“I don’t like my name.”
“It’s just so ordinary.”
“But you do know what it means, right?”
For whatever reason, I’d never been told what my name meant. But then, I’d never been remotely curious about it either. Until that very moment, that is. The look on my face must have told my brother I was completely in the dark. So, as I stood in the doorway to his bedroom, my big brother proceeded to enlighten me.
“Linda,” he continued, “is the Spanish word for pretty.” He had recently started beginning Spanish in school.
You could have knocked me over with a feather. Pretty? Are you kidding? I tried my hardest to act nonchalant in the face of his revelation, but my insides were doing back flips. He’s telling me that this name I don’t really like actually means PRETTY?!! Why didn’t I know this before?!!
“Oh,” I replied. “That’s kinda cool.” Wow. I really needed to process this new info.
Parents (generally) do not intend to saddle their children with dull, out-moded, homely or otherwise dorky names. But it can happen. For reasons utterly impossible to discern before the nurse hands a blank birth certificate application to the new parents, some names are destined to become a ball and chain. An angelic, lovely, dashing, or even regal sounding name (in the ears of the parents) stands a chance of one day being considered the kiss of death by the child bearing the name, crushing his or her hopes of ever being cool.
I’ll share one unfortunate, yet unavoidable, way this can come about. Expectant parents of the 1950’s would have conscientiously picked out a boy’s name and a girl’s name, in anticipation of the blessed event. They would have likely paired these names with suitable middle names, and then repeated those names in succession, over and over, along with the family name, so as to be sure both the boy’s name and the girl’s name sounded very, well… nice. Whether they were going for names that were distinctive, or maybe that honored a family member, or fit some other noble criterion, they would have been sure to select the finest names possible to bestow on their new arrival.
For the sake of illustration, let’s just say that the girl’s name they had chosen with such care was Linda. And that they coupled Linda with the middle name Kay. The joyously expectant couple would not suspect, nor could they foreknow, that thousands upon thousands of other expectant parents were at the very same moment selecting and pairing those exact names for their unique, one-of-a-kind little princesses-to-be.
For centuries, Mary had reigned as the most popular girl’s name. (Apparently, being the mother of Jesus will catapult your name to the heights of extreme popularity for generations and generations to come.) Until the 1950’s, when it was eclipsed by the name…. (drumroll)… Linda. In fact, so many people caught this wave that the popularity of the name played itself out within about a decade, after which it was retired to the morgue. I’ve only ever met one person named Linda who was born after the 1950’s. But among those close to my age, well that’s another story, and the main reason I didn’t like my name. (The other reason was that each of my siblings had a name that could be shortened to a nice, crisp nickname. Lin just didn’t have a ring to it.)
Every classroom I was ever in, from kindergarten through college, had multiple Lindas. I was never the only one. There were always two others, and occasionally three. This meant that when other kids were allowed to sign their school papers with just a first name, we Lindas had to add our last initials. I was never afforded the luxury of being just Linda; I was always, always Linda B. Maybe it shouldn’t have, but it messed with my identity. It didn’t seem singular or special to be one of a bunch of girls with the same name. For years I coveted an uncommon name like Charlotte, or, be still my heart, Veronica. (Remember the Archies?) After all, I had a penchant for glam, and common simply did not translate into glam.
And then my brother dropped the Spanish bomb on me. With his one simple statement, my resistance to having been given such an ordinary name was dissolving. So, it means pretty. That seemed rather special to me. So Mom and Dad hadn’t saddled me with such a boring name after all. As I was rethinking my entire paradigm, my brother pulled out one more ploy in his attempt to change my attitude about having a lackluster name: he informed me that a song had been written about Linda.
“Whu?…” Once again, I found myself standing drop-jawed in the face of another one of his pronouncements.
“Yeah, it goes like this,” he said, at which point he pulled out his trombone and began playing the melody. It was very, well… pretty. I liked it a lot. And from that point on I loved my name. Whenever I found myself among other Lindas, I viewed us as members of an exclusive club, inducted by parents who just might have fallen in love with this song… or maybe even fell in love to the song.