waving baby

Maybe none of us should fret too much about what we name our kids. After all, the corollary to the sudden popularity each year of all those exciting new baby names is the slow fade of the boring old baby names.

Take mine, for instance. In the spring of 1981, in a small Ohio town, I lived in a college dorm in which there were nine Susans on my little stretch of corridor. We could have taken over the world! Instead we frittered away our time by studying.

But now? I don’t think I know a single Susan under the age of thirty-five.

Forget about people deciding you must be old because of your wrinkles or your taste in music. I now realize that people can often determine someone’s age just by knowing their name.

This particular worry creeped up on me the other day. I woke up convinced that my first name announced me as being born in the distant past. Since I’m fifty-four, this is the sort of aspersion I get a tad sensitive about.

As my son Kevin got ready for school, I asked him, “Do you think the name ‘Susan’ sounds old?”

“Sure,” he said cheerfully. “It’s ancient.”

My body clenched. “It is?”

“Yeah. It goes back to – what – the Hebrews?”

Okay, fine, he’s right in a technical sense. But what can an eleven-year-old understand about names, anyway? He’s surrounded by classmates with names like “Kayla” and “Jayden” – names that I swear didn’t exist when I was growing up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the 1970s.

After I dropped Kevin off at school, I raced home and called my ever-sensible brother. “Do you think ‘Susan’ is an old-fashioned name?” I asked.

“Of course not,” Kenny said.

“I feel like someone turned me into a ‘Gertrude’ when I wasn’t looking.”

“‘Don’t worry! ‘Susan’ is probably in the top 100 of the Social Security baby name index.”

“I forgot about that index!” I quickly brought up the 2015 version on the computer. “I’m scanning. Okay, my name’s not in the top 100. Not in the top 150.”

“Use control-F to find it faster,” said Kenny.

“Really? Control-F?” We dinosaurs are slow with this technology stuff. But I obediently did as he instructed, and there it was. My name; my ancient, noble name; almost falling off the list at number 929.

“You know what girl names are more popular than mine?” I asked incredulously. “‘Belen,’ at 922. ‘Briley,’ at 923. ‘Vienna,’ at 925! More girls were named ‘Vienna’ than were named ‘Susan.’”

“Where’s ‘Kenneth’?”

I checked. “It’s 199.”

“Really!” Kenny was silent for a moment, but then he rallied. “At least it’s in the top 200.”

“You know what the male equivalent of ‘Susan’ is? The male name at 929? ‘Marquis.’ I’m a ‘Marquis’!”

“That’s what Trump will name his next son,” said Kenny buoyantly. Then his voice dropped to that register people use when they decide to cut out the jokes and tell you the hard truth. “Face it,” he said. “You have a dead name.”

Of course, I’m not the only one whose name has plummeted in popularity. Good-bye, Craig (number 913)! Farewell, Barbara (number 865)! See you on the other side, Bonnie (871), Tyrone (921), and Louie (967)! An entire generation of proud names is being slowly rejected and made fun of.

Hello, Mason (3) and Ava (4) and Elijah (11)! Know that your precious and beautiful names will suffer the same fate as mine: they will seem weird in about half a century.

So don’t sweat what to call your kids. All our names are pretty much doomed, anyway.

Nora Ephron wrote that you can tell a woman’s age by her neck. I remember reading an Agatha Christie book where Hercule Poirot said you can tell a woman’s age by her knees.

But no such visible signs are needed these days, when fashions in names come and go all too frequently.

My name is Susan. I’m only fifty-four. But as everyone I introduce myself to can readily discern, I’m old.

The following two tabs change content below.

Susan M. Gelles

Susan M. Gelles is a writer who lives in the Bronx with her husband and twin sons. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Twins Magazine, and other publications.

Leave a Comment