What’s in a name? Plenty!


Names are so important. From early childhood I imagined what I would name my own child. I always loved naming my stuffed animals. In fact, in kindergarten I had a whole fleet of them named Stephanie — if it was a good enough for one, it was good for everyone.

And then, of course, there were my special dolls that had their own names: Michael Jackson, my teddy bear Jenny, the giant red mouse named, appropriately, Big Red. Even my older brother had a special stuffed animal, Clem the dog.

Since I know how important a name is, when I had my own children I put a little more thought into naming them than when I was a child. Especially with a last name like Van Donge — a kid already has a mark against him with a name like that. Van Donge is just ripe for teasing, though with a name so obvious we get over it really fast, I mean who’s going to get upset about getting called “Ding Dong” when I’ve heard it since kindergarten? It’s not even a clever insult, come on.

Not to mention, there are so many of us we’ve all warned each other and laughed about it long before anyone at school could figure out that our last name is silly. In fact, my cousin Chad took the name thing one step further by having “The Donger” added to his golf bag.

My favorite though, is when people ask me if I’m related to other Van Donges around town. I always want to say, “No, Van Donge is a really common name, I have no idea who Greg Van Donge is.” Although this doesn’t make me laugh as much as when people ask me if I’m related to people who are named Van Dyke. Ummm ...

That’s right up there with when people ask my little brother Daniel if he knows somebody who lives in another city who also has dreadlocks. Yes, all people who have dreadlocks know each other.

But back to names. I had to make sure my kids’ names were pretty normal. Even though I was tempted to name my child Slingshot Mercury, somehow I knew that Slingshot Mercury Van Donge was just not going to cut it when it came to sailing through life. I think as a parent we should probably give our children the gift of getting by in the world as comfortably as possible. You know, they should learn how to be self-sufficient, how to get along with other people, how to solve their own problems ... and they probably shouldn’t have a really messed-up name.

As a teacher I have seen hundreds — wow, after 16 years, thousands — of names. And names carry a lot of connotation, whether we want to admit it or not.

I was fascinated when I read the chapter about names in “Freakonomics” by Steven D. Levitt, especially the part where he breaks down the education levels of parents based on what they name their children. My kids’ names? Exactly under my education level. (Cue the “Twilight Zone” music.) Especially because I didn’t just pull their names out of a hat: After a lot of deliberation I decided to name them after my grandparents.

I laugh sometimes and wonder what things would be like if we named our children after our parents’ generation. I don’t know why I think it’s so funny to think of toddlers named Greg or Jerry or Linda or Debbie, but it makes me chuckle. But, hey, when I was a kid I used to think names like Eleanor and Hazel were funny, too, and now they are pretty. In fact, names get recycled and my grandparents’ generation is a really common place to get great names. I guess that’s how names like Sofia or Olivia, rare for girls my age, are really popular for girls my daughter’s age.

My name was very common. I think in my grade at school there were five or six Saras. I have a few friends named Sara. And my mom, Linda, said her name was so popular in her grade that one year there were three Lindas in her class, so they had to call her Linda Lou, hee hee.

Choosing a name is tricky. It’s something that you can’t go back on once you choose it. It can take a while to get used to calling a baby by their name, too. With both of my kids I called them “The Baby” for a couple of months before their name really stuck. But now I can’t imagine either one of them as anything else. Natalie is feminine just like her name and Noah is peaceful yet silly, which suits his name too. Neither one has ever tried to change their name, unlike me when I was 3 or 4 and insisted on being called “Baby Chicago,” so I take that as a good sign.

But, like my mom and me, I somehow managed to give both of them pretty common names. How does this happen? I like to think it’s because we are connected to the Collective Consciousness. Yes, that’s it.

Sara Van Donge is a Walla Walla native, middle school dual language teacher and mom to two children. She is currently working on publishing a larger project, which will be available this summer. She can be reached at saravandonge@gmail.com.


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