The name game going back to the future

I am a son of a Muriel, which makes me a fairly rare person. Although I am sure such creatures exist somewhere in the world, I myself have never met another woman named Muriel, and have therefore never met another son of a Muriel.

I am also the grandson of a Theodora and a Rebecca. My wife Wendy is the daughter of a Dororthy, and the granddaughter of an Eve and a Dora. On the 11-house cul de sac I grew up on, in addition to our Muriel, our neighbors of the female persuasion included a Hazel, a Marguerite, an Irene, a Laura, a Joanne, two Bettys and a Mitzi. Growing up I had friends with mothers named Opal, Flora, Trudy, Marge and Eleanor.

I mention all that because I read an article last week that said that many of the popular names of the 1940s and ’50s are making a comeback. Women’s names that were common 50-80 years ago are popular again. Based on extensive research I conducted over the past half hour, I have confirmed that I know young women named Opal, Pearl, Ruby, Olive, Maude, Beatrice, Winnie, Eunice and Adelaide. That somewhat surprising revival of what not too long ago were considered old-fashioned names for women is now on the verge of becoming trendy. This makes me happy because if Opals and Pearls are on the rise now, then Muriels can’t be far behind.

Oddly enough, the article did not say anything about there being a similar revival in men’s names. My dad was a Eugene. Our adult male neighbors included a Jack, two Bobs, two Kens, a Bill and a Norm. Other than Norm and perhaps Eugene, the men living on the block pretty much had names that the men living on the block today are likely to have. So retro female names are trendy, while bland men’s names remain the norm.

The boys growing up on my block were all Tims and Toms and Jims and Johns, Rons and Dons with the occasional Randys, Ryans, Brians and Pauls. Throw in a sprinkling of Matthews, a pinch or two of Keiths and a couple more Kens and you’ve pretty much got my old neighborhood covered.

In the first house Wendy and I lived in together we had a neighbor who had a young boy named Orville. He was the spitting image of Ralphie from “A Christmas Story.” I once asked Orville if he was named after Orville Wright, the American aviation pioneer along with his brother Wilbur. Orville said “Wilbur? What kind of a name is Wilbur?”

My own family toed the line in selecting respectable and unexciting names. We Tyner kids include an Elizabeth, a Rebecca, a Thomas and a David. Each of us has a middle name that belonged to a grandfather or a grandmother or other notable upstanding citizen in the family tree. My brother Dave was a couple of grades behind me in school. When we attended high school at the same time, I thought it would be a great prank to convince the rest of the school that Dave’s nickname was “Goober” and had been since he was a baby. I figured that was a great way to humiliate my brother and thereby establish some older brother/alpha male dominance.

Unfortunately, not only was Dave not humiliated by being known as Goober, he embraced the nickname, and to this day he still refers to himself as Goober or Goob or Uncle Goob and now as Grandpa Goob. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to have a younger sibling turn the tables on you like that.

When it came to naming our own children, Wendy and I picked Adam for our firstborn son and gave him Wendy’s maiden name (Jason) as a middle name. We picked Lauren for our daughter simply because we both liked the name. We gave her the middle name of Gene to honor her paternal grandfather. Before arriving at Adam and Lauren, we considered and rejected a variety of less conventional names – Jeremiah or Obadiah for Adam (I was going through a Jeremiah Johnson phase which has now lasted for over 50 years), and Condoleeza or Beatrice for Lauren. I guess is more accurate to say I considered and Wendy rejected those less-conventional names, for which I am sure our kids are eternally grateful.

Tom Tyner of Bainbridge Island writes a weekly humor column for this newspaper.