Monday, July 9, 2012

What's in a Name?

by Julia Buckley

What is the significance of your name? It's clear that the names bestowed upon us by our parents are inextricably linked with our identities, and they are key touchstones for relating to others and to ourselves. More specifically, though, what does your name mean, and why did your parents select it?

This website has some interesting history of names, including mine. Julia is a common name in Hungary, and my grandmother, Juliana Wigh, is my namesake (and I hers). At the time that my parents named me in 1964, they were under the impression that my grandmother's full name was Julia, so that became my name. It was not particularly popular in the United States--in fact, my mother said she picked it because it was unusual.

In almost twenty years of schooling, I never encountered another Julia; there were a couple of Julies, but that name has different origins. Thanks (I think) to the popularity of Julia Roberts, Julia is now ranked much higher in the United States, as this graph shows. It was at its highest popularity in 1880.

When I was about eleven, my father found out, by looking at some old papers of my grandmother's, that her full name was not Julia, but Juliana. He was exasperated with her (my grandma had a way of exasperating people). "Mom," he said. "Why didn't you ever tell me your full name? We named Julia after you!" She shrugged. "Yah. Julia, Juliana."

She didn't see it as an important distinction, but I had a tiny identity crisis, thinking of the name I didn't have, and the girl I could have been, had I been christened Juliana. I started writing "Juliana Rohaly" on my school papers, and I demanded that my siblings call me Juliana, as well. But the phase didn't last. Ultimately I was born Julia and I remain Julia to this day--and we think of my grandmother as Julia, too. (In Hungarian, the name is pronounced Yoolia, and the diminutive is Juliska--pronounced Yulishka--and that is the only thing my grandmother ever called me. It stands for something along the lines of "Little Julia," which I was to her, as the youngest in the family).

Another interesting note about my name is that when I was christened, my mother's sister Marianna, who lived in Germany with all of my mother's family, was quite smitten with the name. In Germany, too, it was unusual; a few years later when Marianna--or Tante Nanne, as we called her--had her first child, she named her Julia. So now I have a cousin Julia (pronounced Yoolia) who is my namesake. And the family name lives on!

What's an interesting story behind your name? Did the website tell you anything you didn't already know?

Image courtesy of


Katreader said...

My mom always told me she picked my name, Kathleen, because she liked the sound of it. What's interesting is that there are several Katarzynas in my family tree-and Katarzyna is the Polish version of the name. Although no one calls me that, several family members do call me Kasia, the Polish diminutive version, as well as Kathy, Kath, and Kat! If you haven't guessed, I am Polish.

Sheila Connolly said...

My mother named me Sheila because of a child she had known years before. She never considered the Irish connections, although my father's parents were both born in Ireland. So she was quite surprised when she visited one of my father's aunts, named Julia, who said, "ah, you've named her for me!" In Irish, Julia and Sheila are the same name (spelled Sile, but pronounced like Sheila).

My husband and I named our daughter Julia for multiple reasons, as you might guess, but the link to great-aunt-Julia was one of them.

Julia Buckley said...

Katarzyna--what a lovely name! As is Kathleen. I do love those diminutives; they're so intimate. Kat, I just read a great novel set in Poland--really delightful and full of Polish lore--called A LONG TIME AGO AND ESSENTIALLY TRUE. Have you read it?

Sheila, now I feel that we are bonded by a name! I had never heard that Julia and Sheila were the same in Ireland. The name seems to branch off, on the website, with two different origins. I also didn't know that your daughter was named Julia. How neat. :)

Sandra Parshall said...

One of my older sisters chose my name just because she liked it. It was a popular name at the time, and I've met many Sandras around my age. It's a diminutive of Alexandra, the feminine form of Alexander,and many different languages have their own versions of it.

I'm pretty much indifferent to it as a name -- not madly in love with it or dissatisfied with it -- but I don't like to hear it mispronounced. I'm SAN-dra, not SAUN-dra. I married into a surname that is often mispronounced, so I have to hear myself called SAUN-dra Par-SHALL. It's SAN-dra PAR-shall (rhymes with Marshall, pronounced like partial).

Feel free to call me Sandy if you like, but please don't spell it Sandi or Sandie. The "y" is just fine, thanks.

Jeri Westerson said...

My name is NOT short for Geraldine, which I consider a plus. It's jusst "Jeri." I've always liked the look of my name, the brief four letters, the "i" ending, a bit like a logo. Even though no one can spell it on the first go, I thought it was great.

It means spear carrier. :)

Julia Buckley said...

Sandra, I'm surprised at those mispronunciations, since your name basically reads the way it is spelled. And it is so frustrating to be misnamed. All my life I have introduced myself as Julia, only to have someone repeat back, "Hi, Julie."

Jeri, the spelling of your name is very cool, as is the meaning! It seems appropriate to the time period of your mysteries. :)

Life After Death said...

I've read your article & thanks for sharing this kind of unknown info.

Anonymous said...

Well, since I trust you people I'll share ... I have always hated my name. My mother named me for some character in a book - Thelma. Never saw the book. Never want to! There were so many lovely names in the family - Sarah Elizabeth, Mary Elizabeth, etc. And I got stuck with a name I've always tried to shun. You ask - why don't you change it??? Well, I have, in a way - my AKA is Ransom Whittle. Ransom was a great grandfathr in Knoville.

Anonymous said...

My father -- if living -- would wring my neck if he knew I am here outing something he never admitted to: I believe I am named for singer Brenda Lee. (He didn't believe in naming children for celebrities but he loved her voice.)

I too have a namesake, a younger cousin I have not yet met in person. We have different middle names but exactly the same first and maiden names. My grandmother told me her parents really liked the name "Brenda" when they first heard of me.

Julia Buckley said...

Thelma, I've had many students who weren't happy with their names, and some of them do the same as you--they just tell people what they'd rather be called, and generally that's what I write on the seating chart. A name may be our legacy, but we can also gift ourselves with names. :)

Brenda, that's a nice name and a nice story. I don't think it's a shame to your father at all, and my dad and I used to listen to Brenda Lee songs together on a "Golden oldies" station we used to have in Chicago. My dad was a fan of hers, as well. :)