What’s In A Name?

Robert is, candidly, a somewhat clumsy name.  It doesn’t exactly flow trippingly off the tongue.  Starting with the rolling “r,” then flipping to the explosive “b,” then ending with that hard “t” — it’s just filled with too many discordant sounds.

“Robert” didn’t even sound good when actors on last season’s Game of Thrones talked to or about King Robert Baratheon.  You know your name isn’t a thing of beauty if, even when it is spoken by actors with British accents, it still sounds like a word for a failed engine part.

Fortunately, no one but the IRS and my bank refer to me as “Robert.”  But what nickname to choose?  For the first 12 years of my life, everyone called me Bobby.  I liked Bobby, but as I hit the teenage years I realized almost no one used the diminutive form of nickname anymore.  Now the only adult males I know who go by “Bobby” hail from south of the Mason-Dixon line, boast about SEC football dominance, comfortably wear white loafers without socks, and drink bourbon in the evenings.  The name fits them, but not me.

“Rob” never really worked, and “Robby” even less so.  It’s not just because “Rob” is a word for an act of theft, either.  Mostly, “Rob” seems prissy and highfalutin, a sort of halfway attempt to hang on to the old English roots of Robert.

That leaves Bob.  I settled on Bob more than 40 years ago, and I still like it.  It’s rarely mispronounced and almost never misspelled.  It’s short and solid and simple.  I think it suits me.  After all, as we swim through the sea of life, everybody needs to bob now and then.

Robert, Embarrassingly Behind Nevaeh And Alfie

Recently I happened to see a list of the most popular baby names in Ohio, and saw that Robert, once again, didn’t make the list.  Oh, you’ll still see Robert on the statewide representation of popular names on the linked webpage  — its located down there near Marietta on the map, along with Audrey and Kyle — but the the article points out that the truly popular choices are names like Nevaeh, Jayden, and Madison.

Apparently the criteria for name selection these days include not only names that have no discernible gender identification, but also names that are unpronounceable.  If you are a kid named Nevaeh — regardless of your gender — every teacher who calls the roll from kindergarten to 12th grade is going to butcher the pronunciation and, deep down, bear tremendous resentment that you didn’t have a familiar, pronounceable name like Bob.  (For record, I’ve learned that Nevaeh, which is “heaven” spelled backward, is a feminine name that is pronounced either ne-VAY-eh or ne-VAY.  I suspect the latter is probably the French pronunciation).

It turns out that Bob hasn’t been popular for decades.  In fact, every decade of my life has seen the name Robert decline in popularity, and recently the decline has been precipitous.   I flatter myself that there is no causal relationship between my role in the world and the plummeting popularity of my name.  But when I see that the top name list of 2009 has Alfie — Alfie! — coming in at number 4 and Robert nowhere to be found, I begin to wonder.  Seriously, Alfie?  It’s embarrassing!