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What’s In A Name? 5 Challenging Scenarios Of Kids Who Were Given Names That Caused Trouble

A Less Known Adolph

Have you noticed nobody gives the name Adolph to a child anymore?

This jarring remark came from a German fellow, somebody I had fallen into conversation with on a ferry hugging the Croatian Adriatic coast.

I had just told him that his English was remarkably good. He, in turn, revealed he had gone to the University of Colorado as a young man, proudly proclaiming, “I am a buffalo!”  

“Colorado,” I responded. “Coors beer!”

Hence the comment regarding the legendary founder’s first name, Adolph Coors.

Names Are Funny Things.

I had an ancestor named Ebenezer. Thanks to Charles Dickens, it didn’t get passed down.

Names go in and out of style. Growing up as I did next to the Old South Cemetery, you soon discovered that there were once lots of people named Enoch, Jeremiah, Elsie, and Ephraim.

Sadly, you also saw that many of the interred didn’t get to have names – the gravestones were inscribed “Baby” or “Infant,” sometimes right next to a mother’s marker bearing the same date, mute testimony to the rigors of 17th and 18th century childbirth.

Over in Essex, in that town’s Old Graveyard on Main Street, there is a happier story involving Abel and Thankful Story. It seems they managed to have ten children, leading local wags to declare that “he was Abel – and she was Thankful.” History is silent as to whether or not Thankful was truly thankful raising 10 kids, or, like the old lady in the shoe, she found there were so many she didn’t know what to do.


The year I was born, Robert happened to be the most popular boy’s name nationally, and there were a lot of fellow Roberts in Ipswich. There were also a lot of girls named Cathy, Debbie, Mary, and Jane.   

Tom, Dick and Harry

Perhaps because of that, many in town ended up with nicknames. Growing up, mine was “Doc.” Indeed, Ipswich had no end of folks with colorful nicknames: “Brick,” “Yogi,” “Bucket,” “Donkey,” “Yucca,” “Babe,” “Farf,” “Hooksie,” and so on.

And, to be fair, there were a few kids whose parents thought outside the “Tom, Dick, and Harry” box. In my cohort, we had a Julian, a Cassandra, and a Casmira. These kids didn’t need nicknames – their names were memorable because they were unique.

What About Karen?

This whole name thing came to mind a couple of months ago, when a white woman, Amy Cooper, falsely accused Christian Cooper, a birdwatcher who happened to be Black, of threatening her in New York’s Central Park.

In news reports, Amy was pronounced to be a “Karen” – the new shorthand for a white woman of privilege.

As it happens, my spouse is named Karen – and she is a woman of color. As for privilege, the only privilege her parents experienced was getting “free” room and board growing up in an internment camp for relocated citizens who happened to be of Japanese ancestry. After the war, they had to re-start life with exactly nothing.

Let’s just say my Karen was a tad unhappy that her name had been appropriated without any thought to the Karens of the world.

Name Appropriation

But, of course, this name appropriation thing is nothing new.

There has been “plain” Jane, “chatty” Cathy, “negative” Nancy, “lazy” Susan – and that’s just on the girls’ side of things.

As for guys, who wants to be a “downer” Dan? And don’t even get me started with “Dick.”

Among African-Americans, you’ll find few Toms, Bens, or Jemimas – again, names that have been appropriated.

I somehow evolved from Robert to “Doc” to Bob. The best that can be said is that it is simple – you can spell it frontwards or backwards. Robert supposedly means “of bright shining fame.” Bob, on the other hand, just means you have a shortcut to your last name.

My advice? If you need to name a kid, go to an old graveyard and pick out a name that’s gone completely out of style.

Trust me. They’ll be Thankful.

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About The Author
Robert Waite
Robert Waite
Robert is Managing Director at Waite + Co., a communications firm with offices in Boston, Ottawa and Toronto. He also teaches at Seneca College. He has more than 35 years experience leading communications, marketing and government relations functions for some of North America’s largest firms, including Ford, IBM, CAE, CIBC and Canada Post. He served as Press Secretary to Senator Edward W. Brooke (R-MA) and Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) and in the Reagan Administration. He is a three-time winner of the New England Press Association’s Best Column Award. He can be reached at [email protected].
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