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Labels that last a lifetime

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Naming children is one of the most mind-boggling jobs of parenthood.

There you are, confronted with a very small bundle of person that you know nothing about, and you are expected to label him or her for life. It’s a scary proposition, but people have been doing it for a very long time. Some children are named for family members, some for historical or fictional characters, some for celebrities, and some from the depths of a vivid imagination.

Names, like fashion, tend to change with the times, and they vary with nationalities and cultural groups. You can often guess when and where a person was born simply by their name. I think perhaps men’s names have undergone more changes in recent years than women’s.

When I was growing up in the South, most boys were named James or John or Robert or Williams or Thomas (or some other common English name) and they were usually called Jimmy or Johnny or Bobby or Billy or Tommy or whatever y-ending nickname went with their given name. Many of them dropped the “y” once they reached adulthood, except when being addressed by mothers, siblings or old friends. My husband is one of those.

Now, male names tend to be strong on consonants and seldom end in a vowel. I like that. I was careful to name both my sons something that was not likely to be distorted into a nickname and although one goes by a shortened version of his given name, it doesn’t have a “y” on the end.

Since I am all in favor of names that work as well for adults as they do for children, I was very surprised at the newest British royal being named Archie. I think that’s a cute enough name for a toddler, but then, in my mind, it tends to morph into Archie Bunker. Not fair, I know, because there are some very accomplished and distinguished Archies, but “All in the Family” made a big impression on some of us. If I thought my child was going to be identified with a TV sitcom character, I believe I might opt for Hawkeye instead.

Jean McCamy is a Wake Forest artist.