What's in a name?
If you're Homer Simpson, all it took to end up on the "A list" of the fictional town of Springfield was a change of moniker to "Max Power." Just like that, doors of opportunity were opened for him in a 1999 episode of The Simpsons.
No wonder some parents start debating their child's name the moment they learn one is on the way.
The names parents choose for their children change very little over the years, but if you asked a group of 10 parents how they chose a name, you'll likely get 10 different answers. Denise Quarales, a patient access services representative at the Medical College of Georgia maternity desk, said a fair number of parents reach her department with no clear idea what they're going to name their child. She estimates 25 percent of them ask for help with names, but most only ask for a name's proper spelling.
"We've had patients who've come in and not even have the foggiest idea what they want to name the child," she said. "We've had patients who give a first name and then nine middle names because they had so many friends who made suggestions. They were names like Crystal and Destiny ... Precious. That's happened three times and I've been here 16 years."
Interest in names is more than just passing, if the Internet is any indication. Dozens of Web sites carefully catalog all the variations and meanings of the words that separate us from a "hey you!" Mark Lassiter, a Social Security Administration spokesman, said the agency'sMother's Day Internet update, which includes the previous year's most popular names, is a big draw.
Breaking down the results by state reveals that both Georgia and South Carolina stand apart from the nation, with more Williams and Madisons than any other name. The most popular names last year for the country were Jacob and Emily.
Ms. Quarales said no name stands out to her as the most popular this year. Remembering the most unusual name isn't so hard, though.
"We had a lady who gave the child the letter X for a name," she said. "We were like 'Do you know what that child is going to go through?' We gave her all these books to look at, and she didn't like any of them. She said that was the only thing she could think of. I said that child's gonna pay to have his name changed."
The heart of the debate is, of course, whether a child's name will ultimately affect his or her future.
Even if parents have planned ahead, it's often a question of whether a name rolls off the tongue or will some day act as an unwelcome calling card.
"Yesterday, a patient named her daughter Karis. I almost said, 'Did you make it up?' I didn't want to hurt her feelings though," said Melanie McAlhaney, a registered nurse at Doctors Hospital.
Libby Macuch of Martinez never had to worry about odd spellings or misinterpreted meanings. When her daughter was born three years ago, Mrs. Macuch did what many do. She and her husband turned to family for the name Rosemary Margaret.
"Rosemary is her grandmother and great-aunt's name on my side and Margaret is her aunt and grandmother's name on my husband's side," she said.
Her year-old son got the same deal.
"William is his father and great-grandfather's name, and McKinley is another great-grandfather's name," she said.
"We're a Southern family, and those are good Southern names. We like the tradition; we like to pass it on."
Her friend Milea Menckhoff of Martinez is used to unusual names. Her 17-month-old son, Conner, got his first and middle name from both her and her husband's input.
"My husband liked the name. He's a Carl, and he wanted something that also started with a C. And I also found out that his best friend's son is also named that. His middle name, Michael, is my father's name though," she said.
Sometimes people become part of a trend without even realizing it. Christy Hobbs, visiting from Enterprise, Ala., with her father, Warren Axton of Harlem, said she and her husband, Stan, named their daughter, who was born in July, Emily Danielle.
"Stan liked Danielle, and I liked Emma, so we compromised," she said. The couple had agreed on the name seven months before Emily was born. "It's just an old-fashioned name, it's not very trendy. Everyone is a Taylor or a Hanna," she said.
There are other surefire ways to insure uniqueness. Three years ago, Zentrell Carter and Adrian Best of Louisville named their daughter Zanbreunna.
"It's just a name that nobody has; it's not that popular," Ms. Best said. She said they settled on the name the day she was born. She's also expecting a boy any day now, and the couple plans to name him Zenquavious. Neither thought the names would have any unusual effect on them.
"People react to how people treat them, not their name. Too many people have names like Sally or Brenda; we just wanted to do something a little different," Mr. Carter said.
Mike Cambell, owner of www.behindthename.com, said it's not the name per se that gets people in trouble.
"I don't think it can have a major impact, but a person with a perhaps more uniquely spelled name might have a harder time in a job interview. Names that are spelled really creatively; it's been sort of looked down upon," he said.
"I liked having a unique name but I've heard some people hate it," Ms. Menckhoff said. "My mother got my name off the name tag from a shirt. Hey, it was California in the '70s."
TOP 10 NAMES FOR 2002:
Boys: Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew, Ethan, Joseph, Andrew, Christopher, Daniel, Nicholas
Girls: Emily, Madison, Hannah, Emma, Alexis, Ashley, Abigail, Sarah, Samantha, Olivia
TOP 10 FOR 2000
Boys: Jacob, Michael, Matthew, Joshua, Christopher, Nicholas, Andrew, Joseph, Daniel, Tyler
Girls: Emily, Hannah, Madison, Ashley, Sarah, Alexis, Samantha, Jessica, Taylor, Elizabeth
TOP 10 FOR THE '80S
Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua, David, Daniel, James, Robert, John, Joseph
Girls: Jessica, Jennifer, Amanda, Ashley, Sarah, Stephanie, Melissa, Nicole, Elizabeth, Heather
TOP 10 FOR THE '60S
Boys: Michael, David, John, James, Robert, Mark, William, Richard, Thomas, Jeffrey
Girls: Lisa, Mary, Karen, Susan, Kimberly, Patricia, Linda, Donna, Michelle, Cynthia
TOP 10 FOR THE '40S
Boys: James, Robert, John, William, Richard, David, Charles, Thomas, Michael, Ronald
Girls: Mary, Linda, Barbara, Patricia, Carol, Sandra, Nancy, Judith, Sharon, Susan
TOP 10 FOR THE '20S
Boys: Robert, John, James, William, Charles, George, Joseph, Richard, Edward, Donald
Girls: Mary, Dorothy, Helen, Betty, Margaret, Ruth, Virginia, Doris, Mildred, Elizabeth
TOP 10 FOR THE 1900S
Boys: John, William, James, George, Joseph, Charles, Robert, Frank, Edward, Henry
Girls: Mary, Helen, Margaret Anna, Ruth, Elizabeth, Dorothy, Marie, Mildred, Alice
Figures from 1900 to 1989 are based on a 5 percent sampling of Social Security card applications from dates of birth from the first January through the last December of that decade.
Reach Patrick Verel at (706)823-3332 or firstname.lastname@example.org