1950 Memories of Suburban Adventures

Name Game

Various cultures (far more intelligent than mine) wait until a baby is grown (and able to put their two-cents in) to pick a suitable permanent name. But knowing my luck, I’d be saddled with a moniker like Skinny-know-it-all or She-who-must-be-avoided.

How was I supposed to attract a boy when I was saddled with a plain old name like Mary Barbara? My stupendous personality required a unique name, like Aurora (Sleeping Beauty’s real name), Rapunzel, or Cleopatra. If I was an Indian maiden I could be Princess (of course I’d be a princess) Rising Star.

An episode of Gunsmoke featured the most magnificent saloon girl I’d ever seen. She could sing and dance, just like me. And she had great taste in clothing.

Television shows were black and white, but I just knew her ruffle-covered saloon dress was red and black. And when she danced and showed a peak at her bloomers, they didn’t have any splotches of pine-pitch stuck on them.

Abigail couldn’t make a repeat performance, because the dumb writers tragically killed her off during the last few minutes of her only episode. Maybe Miss Kitty didn’t like all the attention thrown Abigail’s way and threatened to quit unless Abby got the ax. I did notice Marshal Dillon giving Abigail the eye a few times.

“I’m going to be a saloon girl when I grow up,” I announced. “And I’m going to wear lots of fancy feathers in my hair.”

Mom nodded, muttering “Good gravy” under her breath.

Dad asked, “Does this mean I’ll get free beer?”

I ignored his question, since he never drank, and asked one of my own. “Why didn’t you guys name me Abigail?”

“I guess I didn’t think of it,” said Mom.

“You mean you really never thought about a great name like Abigail? It never crossed your mind at all?”

“Not even for a minute,” she answered.

Mom was pregnant with a new brother or sister for David and me. Obviously, I wanted a girl, and David wanted a boy. I instructed Mom that if the baby was a girl to name her Abigail or Matina, my favorite doll’s name that I personally made up. I didn’t care what Mom named a baby brother.

David and I spent a few nights at various aunts’ homes while Mom was in the hospital. While at Aunt Ann and Uncle Mike’s, I got scared at night and wouldn’t settle down until they let me crawl into bed with them. This was definitely Aunt Ann’s idea, because I heard Uncle Mike grumbling about my unexpected presence.

Baby Susan, me, David

Baby Susan, me, David

I returned home to meet my new baby sister, Susan Marie. Mom apologized for forgetting about Abigail or Matina, and I forgave her when I learned her alternate name had been Sally. It took years to get over the fact that the only two names Mom came up with were Susan and Sally.

And Susan’s middle name, Marie, was almost the same as my first name.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at Mom’s inability to pick creative names. Most of my first cousins, including me, had Mary, Barbara, Ann, or Nancy in our names, causing our double-name usage: Mary Barbara (me), Mary Ellen (also known as Deedee), Susan Marie, Barbara Kay, Barbara Ann, Janet Ann, Karen Ann, Ann Shirley, older Nancy, and younger Nancy. We often wondered what our mothers (five sisters) were thinking when they named us.

Dad’s side of the family wasn’t in the clear either. Dad’s father, brother, and only nephew were all Edward Norton, like Art Carney in The Honeymooners. My father is Frederick, which made Ed, Ed, Ed, and Fred.

Side note: As a junior in college I met and briefly dated Jamie, Art Carney’s son. He wanted me to leave college and travel with him to his coffeehouse performances. I was tempted for a moment, partly because of the Ed Norton connection, and partly because he was so darn cute. But I knew my parent’s would kill me.

My two sisters and I provided our children with names unique from those of their first cousins. However, my two daughters are not Abigail and Matina. And I never became a saloon girl, but I often wore fancy feathers in my hair, and they looked good.

Lessons learned: A great name is in the ear of the beholder. And there’s nothing wrong with displaying a few feathers.

Related posts: Boy Crazy/Impressing Boys


Now it’s your turn: As a child, how happy were you with your name?


© Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures, 2012 forward. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. Elle Knowles says:

    Helen Belinda! Helen after my mother and who knows about Belinda. Uggh! Helen must have been a popular name in the mid 50’s because there were three of us in my class. I was called Lindy for short which proved my parents did have an imagination and I was happy with that when I could get it across to my teachers at the first of every school year! I never met another Lindy until recently. Elle? – that’s the L for Lindy!

  2. elle says:

    OMG you are too much… LOVE your writing..you have to send these in someplace to be published.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Thank you so much. Writing, like painting, is akin to baring your soul. Positive feedback nourishes me and keeps me going. On the other hand, I spent about a year submitting query letters and proposals. I guess admissions didn’t think too highly.

  3. Val Mills says:

    Valerie May not sure where Valerie came from, but I was supposed to be a boy and named Kenneth after my father – instead I got landed with his birthday month , May. Dad used to often joke, Valerie May or she may not – to oher people! Thank heavens Mum insisted I couldn’t have May as a first name tho.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      If you had my Mom, Kenneth would have been changed to Kendra. How do I know this, Val? Because my youngest sister was supposed to be a boy named Paul Lee. When a girl popped out, she became Paula Lee.
      Two of my good friends had the middle name May and often heard the May or may not line.
      Cheers to those who loved their names as kids.

  4. Mimmy Jain says:

    LOL, my baptismal name is also Mary. I spent half my childhood hiding it and the other half flaunting it. But, oh, I so wanted a proper Indian name. Especially as my full name was so prone to being mauled in Hindi!

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Well, I really like Mimmy and would have loved to have it for my own name or nickname. At around 14, my cousin Deedee and I gave me the nickname Mimi.

  5. CJ says:

    As a little girl I cursed my name: Colleen. Everybody else had cute names like Lisa, Debbie, Stacey, Sondra, and I got stuck with an archaic and RARE name. To top it off I had a VERY ethnic last name, which seemed impossible to pronounce for most people. My father told me the horror stories of his youth and even in the Navy where our Bohemian-Czech name was fodder for ignorant Polish jokes, other very distasteful slurs, and seemed to justify a reason to bully him (as I). So I secretly prayed that one day I might be lucky to marry a Smith or a Jones (well, not really THOSE, but SOMETHING less difficult) so I could shed the tough surname. As it would turn out I married a “Thompson”…by no means was that experience worth giving up a name I am now very proud of, one I have so much greater appreciation for…alas, because Thompson and I made 2 baby girls together, I kept my last name to keep things simpler for them and myself, after the divorce. I am getting too old to think of reverting to my old maiden name, I think. But I admit it occasionally crosses my mind. Thanks for that opportunity to unload that secret part of me that was always treated “don’t ask, I won’t tell” about myself, lol. I feel much better now. 🙂

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Hey, CJ, my maternal grandmother came straight from Poland. I, too, am very proud of the various countries that form my heritage. You are welcome to unload here any time. I’m glad you feel better.
      Luckily for me, my school was small (32 in my grade) and many families were of Polish descent. No one ever made fun of anyone’s name – except for Bernard Barnheart – who was called Barny Barnyard in grade school.

  6. […] Related posts: Chapter Five: Name Game […]

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