WACHS: What’s in a name for our loved ones?


Names, it’s been said, are among the most important parts of our lives. They are, our identity and security, our personality and who we are and how we look at life.

There are, of course, exceptions to that rule but I’d just as soon not be named Ima Stinkbottom and go through life trying to find out.

Many parents go to great lengths and effort to find just the right name for their little bundle of joy while others just sort of throw something at the baby and hope it sticks.

Some names are family; others from the world around us. The “Bob” I carry, somehow short for “Robert,” is in memory and tribute to my uncle of the same name who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II and my middle “Joseph” has been worn by men before and after me. For a period of years, many were the ladies named after Shirley Temple when she ruled the silver screen. I’ve been told my father-in-law just liked the name for his offspring who became my much better half but maybe that’s the genesis of where it came from for her.

Some names and arrangements can be sort of cute. For instance, I’ve written here before of my acquaintance Raymond Dennis Ator who, when he would sign documents or otherwise introduce himself, would come across as Ray D. Ator

Then there was James Arthur Conley Knight, whose initials spelled the word “Jack,” which, of course, became his nickname.

Other names and their arrangement can border on the downright funny, unless it’s you and your name, while others can be, shall we say, almost obscene. The story is told –maybe it’s urban legend – of the Hogg sisters in Texas, twins who were given the first names of “Ima” and “Ura.”

My mother, bless her saintly soul except when she had a mischievous twinkle in her eye, loved to tell the story of the twin girls born to the Terry family, who lived in her neighborhood. Their parents, being a bit financially embarrassed, asked the good doctor to name their new arrivals as a token of their thanks for his services, seeing as how it might be a month of Sundays and some Saturdays before he got any cash. Pausing hardly a moment, he determined their names would be “Datun” and “Disen.” No doubt the latter of the two endured some second looks as she moved along in life.

I say all this to point out that the names we bestow upon our pets is also significant. Some of those can be unique, as in the owner of the two-pound Chihuahua who named him “Killer” and the fellow who owned a cat and just named her “Cat.”

There are those who say – even study at great length and write great papers and books and conduct studies – the pets we have are mirrors of our own being. That may – or may not – be true. I’ll admit that in the past I’ve lived (I started to say “owned” dogs but I don’t think you own dogs; I think they own you) with, and still do, dogs who like to lie in the sun and pace themselves through life. I can identify with that but I’m not sure what it says about me with the dog who liked to run in circles . . . oh wait, now I understand.

The other day I ran across one of those news articles about dogs and cats, this one on what we name them. It said, in part, that names once most used – like “Fido” for dogs and “Fifi” for cats – are now out. Today the preferred choices are human names: “Max” is first for both dogs and cats. Other dog names in the Top Ten include Buddy, Molly, Maggie, Jake and Rocky. That same list for cats includes Lucy, Oliver and Chloe.

Reading that article did me proud because for once in my life I was ahead of the curve. Through the years we’ve owned some great dogs and they’ve all, with the exception of a German Shepherd who was intellectually challenged, had people names: Charlie, Butch, Ralph, Lewis, Russell, Clara, Leroy, Sadie and Ellie come to mind.

And throughout it all, our two children, one now no longer a forty-something who used to be teenagers who lived at my house, by the name of Fluffy and Spot, have been very happy with the names.

All this rambling is to say two things. One, names do have personal, even emotional, significance, or at least should have.

The other is it’s more important to use the names than to remember them. Speak often and softly and warmly to folks around you, family and friend, and call their names. And when they’re no longer around, do the same.

It’s good for them… and us.

Bob Wachs is a native of Chatham County and emeritus editor at Chatham News & Record. He serves as pastor of Bear Creek Baptist Church.