A case for simple names

Betheny.  Becky.  Mary Beth.  Mary Anne.  Ruth Anne.

These are just a few of the names that I have repeatedly been called during my thirty years.  Who knew that two simple names hyphenated together, making one, could cause such confusion?

This name-angst has followed me since childhood.  My mother tells me that as a young girl a distant relative thought that my parents had two daughters: Beth and Anne.  They would look at my mom puzzled when she would arrive somewhere with just me in tow, being so bold as to ask, “I thought Beth and Anne were coming.”

Perhaps because my name is not that common, it can be perplexing to some.  Introducing myself to anyone hard of hearing, who has an accent or speaks English as a second language usually leaves them slightly embarrassed, and an exasperated me temporarily answering to a new name.

Or else the conversation usually goes something like this:

“Hi, I am Lauren.”

“Hi, Lauren.  I am Beth-Anne, nice to meet you.”


“No, Beth-Anne”

“Sorry, Beth-Anne?”

“Yes.  Beth-Anne.  Like Beth and Anne smooshed together.  Beth-Anne.”

“So, that has a hyphen?”


“Huh.  Sort of like Mary Beth.”

Not really.

My husband, after years of witnessing this exchange, is now quick to butt-in and just finishes the script for me.  It never ceases to amaze me that my two-syllable name can cause eyebrows to furrow and foreheads to crease.

Years ago, I met someone who had a tattoo that read: Hello, My Name Is Jim on his left breast.  Obnoxiously he made a show of peeling back his plaid flannel button-down shirt when he introduced himself.  After seeing, what I can only imagine as shock on my face, he quickly sidestepped to the next group of party guests to repeat his performance.

Just pointing to my inked chest could make my life easier but ultimately there are many reasons why this wouldn’t be a suitable solution least of which, after having three kids, my “name tag” would be down around my navel.

The only other regular sounding name that I have bared witness to causing such confused looks is a woman whose name is LN.   That’s right.  LN like Ellen.  After meeting her, explaining my hybrid name to strangers seems like a cakewalk.  At least my parents don’t come off as LSD dropping illiterates.

So, when the time came to name our boys the criteria was simple:  one-syllable first names to match their one-syllable last name.

Jack, Sam and Will.

May they never have to resort to name tattoos.


14 thoughts on “A case for simple names

  1. I feel your pain! As you can imagine, with a name like mine, people almost never get it right the first time. Many don’t get it right after years of knowing me. Thus the shortened version of our daughter’s name – Ellie for Elspeth – which apparently is also impossible. Let’s hope Colin finds it easier. Sigh…

    • Yes, you do know what it’s like! Elspeth (which btw, is a name that I love and every Elspeth that I have ever met is such a wonderful person) will be in good company 🙂

  2. When our son was born, we wanted a straight-forward, no-nonsense name, and one that could not be made into a diminutive (David>Davey, for example). We chose the name Carsten (which is pronounced, btw, exactly as it is written: cars-ten), which is a Danish name, thereby giving a nod to my father’s Danish heritage.

    Though it is not exactly commonplace among American boys’ names, it still seemed straightforward enough in spelling/pronunciation that we thought it would not be too complicated or confusing. Apparently, we were very wrong! He has been called Carson, Kirsten, Kristen, and other assorted mangled versions of Carsten, even by immediate family members! At this stage, it bothers me more than my son, and hopefully, that will always be the case. Have names gotten so complicated in spelling/pronunciation that we no longer recognize simplicity when it’s staring you in the face?! : )

    • It seems simplicity is so far “out” that even simple names have been modified to be unique with interesting spelling variations (like a recent take I saw on Anna = Anah). I am not a fan, but each to their own.

      PS – Carsten is a great name but if he happens to become a member of my club, I will accept him with open arms! 🙂

  3. I think it’s interesting that both you and Nathalie begin with your experiences with your own names, and describe your naming choices as responses to those experiences, whether positive or negative. (This wasn’t my chief criterion in thinking about names, but I do hope that my daughters’ names will not scream their time and place quite as much as my own very 1970s North America name does! Or, for that matter, my husband’s very 1960s made-up-by-a-hippie name.)

    • Eeek, I do sound self-absorbed! 🙂 I also like to play the “time and place” game with people’s names. I think that my boys’ names definitely scream time and place – especially considering that there are 4 other Jack and Sam combos in our small neighbourhood (that we know of ) alone. Thanks for chiming in Kelly!

      • I didn’t think you sounded self-absorbed, or at least no more than anyone else! I just think it’s interesting how the ways we’ve inhabited our own names affect our decisions about our children, and I suspect we all do it. Which makes sense, I guess, given that most other things in parenting work this way. Your boys’ names are popular now, yes, but they’re timeless too. Jack Jones could just as easily be from 1911 as 2011. “Kelly” isn’t likely to be either!

  4. Ted.

    You would think that a simple name like Ted would be easy enough.

    Many can’t figure out how you can get Ted from my formal birthname, Edward, which I use on formal documents (wonder if Ted Kennedy, Ted Turner and so many other Ted’s have that issue).

    I often get just Ed. I’ve gotten Thad, Tad, Todd. Some even make a wrong guess and decide to formalize it as Theodore.

    The one that puzzles me is how many people, even after being corrected umpteen times, write it down as Tedd with two “d”. It’s not like Ann or Anne, Sara or Sarah, Bryan or Brian, where many people spell the name differently. There is no one in the world who spells their “Ted” as “Tedd” and yet I get that spelling all of the time.

    Maybe, just to throw them a curve and to make life more interesting, as homage to Beth-Anne and to LN, I should go be “T-d”?

    • Ha!
      As a side note, I love the name Ted and we considered it for number three. Because I am an Elizabeth-Anne, shortened to Beth-Anne, I also face the same formal documents vs. casual living that you describe. That was another factor when naming our boys: no names that could be shortened. Jack is just Jack. Sam is just Sam but then I caved and Will is William. Ted would have just been Ted.

  5. hey Beth-Anne!
    I love your name and you’re the only Beth-Anne i know which i also love 🙂 I too have problems with Lynn. People often think i should be a Linda or a Lindsay and often ask what Lynn is short for. It’s just plain Lynn I tell them- interesting how people think there is more to it.

  6. Great posts this week – makes me reflect on my experience with my name and how that influenced my choice of names for the kidlets. I cursed my parents when I was a teenager for giving me a name so difficult to pronounce and spell outside of Quebec, but I’m starting to see I may have had a similar experience regardless 🙂

  7. I’ve never been in love with my first name, but reading your post I see it does have the advantage of being readily absorbed from the outside. Great post.

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