Bring Back Opal and Maude


© David Chartrand 

     Opal died the other day. So did Ethel and Maude. I didn’t know these three women and, for all I know, they didn’t know each other. Their names were in my hometown paper the other day, on the obituary page.

     From what was written about them it was clear that Opal, Ethel and Maude left behind many loved ones and admirers, not to mention a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  But there is one thing they have taken with them:  Their first names.

     Women named Hazel, Gertrude, Edith and Ada Mae are slowly passing away. Along with Hortense, Edna and Wilma they were the generation that gave us Herbert Hoover, aluminum outdoor furniture, the fox trot and air conditioning. It was the generation that gave its sons and daughters what can only be described as extremely interesting first names.

     Gladys. Viola. Evelyn. June. Nadine.  I could go on. 

     Today’s parents, on the other hand, are not so imaginative. I’m not saying that all families are now naming their girls Tiffany, Brittany and Ashley. Only half of them are doing that. The other half are removing the “y” at the end of these names and replacing it with an “i” or two “ee’s.” It seems no young girl can survive the 21st century unless her name ends in the “ee” sound.

     How come no one names their daughter Opal anymore? What’s wrong with Fern? Or Thalene?  Such names ooze character; they cannot be trivialized. You cannot re-write Fern so that it ends in the “ee” sound.

     Doris, Eulalia and Wanda — these names made a young girl seem wiser than her years. Be honest: Would you rather leave your children with a babysitter named Vera or one named Kellee?  According to one source, Vera has a Latin that means “truthful and faithful”; Kelly means “warrior woman.” I rest my case.

     For that matter, what happened to all the old boy names? You can check every soccer team roster in my hometown and you won’t find one kid named Wilbur or Harold. Or Clyde. Elmer. Virgil. The only place you find these names are in the nursing home or on the obituary page — right alongside Ida, Dollie, Modena, Esther, Noreen. Nelda, Adele, Naomi, Lillian and Bernice.

     Sociologists tell us that parents often pick baby names that have a family or ancestral connections, but sociologists are always kidding around about things like that so don’t believe it.  Even if it meant jeopardizing a handsome inheritance, no modern parent in his right mind is going to name a child after Aunt Hattie or Grandpa Floyd.

    You see, our worst fear is that our kids will grow up to hate us, so we choose baby names that mirror popular culture. No one names their babies Betty Jean or Eunice because there are no rock singers or TV stars named Betty Jean or Eunice. As far as I know there are no NBA stars named Herman or Homer or Lester. If there are, they aren’t getting the big Nike and Pepsi endorsements.

     It would take a cultural revolution to bring back the great baby names of the twenties. Maybe if Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie named their kids Ruby or Minerva, we might see a resurgence of these names like Imagene. Bernice. Alma. Frieda. Peggy. Or not.

      Some of you thinking to yourselves, “If I named my daughter Mildred she would wind up a homeless person living in a refrigerator carton under a highway overpass and eating dumpster food, begging from strangers until she had enough money to buy a high-powered rifle so she could hunt down her parents and shoot them for naming her Mildred.”

    But I say you are wrong. It is illegal in most states to sell a rifle to a person who has no permanent street address.  In fact, one of these classic, colorful first names might be the best gift a child can receive.

     With a name like Opal or Velma she may well become a Supreme Court Justice or a U.S. President. She would be respected and admired regardless of her sex, regardless of her name. Best of all, the nation will be spared the ignominy of handing over the Oval Office to President Tiffannee.