“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “Dead Names” Chapter 40
By Bruce Williams
I was pondering the death of my first name lately—there really isn’t any babies born since the ‘70’s that carry my same moniker (Bruce)—and when I opened it up to friends and family for discussion, we realized that there’s lots of “dead names” out there that no longer fit a delightful little baby anymore. Betty, Kellie and Dawn expressed that they all felt the same way about their’s. When I was a kid, we’d joke about the older Harolds and Gladyses—who would look at a newborn and think aloud, “Doesn’t she look just like a little Gladys?!”
Other, more Biblical names are rarely used anymore either—unless to represent some sort of odd fundamentalist bent or alarming level of inbred-ery…”Then Jedidiah rose out of the corn patch to exact his revenge…” or “Zechariah scratched his hump as he leered toward the wary school children.” The Bible will then throw in a Mark or John—like those names are all created equally and you can just pick one interchangeably out of a hat.
Bruce is now used mainly to indicate that a character is gay, usually saddling them with an impossible lisp to complete the sadly overdone caricature. Also, sharks. Jaws and Nemo both named their toothy killers Bruce—the latter in a nod to the former, I would think. There’s Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner, Bruce Wayne (Batman), Bruce Willis and Bruce Springsteen—possibly one of the coolest guys that ever lived. Bruce Lee was something—but his heyday kind of matches the swan song of the name, long over now…
When we picked our kids’ names, Jack was pretty low on the list back in ‘06, but by the time he hit kindergarten there were several Jacks and Jacksons—even a Jaxson sired by a couple of parents who wanted their offspring to have to spell his name for everybody he met the rest of his life. Olivia was #40 on the Most Popular list in ‘09, but rocketed up to #3 by the time she hit school (I think it might even be #1 now). Somewhere along the way we started calling her Louie (she’s left-handed) and shortened it to Lou as she got older. When your last name is Williams you need to mix it up a bit—I rallied for Manchester for Jack’s first name (it’s an old family name), and Michelle questioned, “Well, what would we call him?” “Manny…Chet…Chester…?” I responded hopefully, as she just about spit in disbelief, rolling her eyes theatrically. By the time I proffered Brucilla or Brucina for our daughter’s name, I had lost all credibility (though I did get Manchester in the middle for the boy).
Now it seems there’s a Jayden, Cayden, Hayden or Brayden in every one of their classes. Where are the Harrys and Bertrams? The Dorothys and Penelopes? For a while it seemed like Ashley was poised to take over the world, but she (they) seems to have ebbed and flowed back out into the ocean of possibilities. My sisters’ names (Lisa and Linda) seem to have that late ‘60’s/early ‘70’s vibe—when’s the last time you met a little baby Linda? I wanted to name our new dog an old lady name, but all mine got vetoed again (I’m beginning to notice a pattern), though Mavis (the name we settled on) does indeed have that pink-robe-and-hair-in-curlers feel to it that I was seeking.
William and James seem to always survive each decade’s name purge—though now they’re bracketed by the Bronwyns, Thatchers and Tinsleys of today’s preschools. My buddies from school—the Roberts, Richards, Andrews and Brians have all continued on, but why no Bruces? Similar-sounding Bryce seems to pop up nowadays sometimes, but when a 20-something barista asks me quizzically how to spell my name I’ll inevitably offer up something with two “o’s” and an “s” (“Yes, it’s pronounced Ba-roose just like it’s spelled”).
So no more Harveys or Kenneths; no Blanches, Mabels or Veras. They’re being replaced by the Ainsleys and Merritts of tomorrow as time indeed marches on. But if you, dear soul, are out there with a protruding belly, deep in the throes of pregnancy, or if it’s your dear daughter that is in such a condition, please consider Bruce for that lucky little baby’s name. Or if it’s twins you’re expecting, surely you can afford a throwaway name for that second one. And God help you if you’re having triplets and you don’t make at least one of them a dignified Bruce. Sure beats Larry, his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl. And I’ll leave you with that.