I remember once meeting a completely adorable curly-headed little toddler named Percy. And suddenly the image of his name was turned on its head and for the first time I could see the hidden, quirky charms of Percy. It’s like when extreme he-man Bear Grylls called his son Marmaduke — one of the ultimate prissy-sissy names — all he could see ahead for his son was the cool nickname Duke (of course he did call his next one Huckleberry).
There’s a whole group of names like this that used to be described by antiquated terms we’d never dream of using today — like namby-pamby and pantywaists — sterotyped as such in old books and movies. Since that’s now such ancient history, I’m wondering, as I think of that cute little Percy, if any of these names might be fit for revival. Several have impressive — even noble — pedigrees, and some impressive namesakes as well (handy ego-saving ammo). And the bottom line is that kids today wouldn’t be aware of the old negative associations. But older generations would!
Can any of these names be saved?
ALGERNON: The Brits have revived old nickname names like Alfie and Archie, but Algie? Probably too reminiscent of seaweedy pond scum algae.
CECIL: Pronounced either SEE-sill or SESS-ill, Cecil was the surname of a great 16th-century English noble family, and notable bearers include designer Beaton, epic film director De Mille, jazz musician Taylor and Cecil Rhodes, patron saint of Rhodes scholars.
CEDRIC: Also pronounced with a hard of soft E, Cecil got its stereotyped image via the title character in Little Lord Fauntleroy, a velvet-suited English boy mocked by his American schoolmates. It was originally created by Sir Walter Scott for Ivanhoe and though comedian Cedric the Entertainer has done a lot to overturn its image, it still has a long way to go.
HORACE: Another once noble Roman name, a form of Horatio, associated with the great ancient poet (first name Quintus) as well as educator Mann and “Go West, Young Man” newspaperman/abolitionist Greeley. I’d say Horatio or Quintus would work a little better.
HUBERT: Yes, it was a character in “The Canterbury Tales,” and yes, it got some style via designer Givenchy (definitely sounds better with a French accent), but even Vice President Humphrey (a Junior) was reputed to have hated his first name. Same goes for most other -bert names — Norbert, Osbert, Egbert, Dilbert, etc.
MARMADUKE: Papa Bear to the contrary, most people (including small ones in the playground) would associate this name with the big comic strip Great Dane.
MONTAGUE: It may be a famous Shakespearean surname, but to most people it would be effete snobbery personified.
ORVILLE: With the resurrection of some other O-names — Oliver, Oscar, Orson — Orville, with its link to the inventive Wright brother, just might have a chance, if you can push the popcorn image of Mr. Redenbacher out of your mind.
OSWALD: A name that’s appeared in Chaucer, Shakespeare and Trollope, belonged to two saints and was the given moniker of Harriet’s husband Ozzie, it was perhaps permanently tarnished by its connection to Lee Harvey.
PERCIVAL: The pure and innocent knight who succeeded in the quest for the Holy Grail — not to mention Nellie’s husband on “Little House on the Prairie” — Percival is one name I can see being taken on by a fearless baby namer.
PERCY: Might have more of a chance than the others. Not a short form of Percival but adapted from a British surname, Percy is associated with the great romantic poet Shelley, has some jazzy musical cred via Sledge and Faith — and for me, the image of that cute little boy.
Nameberry (http://nameberry.com) is a baby-naming site produced by Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz, co-authors of nine bestselling baby name guides, including “The Baby Name Bible” and “Cool Names for Babies.”
(c) 2009, Nameberry.com
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