Dear Sean

DEAR SEAN:

I’m pregnant. My husband and I have been going back and forth on name options but have no ideas. So right now I have a baby without a name. I know this is a strange request, but can you give me some name suggestions? I don’t want one of those modern names.

Thanks,
NEW-MOM-IN-GRAND-RAPIDS

DEAR GRAND-RAPIDS:

The night I was born, my mother took me into her arms and decided that she was going to name me Elvis.

My aunt recalls: “Your mama loved Elvis. Plus, you were a Capricorn, you know. Elvis and Jesus were Capricorns.”

Case closed.

In the end, my mother gave me a Scot-Irish name. But over the years I’ve wondered about how differently my life would have played out if my mother would have gone with Elvis.

PATROLMAN: License and registration, please, sir?

ME: Here you are, officer.

HIM: Do you know how fast you were driving back there…. (looks at license) Elvis?

ME: Uh-huh-uh-huh

As a writer, when you start working on a novel, the first thing you think about are the names of your characters. In fact, names are one of the most important parts of any story. Think about it. How many pieces of classic literature do you read where the hero was named Heman Pickles?

You do, however, have to be careful when you give opinions on names you like and dislike because feelings can get hurt very easily. My mother and aunt once got into a knock-down-drag-out argument after my aunt admitted that she never liked my mother’s name.

My mother was fuming. She stood from her chair and informed my aunt that she never liked my aunt’s name, either. Things got ugly. My mother said my aunt’s name reminded her of a barefoot and pregnant hick—my aunt at the time, was barefoot, also pregnant.

So then my aunt said my mother had a bad singing voice and that her cornbread was never done in the middle. I had to break up the fight by singing “Don’t Be Cruel.”

My own feelings have been hurt over the subject of names. One of my favorite writers once stated in print that, quote, names like “Brittany, Kristen, and Sean,” were modern, and therefore silly names. It crushed me. Deeply.

First off, the name Sean is not modern. The name Sean dates back to the 1100s. My mother’s family is Scot-Irish, and there were famous men named Sean within my ancestry, men who influenced the course of history. Foremost of which was Sean MacGavin, the son of a blacksmith who, in 1219 A.D., composed the timeless melody “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” for the glory of the King.

But let’s get down to business and cut the small-talk. You asked about names, and I’m going to give you a few:

If we’re talking girls, I’m a big fan of antique names like Myrtle, Myrtis, Hazel, Edna, Betsy, Ethel, Cora, Rose, Zelda, Penelope, and Daisy. My great grandmother was named Beva, one of my favorites. You don’t hear names like Beva anymore.

Young parents shy away from certain antique names because they think they sound like old-lady names. But I disagree. There’s no such thing as an old lady name. One of my favorite names is Edna.

For boys, I especially like names that, for some reason, fell out of fashion. Names like Leroy, Merel, Wyatt, Wally, Jasper, Felix, Ezra, and Elroy, Elmore, and Wylie, and Alvin.

I had a good friend named Wyatt. I like that name.

Personally, I’ve always thought a name was one of the most important elements of a person’s jumpstart in life. Your name is the first thing anyone will ever say about you. Your name is the last thing that will be ever be written about you.

You will go through some very hard times in life no matter who you are, no matter what circumstances you come from. Your life at some point is going to suck. Within these darkened hours, your name will sometimes be one of the only things you have left.

A name will outlive you for generations. A name is one of the only tangible parts of yourself that people will still be using long after your remains are dust.

As a kid, my mother was always quick to remind me that the name Sean meant, literally, “God has been gracious.” I didn’t pay attention to her words at that age, I was too busy eating dirt, and just generally being a brat. But when I got older I went through a very difficult period, a period I didn’t think I was going to survive, and my name actually meant something to me.

One night, I got to thinking about my name’s meaning, and it made me warm all over because I realized that I’d never thought about how four simple letters could have been so foretelling.

So I’m running out of room here. The truth is, it really doesn’t matter what I think about a name, but if you ask me—which you did—whether it’s a boy or girl, my vote is for Elvis Aaron Presley.

34 comments

  1. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - September 28, 2021 6:36 am

    Leroy. My dad’s name was George Leroy Winfield. He hated Leroy so bad he always signed his name George C. Winfield. Even his listing in the phone book was George C. Whenever anyone asked what the C was for he’d say Cute. I never once heard him use Leroy in his name. He named me George Steven. Leroy would have been ok with me.
    George Leroy Winfield Jr.
    There are worse names.

    Reply
  2. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - September 28, 2021 6:38 am

    P. S. I turned 61 Sept. 27.

    Reply
    • Harriet - September 28, 2021 11:05 am

      Happy Birthday Steve. I always enjoy your comments!

      Reply
  3. Paula Crouch Thrasher - September 28, 2021 7:26 am

    Well, here’s the deal: I would never name my child (who was a girl) after either of my grandmothers. Try these on for size: Gertrude Magdalene Lawrence Keown (maternal) and Albertha Marina Strickland Crouch (paternal). Oh my! ( BTW, we named our r daughter Caroline, which actually is a name from both sides for or family tree. And I might add, both of these grandmama’s could bring a mighty haul to church covered-dish dinners!

    Reply
    • Paula Crouch Thrasher - September 28, 2021 7:30 am

      Sorry for all the typos. It’s laaaate!

      Reply
  4. Norma Den🇿🇦 - September 28, 2021 7:36 am

    Oh Sean you do lift a persons spirits. Our 4 have fairly traditional names, Geoff, Heather, Anthony and Garyth (old Welsh spelling). Our grandchildren are Wade, Alexander, Cameron, Dagan, Emma, Lucian and Trajan. Guess son Anthony mad about ancient Roman and Celtic names. A friend had a friend who always from tiny said she wanted to have a boy and name him Brett. She had girls, then remarried after her husband died. She had a baby boy and called him Michael. When asked what about Brett, she said she couldn’t name him Brett as her surname was Crumb! 🙈😂. Grand Rapids, choose a name that is easy to spell, not name of the moment like Madonna, Lady Gaga etc. Make sure it’s a name with good roots and meaning and one you child would be proud to bear for life. Good luck, hope baby arrives safely. Thanks Sean.

    Reply
  5. Susan H Poole - September 28, 2021 7:48 am

    Talk about names! My maternal great grandmother’s name was America Savannah McDaris/ nicknamed Merikee. She married a Reece. Her 3 daughters had quite different names: Willonelle, Willie Gradie, and Vondell. Willonelle married a Hammontree; Vondelle married a Sparks; my grandmother ended up being Willie Gradie Reece Hammett. Out of that list, I like Savannah the best and have a 19 year old granddaughter with that pretty name.

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  6. Debbie g - September 28, 2021 8:16 am

    A rose by any other name would smell as sweet ❤️❤️❤️ Thank you Elvis Love to all

    Reply
  7. Laura W - September 28, 2021 9:39 am

    My mom told my older brothers that if she had a little girl her name would be Rebecca and they would call me Becky. Then she took one look at me and decided I was not a Rebecca and they named me Laura. One of my older brothers, who was only about 2, wondered what happened to Becky when they brought me home and introduced me, he was very confused and concerned. And it turned out Laura was the name of my paternal grandfather’s ex- girlfriend so not a big hit with grandma, but she got over it. Pick a name after you see the new little one to make sure it fits.

    Reply
  8. Suzanne - September 28, 2021 10:06 am

    God is gracious indeed! I was blessed to bring a son into this world. His name is Sean!

    Reply
  9. Heidi - September 28, 2021 10:52 am

    You covered almost all of our family names….my mom and dad, Fern & Clyde. My grandparents, Myrtle & Fred, Wallace, Pauline & George. We have 13 Grandkiddos and won’t go into all their names but old fashioned names we do have a Millie, Marin, Willa and Hallie.🤣❤️

    Reply
  10. Mitch Allen - September 28, 2021 11:07 am

    On February 22, 1956, backstage after a concert in Waycross, Georgia, Elvis asked my mother out on a date. She turned him down because “he was sweaty and had acne.” She’s the only person I’ve ever known who squnches up her nose at the mention of the name Elvis. Also in the audience that night was a nine-year-old boy named Ingram Cecil Conner III. He was so inspired he went on to become a rock star himself—Gram Parsons. I like the name Ingram. Cecil, not so much. You’re right about names. It’s how people talk about you when you’re gone. Btw, in my house you’ve become mononymous, like Elvis, Cher, Bono and Oprah. When my wife asks, “Have you read Sean today?” I never have to ask “Sean who?” Thank you for keeping us laughing and crying.

    Reply
  11. Karri Misky - September 28, 2021 11:31 am

    I like family names. My maiden name is Hayes, and that’s what I named my son. It’s a very strong name for a first name, but he grew into it and it truly fits him, and he actually likes his name which is rare. When all else fails, get out your bible.

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  12. Suellen - September 28, 2021 12:48 pm

    My Dad once asked me “Why is every weirdo on TV named Harold?” His name was Harold. He is the one responsible for my name. My Mom had picked out Sue Ellen after Scarlet O’Hara’s sister. In those days they put the mother to sleep so they came to my Dad for the name. The nurse wrote down the first name as Suellen and then said what is the middle name and he said “I don’t know. Kay?” I would have liked to hear the conversation when Mom woke up. Lastly, my ex-husband was an Elvis fan. I had named our first 2 children so I told him he was naming the third. Throughout the pregnancy he kept saying if it was a girl he wanted to name her Priscilla! Thank God that when he held her he said she didn’t really look like a Priscilla.

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  13. Danny McIntosh - September 28, 2021 12:51 pm

    At the risk of being politically incorrect, I do prefer, when possible, names that at least imply gender. For instance, my best friend is Lee Myrle. No doubt there … right? I’ve been married to her for 47 years. Good column.

    Reply
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  15. Stacey Wallace - September 28, 2021 1:15 pm

    Back in our 40s, my husband and I thought that God was telling us to adopt a baby. We had picked out the following names: William Michael (Will) for a boy and Lauren Elizabeth for a girl. Sean, our ancestors were from Scotland, too, so we loved the idea of naming our baby after William Wallace and my husband Michael (Mike). Also, Lauren Elizabeth Wallace sounded very dignified, like a Supreme Court Justice. We were wrong about God’s wanting us to adopt. We were too old with too many health issues, but we do enjoy spoiling our great nephews. Thanks, Sean.

    Reply
  16. Paul McCutchen - September 28, 2021 1:29 pm

    My granddaughter named her daughter Anakin, after the Star Wars character. She is a big fan but I asked her why she would name her daughter after a Star Wars charter that was a male and turned out to be an “evil doer”. She said she always liked the name. I guess that is about as good an answer as any. I was named after my father and living up to his name was hard. I explained to a teacher in college that I used my second name and he quickly said I was with some pretty good company. G. Gordon Liddy, F. Ross Perot to name a couple. My wife says that I go by a lot of names and she sorts them out. Friends and family use my second name, people that don’t know me use my first name and people I went to high school with use my nickname. That is a whole other story.
    You keep writing and I will keep reading, have a good day.

    Reply
  17. Ann - September 28, 2021 1:52 pm

    My dear mother always wanted a grandson named Stewart which was her maiden name. It finally happened when our son was born, Stewart Houston Brooks. So sad that she passed 17 months before he made his arrival. He is so much like her l it is uncanny. His middle name was my father in law’s given name, Houston. In the delivery room Dr. Williams asked his name and replied a good old fashioned family name. You don’t hear those much anymore. It’s been 36+ years ago but seems like yesterday. Keep on keeping on Sean. You always make my day complete. BTW I have a great nephew named Sean Porter who just blessed us with a great grand nephew named Rhett Porter. Life is good.❤️

    Reply
  18. Anne Berkey - September 28, 2021 2:14 pm

    Good morning! I always look forward to waking up and reading your column with my first cuppa. Speaking of names, My great grandfather Eli was a Methodist circuit rider here in North Central Florida in the late 1800s. He decided that his son (my grandfather) would be a lawyer, so he named him Andrew Zenas (Zenas being the only mention of a Christian attorney in the New Testament). Subsequently, My father was Andrew Zenas, Jr. and my brother was Andrew Zenas III (who I naturally referred to as “the Turd’). Probably because of that nickname, my brother DID NOT name his son Zenas… All 3 generations of Zenas were involved with the law – attorneys, judges, senators, and my brother became CTO of the University of Florida Levin College of Law before he branched out with his own business, which was automating law offices with the newest technology. Interesting what a name can create, isn’t it?

    Reply
  19. Eleanor Dietrich - September 28, 2021 2:15 pm

    My mother was named Sue Eleanor and when I was born she named me Eleanor Sue. No one I knew was named Eleanor so it took me many years to appreciate its elegance. I gave it to my daughter as a middle name.

    Reply
  20. Anne Felder - September 28, 2021 2:35 pm

    Lila or Willa for a girl. Emmanuel (call him Manny) for a boy. 🙂

    Reply
  21. Nancy - September 28, 2021 2:50 pm

    I think some of those old names are UGLY. Some of them pass the test of time. My son is David Sean. His son is Nolan Sean. My daughter is Stephanie. Her daughter is Evangeline Rose aka Eva.
    Just don’t name it something other kids will make fun of. Childhood lasts a long time and if other kids are picking on you, it seems even longer.

    Reply
  22. D - September 28, 2021 3:08 pm

    You also need to consider how it will sound when you are outside calling your child to come home when it starts getting dark. Oh never mind, kids don’t much play outside much less as the sun goes down. I thought it was 1965 for a minute!

    Reply
  23. Kathy Grant - September 28, 2021 6:38 pm

    I wanted Emma but my fil said the ol batteaxe at the bar he frequented was named Emma. And someone else pointed out that Emma and Grant was too much like imigrant. We had 3 sons, so didn’t ever need a girl name. 🙂

    Reply
  24. Linda Moon - September 28, 2021 7:39 pm

    I had a student named Elvis. I wonder how his life has played out. He was a special little guy. Two boy cats I know are Felix and Jasper. And….when I read the meaning of Sean I believed it’s become literally true for your mother’s son. About your suggestion for the baby: my vote is Presley if it’s a girl, Aaron if it’s a boy.

    Reply
  25. thatmrgguy - September 28, 2021 9:36 pm

    Maternal grandfather was named Cyril, grandmother, Eleanor. I was named David Lee. Paternal grandfather asked my name when six months old…said, He doesn’t look like a David, he looks like a Mike. So even though my “official” name is David, people have called me Mike all my life. I and the neighbor kids knew when I was in trouble because she would yell Michael David Lee (Last name), get your butt home right now.

    Reply
  26. Gene - September 28, 2021 9:39 pm

    Lots of opinions about names!
    One aunt, an elementary school teacher, stressed naming each child what you want him/her called. Some of her students only recognized a nickname.

    Reply
  27. MAM - September 29, 2021 1:39 am

    I am proud that I was named not only for my mother, Mary Alice, but also my two grandmothers, one of whom was Mary and the other Alice. Sure glad I wasn’t a boy or being named after my grandfathers would have been Christopher Columbus Constantine or some variation, which would have been a burden to carry. This was a fun column and comments. Thanks, Sean.

    Reply
  28. Glenda Williams - September 29, 2021 4:23 am

    I was named after both of my grandmothers, Nancy and Evie. Mother then added her favorite, Glenda. I was a Williams and married a Williams, thus Nancy Evie Glenda Williams Williams. I tell people our children are pure-bred.

    Reply
  29. Chasity Davis Ritter - September 29, 2021 3:11 pm

    Years ago they used to a leg of the National Elvis impersonator competition at the Oklahoma State Fair. The winner who went on to VEGAS for a final completion and either got their own headlining show there or in Branson. I LOVED going and I took my daughter. She probably saw 45-60 different impersonators before she was 5 years old We saw them ever shape, size, age and colored jumpsuit you could imagine. I remember watching the ones waiting to go on and the “mature well rounded Elvis of the eagle jumpsuit years” was teaching a young early 20s Elvis in his GI Blues military uniform swivel those hips while another almost teenage Elvis watched from the sidelines trying to copy move for move. It was always something to behold and moved my heart to tears sometimes. Anyway one night we stuck around to the end to congratulate the winner and get a few pictures. I teased his wife saying wow you really get to go home with Elvis tonight. Every night!! Lol and she said yes and they had named their daughter Presley. I thought that was a great name. Wish I’d have thought of it when my girl was born but truthfully I could never imagine her as anything else than a Sarah now. Yes names are wonderfully important things. ❤️

    Reply
  30. Linda - September 29, 2021 9:53 pm

    If you are a teacher, you probably will have a list of names you’d NEVER choose for your child! I know from experience!

    Reply
  31. Jodie Lugo - September 30, 2021 2:37 am

    Love your writing Sean! Just a FYI – Elvis’ middle name is spelled with one a. Aron

    Reply
  32. Martha Yeakel - October 1, 2021 9:38 am

    My mother always said name your child something that will fit and sound like an adult once they reach adulthood. Although I agree, I do wish they hadn’t chosen Martha. Named after a great aunt. There was also an Aunt Kathryn and Aunt Anna. Would have much preferred one of those.

    Reply

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