The Name Game

While lying in bed at 4:30 this morning, my 2-year old invisible stepchild named Tinnitus was ringing in my ear. So rather than dwell on that constant whizzing sound, I got to thinking about my mother – and also about names…like people’s names and their history in my life. (Tinnitus is not one of those names…ugh)

Photo by Ivan Oboleninov on

I thought back to my youth, where some of my classmates didn’t really have names, just initials. There was C.R., and R.J., and J.D. I thought that was very cool, and other kids did too. I probably could’ve been C.R. (No, I’m not sharing my middle name), but since C.R. was already taken, I decided to cut my full name of Caroline short and have my friends call me “Carol.”

Just Carol…so back then, my name was Carol Coley. You could almost say it as one word. It gives me hives just to think of it. My mother had the foresight to tell me that one day I would go back to Caroline. She was a smart woman.

Caroline, however, is pronounced like Carolyn. So, people who know me pronounce it correctly. My mother was very Kennedy-esque, since her name was Jacqueline (and called Jackie later in her life), so I never asked her why it was spelled one way and pronounced the other. Since I changed it, waywayway back, like post-college, Caroline has been paired with practically a lifetime of pronunciation corrections. When you add either my maiden or married name to it, there have been some very creative, fun spellings and interpretations:

Cardine – when someone thought the “o” and the “l” was a “d.”

Carololine Cooley – Truth! Last name is a common misspelling. This was also a favorite on Junk Mail envelopes

Carly Stainstreet – Ha! Everyone likes to switch the “n” and the “i”

Many of my friends have – shall I call them – “normal” names? But – they too have returned to the Land of Formality. My friend Sue is back to Susan, which is what she was always called in her household. Becky is Rebecca, Cindy is Cynthia – and so on.

The names of my past were pretty easy – although my mother would often mention that people would change their children’s names to make them unique or in her descriptive word,”cutsie.” For example:

Adding “e”‘s at the end of names, like Anne and Lynne, or removing a letter, like Elliot instead of Elliott.

Kathy – would change to Kathi or Kathie (When growing up, there were lots of Kathys – I knew a Nice Kathy and a Mean Kathy, just as an aside). Debbie was Debby, Debbi or even Debi – my mother would deliberately pronounce the names ending in “i” like “eye” – resulting in “Deb-eye.” Also, my boss’ wife was named “Carole” so Mom would say, “I recently saw Ca-Role With An ‘E‘!”

Gosh, I truly miss her sense of humor.

There are so many nicknames for Elizabeth (sometimes spelled Elisabeth, or Lizbeth), like Liz, Eliza, Liza, Lisa, Beth, Ellie, and more non-traditional nicknames, including “Buffy” (remember the 1960’s TV show “Family Affair?”) and also Tibbi – a friend from high school. As for boys names, our son Sean has the traditional Gaelic spelling, but there is also Shawn and Shaun, and in the past couple of decades, letters have been added – like college football player Tashawn Manning, and NFL player Deshaun Watson, whose first name is really Derrick. As for my mom, well, she thought there was a place for certain nicknames, but wasn’t having any of that in our household.

Today’s names have fluctuated from trendy to traditional. During my twenties, no one in their right mind would have ever thought of naming their daughters Madison – but if you saw the 1984 movie “Splash,” you’ll know why (Tom Hanks jested, “Madison’s not a name!”). But it’s incredibly popular now. The traditional names are currently “hot” – with what my mom would also refer to as “biblical names” – Jonah, Elijah, Jacob, Mary, and names of our ancestors – Charles, Anthony, Olivia, Noah, Emily, Lucas, Melissa, Henry, and even Hazel (another 60’s TV show).

Darryl Hannah (Madison) and Tom Hanks (Allen Bauer) in 1984’s “Splash

If you had the chance to alter your name or re-name yourself, or your children, would you? Or do you perceive yourself just the way you were named? And here’s another question – do people “look” like a Kevin, a Kelly, or – dare I say it – a Karen?!! I always thought if I had taken the big leap to change from Caroline to Carolyn, my mother would’ve given me the dreaded “stink eye.”

I’m grateful that I’m here to even ponder these silly questions about names. But it’s kind of a fun thing to think about, especially when you miss your mom and you can’t sleep.

So sleep well, my friends, even if my mom would’ve thought you had a “cutsie” name.


Author: sinkorswim204

I'm a “veteran” Broadcast producer as well as a former high school and collegiate swimmer who still loves to write. I hope to inspire others to stay afloat in these often turbulent waters while enjoying some new challenges in my middle age.

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