Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

June 3, 2013

Tidbits: What's in a name?

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — Being born in the time before routine ultrasounds, my parents thought I was going to be a boy. I'm not sure if mom was carrying high or low, or if the wedding ring on a string went one way or the other, or what other old wives tale was used to determine I would be a he rather than a she, but that's what they thought and that's how they prepared.

A name was chosen, Porter Allen Mullinix. It was a great name, filled with family history. My grandfather's name is Porter, as was his father's, and both great-grandfathers on my dad's side were Porters. Allen was my dad's middle name. It was perfect.

Except I wasn't a boy.

They had to regroup pretty quickly. Apparently they don't let you leave the hospital without a name on the birth certificate. The story goes that dad was sitting in the waiting room waiting for the nurses to announce my arrival and was watching a soap opera, General Hospital or All My Children or some such program, and one of the characters was named Heather.

That was also the fifth most popular name for girls born in 1978, according to the Social Security Administration, which tracks such things for posterity, entertainment or to give folks like me something to write about.

They added a middle name I share with my mother and my cousin, ensuring I could never go by it. It's a shame. I like my middle name better, mostly because there weren't five other Sheas in my kindergarten class. Luckily, none of the other Heather's had a last name that started with an "M," or I'd have had to learn to spell Mullinix at age five.

Because of its popularity, when you see someone named Heather, you might think they're in their late 20s to mid-30s. It's certainly not an old-fashioned name, not yet, anyway. There are names that you hear and you picture one of the Golden Girls or a grandmother. But some of those old fashioned names are making a comeback.

Emma, Olivia, Ava, Isabella and Sophia were the top five girls' names for babies born in Tennessee in 2012, and Sophia was the top name nationally. Popular boys' names were William, Mason, Elijah, James and Jacob. 

One hundred years ago, the top names for boys and girls were topped by John and Mary. There were some names you don't see very often now on those lists, such as Ethel, Edna and Gladys. For the boys, Walter, Albert and Raymond stand out as names ripe for a comeback.

Parenting magazine has offered a listing of old fashioned names that are making a comeback and have risen sharply in popularity in the past decade, though none have made the top 10 yet. Oliver, Owen, Stella, Hazel and Eli are rising stars for those looking for something a little different from the top names of the day.

Looking for unusual, different baby names for famous couples' offspring has led to some names that probably aren't going to catch on. There's Jason Lee's Pilot Inspektor and Gweneth Paltrow's little bundle of joy Apple. Frank Zappa had some very creative offerings with kids named Dweezil, Ahmet, Moon Unit and Diva Thin Muffin. I can almost excuse Dweezil and Ahmet, maybe even Moon Unit, but Diva Thin Muffin? I suspect he just threw some odd, non-related words together as a joke. That doesn't explain why anyone in their right mind signed that birth certificate.

A study has actually found that it's not just celebrities that want to saddle their children with a lifetime of "What were your parents thinking?" The trend of giving children less common names began after World War II, illustrating the growth in individualism in society.

"If names get too popular, people may not want them anymore," said Jonah Berger, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania in a 2009 interview with USA Today.

When that happens, less common names begin to become more popular. And, of course, naming trends cycle just like trends in hairstyles (the mullet may be making a comeback) and clothes.

Regardless of how unique or common your name may be, it is yours and yours alone. Like Dr. Seuss said, "There is no one alive who is Youer than You."

Always remember to be yourself. You don't have to go with the crowd just because you share a name with half of them.

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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.