I recently saw the death notice for Phyllis Brown Oakes. It caused me to think about that name. I have known four girls named Phyllis, all of my generation. I dated Phyllis Wiseman in high school and Phyllis Krider in college. Phyllis Brown was a college and grad school friend. Phyllis Graham Parr was a high school and life-long friend. They were all pretty, but what really set them aside was that they were all really smart, and very nice. Even though it would obviously make your baby daughter pretty, smart, and nice, I don’t think any parents name their baby Phyllis anymore. I have not met a Phyllis since those four, of many years ago.
Recently at church a high school girl introduced herself to me as Greta. I remarked on what a classic name that is and said I was sure there were no other girls her generation named Greta, since classic names are not in. She replied, “No, I know several girls my age named Greta.” “Good grief,” I said, “I thought all the other teen girls are named Crystal.” “No,” she said, “I don’t know any Crystals.” Then I realized that Crystal has been out of date for 20 years, because that is how long my wife has been retired, and all her high school girls were named Crystal or Amanda. Now Greta is in. It’s hard to keep up with name cycles.
Names go in cycles. Names like Schwinn go in bicycles, but names like Olive and Hazel go in 80 year cycles. Look at the obits and the birth notices. Olives and its derivatives, like Olivia, in both, not any in between.
I once served a church in which there were five Hazels, all the same age—old. That is not true with Hazels now. I served another church that had six men named Max. They were all born right after Dr. Seuss’ book about the Grinch stealing Christmas was made into a movie. The Grinch’s beleaguered but appealing dog was named Max. Figure that one out.
Dogs used to be named for athletic teams or venues. The most popular name for dogs in Chicago is Wrigley. Cubs fans have it easy. Not so White Sox fans. It would be hard to call for a dog named Guaranteed Rate. “Stop pooping on the lawn, Guaranteed Rate!” I don’t think so. We once had a great dog. Unfortunately she was named before the current Reds’ park, for she was definitely The Great American Dog. We just called her Waggs.
Most of us react emotionally to people, in part, because of their names. If all the Bobs you’ve known were nice guys, you’re likely to assume this new Bob you’re meeting is okay. If most of the girls you’ve known named Cruella lived up to their name, well, you’ll be wary of the next one you meet.
So, maybe, when Bill Gaither says, “There’s something about that name…”