What’s In a Name?



Searching for information about people in my family tree has caused me to think a lot about names.

Sometimes people exert their independence over their identity in the name they choose to use.  My mother’s name was Ezra Mae (never just Ezra). The middle name was after her mother, Easter May, and when she was born it was spelled like her mother’s name, M-A-Y. In later years, like many teenagers do, she decided to give it a little more flair by changing the spelling to M-A-E. Her sister Evelyn referred to her as Ezra May in her 1925 diary, but by 1935 she had gotten with the program when she sent out the announcements of the marriage of her sister “Ezra Mae.” And she even named her daughter Dorothy M-A-E.

My father’s given name was Raymond Wesley Wild, but he never used that name. Here’s how a 1950 newspaper article explained it: “The university’s director of public relations, Jack Wild, is really Raymond (his father’s name) Wesley (the great Methodist) Wild, but his father always said that if he ever had a son he’d call him Jack. Hence, Jack Wild.”

Daddy never went by Raymond, Ray, Wesley, or Wes. It was always Jack . . . or R. W.  One day when I was doing a lot of research in old newspapers, I was wrestling with the difficulty caused by the papers’ practice in those days of always referring to men by two initials and a last name. This can be very aggravating when you’re looking for information about Jeremiah Hezekiah Smith and the newspapers are full of stories about J. H. Smith, who could be James Howard or Joe Henry or Junior Heehaw. But suddenly it dawned on me — In the days of having to manually set type, it was just much easier to shorten the name to initials. And with Daddy being a newspaperman himself, I figure he decided that for occasions when Jack wouldn’t do, he would go with R. W.

Of course, sometimes people get tagged with nicknames, too. Daddy often called Mother “Honey” around the house. He thought he was being clever one time when he put that down as her name on some form, and Mother started getting mail addressed to Honey Wild.

He also came up with Indian names for our tribe. Mother was Princess Pokey Moonshine. My sister was Princess Pokey Peachy. I was Princess Pokey Hokey, an appellation that I greatly objected to. I mean, really, who wouldn’t rather be Pokey Peachy than Pokey Hokey? Obviously she was the favored child. My poor brother didn’t even get an Indian name. Daddy named himself Big Chief Hair on Chest, which was a real joke because he didn’t have any.

It’s interesting to note how the popularity of certain names waxes and wanes over the years. Here are some of the names that appear several times in my family tree that you just don’t see nowadays: Loving (isn’t that nice?), Artemicia, Fielding, Saluda, Permelia, Maleva, Virenda, Icyphenia, Keturah, Fountain, Pressley (well before Elvis came on the scene) and Pleasant (another nice one).

Lots of folks were named in honor of famous people: Custer, Cicero, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Rush (in fact, one Rush child’s first name was Doctor and his middle name was Benjamin), George Washington, Lafayette, Christopher Columbus and Ulysses S. Grant being a few. One family may have gotten a little carried away when they named their son Gabriel Van Buren Andrew Jackson Carpenter.

When I was young, I wished I had been named Nancy, because it seemed like Nancys always won the talent shows. I guess I’ll just stick with Sharon . . . or Sharron . . . maybe Sharen . . . Sharyn . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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