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.
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.