Let’s Navel-Gaze about Our Names!

Let’s take a break from talking about OMGAsianMoms and do something fun.


Yesterday as I was snowed in, I came across this thread which asks the question: what were you going to be named? To date, it has 640 comments which means it’s struck a nerve, and I can completely understand.  Names are important for a number of reasons and many cultures, including Judaism, believe that a name will shape a child’s destiny.  Which is why I, as a Victoria, am totally mackin’ it right now by living at my mother in law’s house and attending a gym where I am sure I will witness a mafia money transaction any day now.

When I was 12 and working on my first novel (a Civil War thriller about a 12-year-old girl named Georgia that lived near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania-yes.), I bought a baby name book and read it every day for six months, browsing the possibilities for my character.  In my writing today, I still think names are one of the most significant ways to influence a character and always tend to pick carefully.

You already know that I was named after a variety of strawberry growing in my grandmother’s garden (and also the name of a character in some book that my dad liked but can’t now remember the name of), but before that, I was going to be either Alice (Alisa in Russian) or Svetlana. Needless to say, I am 100% grateful that my parents didn’t go the Svetlana route becuase, while it’s an extremely pretty name in Russian having to do with light (svyet), it is impossible to pronounce in English.  If you are not a native Russian speaker, try pronouncing svyet so that it rhymes with nyet, but make sure you blur the “y” and “e” together so that it’s a single letter that produces a sound similar to the “eh” in yetti. Yeah.

But I can’t help wondering what would happen if I were an Alice. Or if I decided to go by Tori instead of Vicki? Or if I went by Victoria?  I don’t think I’d be able to do the latter because, growing up in a culture that prides itself on nicknames and diminutives has made calling someone by their long name sound weird to me, even if their name is beautiful.  For example, I have never, ever, ever called Mr. B by his full name, and don’t even often call him by his “full” diminutive in Russian unless I am exasperated.  Russian-speakers usually call me Vika, but my family calls me Vika, Vikusya,Vikuska, Vikush, Vikan’ka, and Vik’ if they need something quickly from me.

So, what were you (or someone you know) going to be named and were glad you weren’t? Or what do you wish you had been named instead? What is your stance on nicknames (comment carefully. All comments can and will be used against you on a playground.)?




35 thoughts on “Let’s Navel-Gaze about Our Names!

  1. My family swears that the doctor told them I was going to be a guy, so they called me Michel Ray Jr. (yes, without the “a”) in the womb. But, surprise! I turned out to be a girl. My mother, who is extremely religious, wanted to name me Rebecca. My father, though, didnt like it and randomly picke out Heather from the baby book. I like my name, but growing up I wood have loved to have had a nickname other than Heath.

    And I agree with you on the character names. When I’m writing, I spend a ton of time focusing on finding the right names… Something that is meaningful to the story and the character.

    1. Michel…LOL.

      I really like Rebecca but I’m thinking it sounds different to American ears, although I think it’s becoming more popular now.

      1. The odd thing is, my grandparents are from northern Idaho, and I don’t believe they knew Michel was the more European way of spelling it. My grandma says she just didn’t like the “a” in there.
        My dad hates it because any strangers that ring the house always ask for “Michelle” or “Mick-el”.

  2. My parents told me that if I’d been a boy, they’d’ve named me “Emile.” I suspect that I got wind of that and went through an emergency gender reassignment in utero.

  3. I was named after my great-grandmother on my mom’s side, who died about six months before I was born. So I don’t think any other names were in consideration. My sister was named after my father’s mother, who died when he was 15 — again no other names under consideration. But my brother was going to be Ilya, but then my parents realized that both their grandfathers were named BenTzion and named him Boris instead. Neither Ilya nor Boris are particularly English-friendly names, and he went by Ben for some of his school years. However, he’s embraced Boris now (he’s 18).

    1. BenTzion is hardcore.

      You know, I always wonder how our grandparents and great-grandparents got away with the names they did in the Soviet Union. I know many changed them, but on my mom’s side I had a Yehuda, a Fruma, an Aaron, and a Zalman (who later became a Zhenya like you ;).

  4. Don’t you just love Young House Love? They are my favorite, I feel like such a nerd because I tell my husband “Oh John and Sherri bought a new house” like I know these people or something…
    I was going to be Dmitriy because I was definitely going to be a boy. My mom and dad had a huge fight over my name, my mom wanted Yuliya and dad wanted Dasha. To which my mom said I’m not naming my daughter “Dasha, korova nasha” (implying that Dasha is a good name for a cow) so there you have it I was named the MOST popular name at the time I was born…there are three other Yuliya’s in my immediate circle of friends.

    1. I really do love YHL because they are so good at making you feel like you are part of something. However, I hate that they always feel the need to write in a “Good Morning America” show host tone and never, ever swear. I’m guessing this is because they need to retain advertisers and part of their readership that doesn’t approve of it. However, I’m 100% sure they’re not that chipper and more sarcastic in real life, I wish I could see more of it.

      Also, re: Dasha. LOL. That’s the first time I’ve heard of something like that; you could have always gone by Daria. Did you ever go by Julia in the US?

  5. My dad said he liked the name Jessica, and my mom says she might have named me after my two grandmas, Laura Luz (it sounds nice in Spanish, and I wouldn’t have minded this one too much). Not Jessica, though! I am so not a Jessica, so thanks, mom!

    I like my name, though, especially now that I’m an adult. It fits me.

      1. Yes, I have somewhat similar connotations. When I think of a Jessica I think of someone who is a bit girlier and flirtier than I am. It’s a young person’s name, and I’m an old soul at heart.

  6. My name is Anastassia, but I could have been Varia. That would have made me Barbara… Pretty thrilled I dodged that bullet. My parents call me Nastenka, Nastena, Nastusha. In English I just go by Ana. I immigrated to Canada when I was 12, and I couldn’t stand to have a name that made me even more of an immigrant. So going by Anastassia or Nastia was out. Now, if I introduce myself to a Russian person, I call myself Nastia, for English speakers I’m Ana. It’s not that I abandoned my name, but the name Nastia, while lovely in Russian, just doesn’t work in English. I also can’t get behind being called Anastassia because it seems too… I don’t know. Whenever someone calls me Anastassia, I feel like I should be wearing a fur coat and smoking really long cigarettes. Is that weird?

    1. “Whenever someone calls me Anastassia, I feel like I should be wearing a fur coat and smoking really long cigarettes. Is that weird?”

      Yes! That’s exactly how I feel when someone calls me Victoria! It’s just not me.

  7. Oh, don’t get me started. My name “Meron” means something along the lines of frankincense in Ge’ez. Apparantely, the moment I was born my uncles (one here and one in Ethiopia) called my parents requesting that I be named Meron. So throughout my childhood I was mocked… They called me “MORON”. -_-

    Most of my family and cose family-friends call me “Meri” “Mariye” or “Meriye”. Except grandparents who call me a plethora of nicknames, unreated to my real name: “Estedar” “Roma” and “Kidist” being a few. I like ‘em though. :)

    1. I love your name. It’s so pretty, but it sucks that it was run through the ringer of the US education system. There is an Israeli girl name, Moran, which I can’t imagine fares much better here. What do your nicknames mean?

  8. Before I was born and they got Harriet from the credits of a movie they don’t remember, my parents thought I was going to be a boy, in which case I would have been Richard (now my little brother’s name). But actually I am super attached to my name, so much so that if I ever get married and the guy has the audacity to expect me to change my last name I might stab him in the eye (yes, I probably do have certain issues, I know). And if I ever went incognito it would be really easy to track me down, since I’d probably just use a variation of Harriet, like spelling it backwards: Teirrah. That used to always be my code name in laser tag.

      1. It’s actually not at all unusual in England, but I like that I have yet to come across another Harriet stateside (although I have had “Oh that was my mother’s name” a few times).

  9. You’ll have fun naming your kids… unless you’ll drive yourself crazy. I’m still obsessed with my kids’ names: I have to check out the Social Security Administration data every year, and I discovered a really cool baby names wizard:
    Of course, I found it after I had my babies. Still, it’s a lot of fun.

    1. I love names. The problem with kids’ names is that we will have to fulfill a trifecta: pronounceable and has a meaning in Russian, Hebrew, and English. Since there are only, like, three names that match the criteria: Michael, Daniel, and Anna (Hannah), none of which we can use since we know living people with those names, we are pretty pegged in.

      My mom (HI MOM I KNOW YOU’RE READING) is dying to have a granddaughter named after my grandmother, Sarah, but it’s such a common name and I’m hoping if we have kids that we can give them names that are quirky but not too weird.

      Like Apple or Pilot Inspektor.

      1. I gave up on the perfect trifecta really quick. :) Since in our area kids have quirky names, I figured with respect to English we need something that’s easy to pronounce and easy to spell, but not necessarily traditional. I tried family names, but DH vetoed them all — for excessive quirkiness. So I used them for the middle names.
        Sarah, by the way, is no longer a common name; it’s an auntie name. It’s popularity peaked in the 80s:

  10. Oh, I like the look, feel, and just about everything over here at your blog.

    I came over from your guest post with Marinka. It is so nice to meet you.

    I’d like to tell you about names and nicknames, but, in my case, it would take about a page.

    And, yes, names do affect how you see yourself. Very much.

  11. Vicki:

    The lazy option is of course to cite an old post of one’s own (I do apologise but every time I see a names related discussion, I am reminded of 2007, when in the midst of doing the thesis, I wrote the post): http://bit.ly/eKMHqm

    I have a Chinese friend whose middle name is a masculine version of “Little Scholar” as her father fully expected the baby to be a son. In the UK we have a high profile Labour MP called Ed Balls who has joked about sparing a thought for his sister called Ophelia (not sure he has a sister but it is a great joke, one that describes TSA agents’ job in the US well too).

  12. The only name my parents could agree on was Emily. It was the only name they liked. They didn’t even have an idea of what to name me if I was a boy. They used the only boy name they liked on my brother. While the name Emily was easy for them to agree on, the battle over my middle name continued on until I was born. My mother wanted Caroline, which was my Great Aunt Marie’s middle name, but my father hated it and wanted my middle name to be Christine. My mom won out in the end. As for nicknames, my family calls me Em or Emmy, but at school and when meeting new people, I stick with Emily. When I was in Russia, my friend Courtney (who I affectionately call Kortnichka) decided to call me Emka and that kinda stuck for the four months I was there. Sadly, no one over here calls me that. I quite liked it.

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  14. I know this is an old post, but I don’t care.  I’m commenting anyways. 
    We were going to name our first son Binyamin, but when I looked at him after he was born, I thought, “uh-oh.  It doesn’t work.”  And I’m not the feely/intuitive type at all.  Nope.  But the name just didn’t fit.  Moshe, however, did fit, but it was on the do-not-use list (we thought it was too popular in the Orthodox world and we didn’t want him to grow up as “one of the Moshes).  So I suggested to my husband that maybe we could call the baby Tuvia (it’s one of the names associated with Moshe, and it’s pretty).  But it reminded him too much of Tevye from Fiddler.  He would always want to start singing “If I were a rich man” when addressing our child.
    So we named him Moshe.  However, in the world at large, no one can say it.  We named our second son David.  Much better.

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