What’s in a name

On my birthday I saw the above number-plate, starting with Jan. And it made me smile.

My mother’s name was Joy Melba but she changed Melba to Elaine as she did not like it. My parents wanted to name me Jane but were afraid that I would be teased and called ‘Plain Jane’ which was an insult back then. So they called me Janet Joy. I have never liked the name Janet. It has always sounded harsh to me. My South African family and friends all call me Jan, which I like.

When I moved to Sweden I carried on using the name Jan but it’s a male name here and pronounced differently, so when I turned up to teach there was always a lot of confusion. I considered changing to Joy, but have just kept my birth name, even though I have never stopped disliking it. My confirmation name is Francis, after St Francis of Assisi.

For a while, the now-insult of being a ‘Karen’ (middle-aged privileged white woman who always wants to speak to a manager) was also Brenda and Janet. I am rather glad that Janet didn’t gain traction but I do feel really sorry for people who are named Karen.

It’s also strange to me (although perfectly natural)how naming trends go in cycles. My granny’s sisters and cousins were Georgina, Iris, Gertrude, Edna, Violet, Daphne, Phyllis and Marjory. My bonus mom is called Molly. When we were younger those names were seriously unfashionable, but now I know several babies called Iris. For some reason there are also loads of dogs with old-fashioned names.

Sweden has a naming law, and you cannot take any name you want. Your name has to be approved by the Tax Agency, and there are lists every year of rejected names. Sweden has approved Google but blocked:

  • Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 (pronounced Albin)
  • Batman
  • Biceps
  • Citzen
  • Clown
  • Dotcom
  • Dragonslayer
  • Elvis
  • Evil
  • Jehovah
  • Jihad
  • Judas
  • IKEA
  • Lamborghini
  • Lucifert
  • Minus
  • Money Penny
  • Moshpit
  • Nazi
  • Peanut
  • Pilsner
  • Pistol
  • Pizza
  • Porsche
  • President
  • Revenge
  • Savage
  • Sexy
  • Shub-Niggurath
  • Superman
  • T-Rex
  • Tangerino
  • Uranus
  • Veranda
  • Wasp
  • Witness
  • Xashifarax

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

10 thoughts

  1. In the UK it seems to be common to name babies by really old names. Like Wilf and Noah and Stan. Which to me is an old man in a flat cap smoking a woodbine. Because they are names that my Grandad would be or an uncle. Not a small little baby. But then when I am much older than I am today will Tracey, Karen and Wayne, Paul be the same?

  2. I’m interested in the historical and cultural side of names. My mother always insisted that in the 1960s, Sharon was an unusual name. Mind you, there were three in my class at primary school and then I didn’t meet another until the early 1990s! Then it went quiet again, so to speak, until about five years ago when I was doing a freelance job and attended a launch meeting at the organisation’s HQ. There were three Sharons there – all pretty much of an age! I’ve toyed with changing my name over the years, but don’t like my middle name, and anyway, most people call me Shaz.

    In the UK, the name became a joke with Sharon and Tracey, the two female characters in Birds of a Feather, being seen as common! Definite snobbery there. Now, you rarely come across anyone called Sharon. I have a feeling it’s now on the list of rarely used names – one gets issued every year and it’s interesting reading, particularly when you see how soap operas and sports stars and celebrities influence parents’ choice of names.

    1. This is really interesting. I had quite a few Sharons at school with me but I think you are the only one I have met in the last thirty years. Names are funny things.

  3. I’m Czech and names are also regulated in my country. Years ago, there was a lawsuit involving parents who wanted to name their daughter “Půlnoční bouře,” meaning “Midnight Storm.”

    “Jan” is also a common male name here, pronounced more or less the way it is in Sweden I imagine, and as in Sweden, it’s also the local version of “John.” My dad and grandpa are both Jans. Czech Jans are rarely called “Jan” by anyone other than authorities, though, and most go by one of the established nicknames. The most frequent nickname for Czech Jans is “Honza,” which may sound confusing until you trace it back to German “Hans” (Johannes).

    I too like the name Janet, but “Jan” pronounced the English way is also cute.

    1. Thank you so much for this. I love being called Jan but as you say, it’s difficult in Europe. I am really interested in the fact that many countries restrict the personal names you can use. Thinking about it, it does make sense. I once taught someone called Robin Hood, and I wondered if their parents did it on purpose.

  4. I was born in France and names are also strictly regulated. There was a Mr and Mrs Renault who had given birth to a little girl and they were denied the right to name her Megane because that was the name of a model of car from the brand Renault… My full name is Eva-Maria (and I have a couple of last names because I’m Spanish and that’s how it is) and I always hated it because during roll call at school, people would do the sign of the cross when my name was called out… I now go by the name of Eva. All the females on my mother’s side of the family are somehow called Maria, either as a first name, hyphenated first name or middle name, in honour of my grandmother. I gave my daughter Maria as her middle name. Incidentally, in Spain, during the Franco era, names were only allowed to be picked from the Bible… For what it’s worth, I think that the name Janet is very womanly and feminine.

    1. That’s interesting. It’s one thing I always imagine would be down to personal choice and not legislated. But I guess there are all kinds of ways it could go wrong!

      1. True. I think what would be nice would be to able to change our first name if it really bothers us when we reach adulthood. When I was a kid, I was desperate to change my name but I’m now ok with it. I think it helps that I met a couple of Eva and I felt a true sense of kinship with them and it made me proud of my name!

Leave a Reply