Nancy is the anthroponomastic maven at Nancy’s Baby Names, a rich repository of name information delivered with a wry sense of humour. Nancy has been blogging indefatigably since 2006, making Nancy’s Baby Names one of the oldest baby name blogs out there. She has thousands of blog posts on all manner of names, but especially loves hunting down rare and unusual names, and discovering the stories behind them. Nancy also adores name data – there’s popular names from around the world, and tons of US data from well beyond the Top 1000. At Nancy’s blog you will find names that are bizarre, puzzling, curious … and they are all real.
What is your name?
Have you ever wished you had a different name?
I didn’t like the name Nancy when I was young, and I remember asking my parents for permission to legally change it. They laughed at me. These days I don’t mind my name as much, so I no longer think about changing it.
How did you first become interested in names?
The graveyards are what got me hooked, though I don’t think I would have been so fascinated by the names on the headstones had I not been so dissatisfied with my own name.
I was unhappy with my own name because I’d been named for the wrong grandmother (or so I believed throughout childhood). I got the name of the distant grandmother we hardly knew, not the awesome grandmother (Helen) we saw all the time. This was a problem.
The upside, though, was that it made me very curious about names in general. So when I began using a local graveyard as a short cut through town (around age twelve) I couldn’t help but check out all the names. I was especially attracted to the unfamiliar and bizarre names I’d never seen before – Peleg, Huldah, Zenas, Experience, etc.
After exploring that first graveyard thoroughly, I began visiting other graveyards, where I discovered even more curious names, and … that’s how the name obsession began.
What inspired you to begin a name blog?
I had an interest in names and a writing habit, so I started a blog in early 2006 to put the two together. My first posts were mostly tongue-in-cheek, but I began to take things more seriously once I started getting traffic and comments.
You seem to have a special fascination with unusual names of real people – how did that come about, and what is the most unusual name you have ever found on a real person?
It must have been the graveyards. In a sea of Sarahs and Johns, you can’t help but wonder about the one random Flavilla or Micajah.
The most unusual name? Wow, that’s tough. I’ll go with one I blogged about recently: Laxative Bromo Quinine. He was born in rural Texas in the early 1900s and named after the medicine that his mother credited with saving his life.
Do you have a favourite post on Nancy’s Baby Names?
I really like the Kasara/Casara post. That name had me stumped for a long time until it finally dawned on me that Kasara was a mondegreen. My extensive knowledge of long-forgotten ’80s pop hits finally comes in handy!
Are there are any other ways to follow you online?
Twitter is probably the best way. Pinterest is another option.
Do you have a pet peeve in regard to names?
My only pet peeve is that the U.S. Social Security Administration doesn’t release all its name data. Other countries do it, SSA, why not us? Come on! Privacy, shmivacy.
What are your favourite names?
I have two types of favourites.
One type, of course, would be the bizarre names: Zeppelina, Captivity, Oleomargarine, Emancipation Proclamation and the like. I especially love the ones that come with cool stories and explanations.
The other would be short, simple classics like Jane, John, Adam, Emma, Paul, and Rose. They’re familiar, unpretentious, and easy to live with. These are the names I’m always recommending to people in real life.
What names do you dislike?
I don’t care for names that are easy to make fun of. Not a fan of Abcde, for example.
Are there any names you love, but could never use?
Duncan. I’ve always loved the name, but I can’t say it without mentally adding “Donuts.” (Dunkin’ Donuts is a coffee/donut chain very popular in the North-eastern U.S., where I grew up.)
What are your favourite names in the US Top 100?
Girls: Elizabeth (#10). Runners-up: Hannah (#23) and Sarah (#48).
Boys: Thomas (#61). Runners-up: James (#13) and Sebastian (#45).
What are your favourite names in the rest of the US Top 1000?
Girls: Jane (#355). Runners-up: Daphne (#397) and Catherine (#172).
Boys: Duncan (#821). Runners-up: Paul (#198) and Theodore (#170).
What are your favourite names that have never charted in the US?
Girls: Mehitable. It’s a variant of the biblical Mehetabel, though I actually prefer the Mehitable spelling because that’s the way I always see it written on the headstones back home. (I kinda prefer Phebe to Phoebe for the same reason.) I’m slightly surprised that the belle/bella trend hasn’t brought Mehetabel back, even just a little. I wonder if spelling it Mehetabelle or Mehetabella would help…?
Boys: Chucknorris. I was so happy when I discovered this name in the wild, years after wondering aloud (via the blog) if it could possibly exist. It’s like that Walt Disney quote, “If you can dream it, you can do it,” except my version is “If you can dream it, you can find it on a birth certificate.”
If you found out you were pregnant right now, what names might you be considering?
I like classic names, but my husband prefers trendy names, so finding a name that suits both his tastes and mine would be the goal. I know Chloe would be a contender – it’s been a favourite of his for a while, and it happens to fit my criteria pretty well.
What is something we don’t know about you?
I cannot drink soda, beer, champagne, or anything carbonated. It’s like swallowing shards of glass to me. I’m amazed that so many people find bubbly beverages refreshing.
What advice would you give someone who was choosing a baby name?
This one is tricky to answer without a specific person in mind. For instance, the advice I’d give to the person deciding between Emma and Claire would be completely different from the advice I’d give the person seriously considering Kardashianette.
(Photo shows Nancy at the Grand Canyon, from her blog)