They were not people I knew, but were a guest speaker at our congregation and his wife. Our house is tiny, but we are always happy to share – the more the merrier, I say. Even with only one bathroom! At any rate, when our speaker informed me that his wife was also named Doreen, I knew automatically that she was aged somewhere between 70 and 85, and naturally I was spot on. This is because I have long been possessed of a very OLD name.
Doreen is not a traditional name like Katherine, Jane or Cynthia. That, I could handle. No, my given name is one that conjures up images of whiskery spinster aunties with unfortunate skin conditions, tepid tea drunk from dubiously clean and likely cracked cups, dusty tweed coats smelling of mothballs, and a cabbagey kitchen. Doreen brings to mind huge sprays of white gladioli and a fond wish that our distantly ancient relative named us in her will, since she was more than likely a penny-pincher. And possibly a hoarder…Better us than the Cat’s Protection League.
Everyone in England has an aged Auntie Doreen… they are standard issue at birth.
It is true. I despise my given name. There is no point in telling me how lovely it is, because of course I will know you are just being kind. It is a granny name, it honestly and truthfully is, and I learned to accept that at a very early age. My mum named me after Doreen Tracey of the Mickey Mouse Club, as some of you may well be aware. Still, my lovely mother must have stuttered when spelling out my birth certificate, because not only do I have a granny name, it is a non-traditional spelling.
In school, my teachers got the subliminal message loud and clear: Saddled as I was with a granny name, I was obviously an underachiever (when I was the opposite), more than likely on the underside of the economic ladder (which was actually true), and that I was one who obviously flouted rules (which I did not!).
Yes, there is much more to a name than the name itself. Teachers, professionals, our potential future spouses, colleagues, our children even – they all draw conclusions about us based upon our name, whether or not they care to admit it.
What was mum thinking? She was on a roll, and somehow, with daughter number three, it all went horribly wrong.
Child 1: William (Bill for short) – traditional, acceptable, solid.
Child 2: Kathleen (Kat for short) – traditional, beautiful, shortened in a super-cute way, adorable. Which she is!
Child 3: Kelly – Irish, adorable, an apt name for a willful child who would eventually make cheerleader. Kellys are always cheerleaders.
Child 4: Dorreen – nontraditional spelling, old granny name.
Child 5: Bethany (Bethy for short), a sweet, popular name.
Child 6: Tiffany (Tiff for short), a book-end to Bethany – both completely acceptable names socially, economically, and educationally.
After me, Mum clearly had a rethink and is redeemed by her name choices for my younger siblings.
I recall reading in years past a study about educational prejudice against what were deemed to be unpopular sounding names like Agatha or Gertrude or Bertha. In blind test scoring, the teachers routinely gave lower marks for identical work to those with unopular names, whereas the Julies and Christies and Kims came in with top marks. Why? Because they had subconsciously drawn conclusions about the student before even reading their papers. Sadly, I can not locate the study so cannot quote it directly, but as the victim of an ancient name, it stood out in my memory, and I certainly agree with that conclusion.
Now, it would seem, there is prejudice among educators with regards to names they consider to be “naughty” or “precocious.” There is also serious prejudice against names which sound “black,” and names with nontraditional spellings, such as Aimeey or Chelsee, which apparently smack of a disregard for rules and structure. I am not surprised. It would seem teachers, whether they like it or not, are human. And as humans, we have a tendency to draw conclusions, right or wrong, based on very, very limited information. (See here and here for more information on that).
I have done it myself. I will never forget driving through a Houston neighbourhood and seeing a banner hung across the front of a house that read: “Happy Birthday, Alaijuh!” Seriously? I couldn’t stop laughing at the ignorance of parents who could not properly spell Elijah. There is obviously a fine line between originality and ridiculousness.
Ironically, when it came time to name my own children, HH and I agreed on Charity Rose for our daughter, ostensibly because this was the only name we could agree on. In truth, Charity Woodstock was the heroine of some romance novel I read back in the day. I fell in love with the name and that was that, so Charity it was. Our son, Christian Robert, was named after yet another 1980s bodice-ripper. I’m not proud of it, but there you have it!
So my mum fell in love with Doreen from the Mickey Mouse Club. Somehow, I have more respect for her in light of my own dubious source material. However, with kids called Charity and Christian, our children never had to deal with name prejudice, and I am grateful for that fact. They succeeded or failed on their own merits, and have never for one second been embarrassed or ashamed of their given names. In fact, both profess to love their names.
For those who may be expecting, please do not take this as endorsement for choosing your names from novels. But you may want to think twice before dragging auntie Isadora’s name out of mothballs, or altering the spelling too outrajusslee. Your relatives, if they still live, will eventually forgive you. Your child, on the other hand, may not.
- feature photo: Shutterstock
- Doreen: The Far Side – kemdvm.blogspot.com
- Doreen bra: aidansweeney.co.uk
- Doreen Tracey: disneybymark.com
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