Nancy Roman

Don’t Call Me Shirley

My father named me.  My father named all four of his children.  I supposed my mother figured she’d love us so keenly regardless of our names, she let my father choose.

My mother told me many times that she had wanted to name me Collette. But my father named me Nancy.

There is an old family story (actually it’s old because I made it up forty-five years ago, and… well…I’m family) that my father named me Nancy because Frank Sinatra named his daughter Nancy, and if Nancy was good enough for Ol’ Blue Eyes, it was good enough for Dad.

Screenshot of Frank Sinatra from the trailer f...

Image via Wikipedia

I have no real evidence that my father was even much of a Frank Sinatra fan, but he laughed heartily during The Dean Martin Show, and Dino and Frank were pals, so it could be true.  I think it’s true.  A lot of stuff I make up is true.

In the 50s and early 60s, unusual names were just that – unusual.  By which I mean, practically nonexistent.  All girls were Linda or Susan or Carol or Kathy.  With a few Nancys and Patricias and Jeans thrown in for what these conventional folk called variety.  If your parents were really daring, you might be Jeanne.

When I was ten, I met a girl named Jennifer.  I thought it was the most exotic, romantic name I had ever heard.  My cousin Susan agreed.  So did my best friend Linda.

My idol at that time was Hayley Mills.  But as far as I was concerned, she didn’t have a real name.  Just something made up for the movies.  Like Cinderella.

Names have life spans.  Mary had a very long life span – centuries even. But then there’s Shirley, which maybe got a decade.

You can often tell how old a woman is by her name.  If I meet a Barbara, there’s a good chance she’s a couple of years older than I. Pamelas will be two years younger.    At work, we have three Cheryls.  They are all the same age.

Nowadays, there seems to be a lot more creativity in names  (Apple, Rumor, Sunday).  But in addition to these outliers, there’s still that groupthink phenomena that leads parents of a generation to choose the same names. Melissa gives way to Ashley, Ashley gives way to Emily, and Emily to Isabella.  Ava has become the new Susan.

Recently I met a young man who was about to become a father. I asked if they had chosen a name.

“Nancy,” he said.

I was astounded.  No one is named Nancy anymore.  I’ve never met anyone under 55 named Nancy.

“Well,” he explained, “Nancy is my wife’s grandmother’s name, and we like old-fashioned names.”

My shock doubled.  Nancy is going to be a great-grandmother?

But even worse…


I think not.  Nancy may be out of style right now, but it is NOT old-fashioned.  Mildred and Florence are  old-fashioned.  Maybe Edna.  Not Nancy.

It’s not like I grew up when laundry hung on the clothesline, doctors made house calls, and women wore corsets.

No siree.  I grew up when laundry hung on the clothesline, doctors made house calls, and women wore girdles.


Image by geg_thomas via Flickr


  1. Donna Fortier

    I truly enjoyed this post – being the youngest Donna I know!


  2. bigsheepcommunications

    Could be that Nancy is the next hot girls’ name trend, in which case it will no longer be old-fashioned, it’ll be fresh and original.

    I’m a Lisa and went all through school with at least half a dozen other Lisas. My best friend in elementary school was Nancy. Laurie/Lori was also big in the 60’s (my sister’s name). I seem to recall wanting to change my name to Linda when I was little.


    • My roommate in college was Lisa…. the girls across the hall were Nancy and Lisa also. Boys weren’t sure which door to knock on, but I tried to direct them to knock on our door first!


  3. The big name for the elementary school set is any variation on the name Kaylee:

    I like Nancy. We need more Nancys.


  4. Oh, I think we must be the same age! LOVE the history in this one. You always dredge up old memories for me…Clotheslines…ahhhhh

    Being Libby in a generation of Debbies, I was always called by the wrong name.

    Great blog!!!


  5. My blog name is Nate, but in real life I am Nancy. I danced to Frank Sinatra’s, “Nancy, with the smiling face”, with my Dad at wedding. I have three good frieinds, all under the age of 50, named Nancy. I have always loved my name.


    • I always hated Nancy, but sometime after I hit forty, it started to grow on me. Sometimes it takes forty years to acquire a taste for something.


  6. Kim

    Thanks for the early morning laugh, to be sure, I will be sharing this with my two older sisters, Linda and Cheryl. I kid you not. 🙂


    • I want to know what happens to imagination when it comes to naming children. Either parents lose it completely, or the kid becomes Jester. Where is the happy medium – a distinctive but not crazy name?


  7. Great post! I definitely wouldn’t have called ‘Nancy’ old-fashioned. It’s just a solid name, dangnabbit.

    I always thought it was weird that there were never ANY other Julies growing up – just me. I’m sometimes a sucker for the name-of-the-year, but if/when I have kids, we’re sticking to family names! Edward, John, Leigh, etc.


  8. I not only have an old-fashioned name, but my parents decided to make my life REALLY difficult by calling me by my middle name rather than my first…so every year at school I went through having to educate the new teachers that I wasn’t “Constance”…I was “Sylvia”…it was exhausting work! I still run into that problem now even though on all my documents and IDs I’ve switched my two names around, trying to make my life simpler. Some of my friends I had while growing up were Nancy, Barbara, Jane, Margaret and Donna…don’t meet too many people these days with those names now (except middle-aged people like me)….great post, by the way….loved it…and as far as Shirley goes–that was my mother’s middle name…


    • I’ve always loved Sylvia – and I knew a French lady who was called Sylvie – isn’t that charming?


      • In New Brunswick there are a LOT of Sylvies because of our Acadian population…I often get called Sylvie because my last name (Morice) is mistaken for French rather than the Scottish thati t is…and my best friend’s husband has called me ‘Sylvie’ forever…his name is Bob and to get back at him I call him ‘Bo”…just dropping the last b from his name…
        Thank goodness we all have a sense of humour!


  9. My name is Sally. You know, as in “My grandma’s name is Sally” or “My dog’s name is Sally.” I was always the only one in my grade. Thank goodness for Charlie Brown’s little sister. Oh, and my mom’s name was Shirley. And my dad always said I was named after Sally Rand. The fan dancer.


  10. This post is just fab- U-lous. It put a smile on my face this morning. Nice way to end a dreary week with laughter. I can relate to clothes lines and the era..


  11. I agree. Now you understand why I wrote 70 is the New 40. It takes awhile to adjust through life..nevertheless, it can be fun


  12. Oh I loved this one!! I have a name mania! It may have started with being named Rita but I get crazy about last names also. Rita seems to be ageless because it wasn’t popular. It never had it’s era. Not like Debbie or Susan or Nancy. I was an young adult before I met another Rita. Weirdly, when I met my husband his hairdresser and chiropractor were both named Rita. He also dated another Rita before me. Guess he knew what he wanted but it took him 50 years to find the right Rita. Great post!


    • I can’t believe one person can know that many Ritas!


  13. Great post! 😀 I’ve always wondered what it is that makes parents from one generation to the next choose the exact same new and original names. My parents thought they were being really out there when they named me Sophie – but pretty much since the year of my birth it’s been up in the top ten most common girls’ names in Britain.

    I wouldn’t call Nancy an old-fashioned name though – that great-grandmother must have been WAY ahead of her time 😉


  14. I like the name Nancy. It sounds lively and happy and spirited

    I hate my own name, Julie. It reminds me of Julie Andrews and I don’t want to be likened to Julie Andrews. It’s a ‘goody two shoes’ name. I go by the name of Jules most of the time now.

    Or Flossie. This nickname was bestowed on me by my partner’s ex. Obviously she meant it in a derogatory way – ‘Flossie’ as in flighty (don’t know why Flossie = Flighty but that’s how she meant it!). But I quite like it. So I have embraced it and made it my own. That’ll teach her. I won’t tell you what my nickname for her is. It is not appropriate here!!!


  15. Loved your post about names. I’ll trade Maureen for Nancy any day. And I always loved the name Sally after it was in a school reader. My sisters are Helen, Jean, and Betty (now calling herself Elizabeth). My parents called me by my middle name as well. Torture.


  16. My Mom wanted to give me a good Irish name like Roarie…I’m very grateful my dad prevented it 😉


  17. If it makes you feel any better, I am 43 and went to college with two Nancys. Then again, my full name is Dorothy, so I am older than my years.


    • Yes, as a Dorothy you should be about 70.


  18. And ‘Marcie’ was a name that stood out like an odd sore thumb among the Nancy’s and Linda’s and Susan’s. All I ever wanted was an ‘ordinary’ name!! Did doctors ever do housecalls?!?!?!? 🙂


  19. I’m a squeak older than you are but I knew three Nancys while going to school. There was also a Sylvia but a lot of Johns, Jerrys, Christinas and Lucys. I guess our parents were either unimaginative or just old fashioned. Most of the kids were simply named after relatives.

    Alas, I DO recall the doctor making house calls. He was good but had a drinking problem. Maybe it was the boredom of a small town. About the clothes lines, how I LOVED the laundry when it had to be taken down, all outdoorsey and fragrant on our beds. The girdles made freaks of women. My mom tried a rubber one once that she had to sprinkle talc powder into and all over her body just to squeeze into it. Andwearing it made her HOT. I wonder what happened to it.

    Great post. Love old memories.


  20. loved this post! I have one of those names that doesn’t seem to ever get really popular, but is always sort of around – Beth, but I’m not Elizabeth. If only I had a nickle for every teacher that said to me, “now honey, are you sure your ‘real’ name isn’t Elizabeth?”


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