerome to be called Jerry. But do you ever hear LeBron James being called Lee?

Tim is for Timothy, Dick is for Richard, Greg is for Gregory and Bob is for Robert. But have you heard of these famous actors being called Greg Peck, John Depp, Jerry Irons and Larry Olivier? And how do you use the diminutive for Placido, Marcello, Lyndon and Ulysses?

Moms and dads, when you name your first child you need to consider the lifelong effect of what a name can be shortened to. My given name is Arthur. I started out in life as Arthur, and then segued into Artie and eventually Art. No one calls me Arthur anymore unless they’re trying to elicit a childhood response like choking them.

If someone calls me Arthur then I immediately go for the jugular and call that person by his full given name. Thus I would call Al “Alfred,” Mort “Morton,” Marv “Marvin” and Dick “Richard.” All of these names are fairly commonplace these days and it doesn’t take much to know the longer version of each.

But there’s a decided trend these days to find unusual and very uncommon first names. The Tom, Dick and Harrys are from earlier generations. Today’s first names include America, Braylon, Ezequiel, Harmony, Precious, Tiberius, Jayceson, and Liberty. So is the shorter version of America “Amy?” “Bray” for Braylon? “E.Z. for Exequiel? And “Harry” for Harmony? It looks like we’re back to Harry again.

Despite this new first name naming revolution there’s still one old standby that never seems to change despite the shift in generations. And that’s the surname “Smith.” And Smith is followed by Johnson, Williams and Jones in usage and popularity.

Among the most popular and common first names of boys and girls during the past 100 years are James, John, Patricia and Linda. And the two most popular current names are Emma and Noah. But to be common is to be common. The new names seem to be whatever comes into parents’ heads when the thrill of birth takes place. And those names can range from “Carburetor” to “Uppersaddleriver.”

My guess for the most popular name in 10 years will be Trump Smith.

-Art Stevens is a long-time columnist for The Islander. His tongue-in-cheek humor is always offered with a smile.