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A boy named Sue, a lady named Siffy

By: Jefferson Weaver

Across the pond in Great Britain, there are parents who don’t like their child.
This is obvious, since their baby’s name is 22 words long. Apparently they wanted to honor every grandparent, aunt, uncle, sibling, cousin, neighbor, and postman in the neighborhood, as well as the night clerk at the local liquor store.
When my wife was a social worker, she had a client – whose name she never disclosed – who was named after every female relative on both sides of her family. A total of 25 names. Poor child had a bad back in first grade from carrying the load.
All my life, I’ve fought over my name. My name is Jefferson – not Jeffrey, or Jeffery. Nothing wrong with either variation, if one is named Jeffrey or Jeffery. Shoot, I don’t care if you’re named Geoffrey.
My name is Jefferson.
Jeffrey is derived from the Middle English, Teutonic and Gaelic, and means “God’s Peace.” Jefferson, however, is a little more complex – depending on which etymological history you examine, Jefferson can come from one of the “Choeff” roots, meaning trader, or as is often the case, the first Jefferson was the son “er” (of) Jeffrey.
Well, I am the son of Tom and Lois, but that’s neither here nor there. The Old Man’s family had a passel of traders and merchants back in Great Britain, as well as a few here in America, but the deeds of those ancestors had little if any impact on my parents’ choice of names. Indeed, my name was an homage to two other, better known relatives, one from each side of the family.
My name is Jefferson, but ever since I was a little kid, people have tried to make it “Jeffrey.” My name is something in which my parents taught me to take pride – I ain’t quite so sure what some other folks were going for.
Take, for instance, the fading pop-tart, Gwyneth Paltrow.
Aside from comparing her life as a starlet to that of a soldier on the front lines, she’s been known to make a few fantastic faux pas from time to time, but in my opinion, she ought not to have saddled her child with the name of a fruit.
Several years ago, Ms. Paltrow proudly announced that her firstborn’s name was – Apple. Yep. Apple.
Being a proper celebrity, she had to gush about the choice on a television show, namely on Oprah. Ms. O asked about the name. Ms. Paltrow’s exact words – which I checked from several sources – were, and I quote:

“Right, well, um, basically it was because when we were first pregnant, her daddy said, if it’s, basically one day he just said if it’s a girl I think her name should be Apple. And I just, it sounded so sweet, and it conjures such a lovely picture for me, you know apples are so sweet and they’re wholesome, and it’s biblical and it’s just, they’re so, and I just thought it sounded so lovely and …”

Well. That’s perfectly clear.
Apple will have a battle overcoming that name, but I hope the little California Dreamer looks to a lady I met as an example.
I had always thought that Robert Ruark’s anecdote about two very cruel medical students was literary license until I met Miss Siffy. She was a perfect lady, down to the white gloves and lace-veiled pillbox hat she wore when she went to town. Her skin was the color of café au lait, and she looked so fragile one was hesitant to shake her hand, but there was steel in that great-grandmother’s muscles, steel forged in the Depression and the early civil rights movement.
Miss Siffy’s mother could neither read nor write, and had the misfortune to require emergency care at a rural hospital staffed by somewhat jaded Works Progress Administration (WPA) employees who were unashamedly racist. They took great pride in creating unusual names when filling out birth certificates. Children were named after body parts, illnesses, and even venereal diseases.
This went on for a year or two before someone in Washington City realized what was happening, and reassigned the bigoted snobs. But for some folks, it was too late. Some legally changed their names, or used nicknames, and some, like Miss Siffy, simply used a shortened version and held their heads high. When asked, she made no bones about her full name—but if you ever mentioned it after the conversation, you were never again allowed to call her by anything but her married name, which I won’t use here, since she still has some kinfolk alive. Although the interns were boors and cads at best, Miss Siffy was a lady, through and through.
Sadly, there are actually people who I fear would voluntarily name their children similarly.
Take for example, these poor kids whose names I gathered from an online baby name website, as well as one of those pages where I wonder how people have time to document what they publish (but they do, at least on this one page.
Who wouldn’t want to hear the grade school principal announce that Avarice Sullivan won the good citizenship award, or became a philanthropist? Or that Envy Burger made the girls volleyball team? The irony would be delicious if Pride Saint won an award for humility. Greed McGrew has a guaranteed career as a comic bad guy. Wrath Gordon sounds like the intemperate brother of that old American hero, Flash Gordon.
And some parents, I am sure, saw their daughters becoming exotic dancers. Why else would they name them Lust Garten, or Lust T. Castle?
I have heard of two children whose mothers likely dreamed of royalty when naming their sons. One of them related to a friend of mine how she experienced an epiphany as she was being wheeled into the maternity ward and saw a sign. Not a bright light or angels singing, but a real sign – No Smoking. Hence, her child (and another in another city) was named Nosmo King.
Shakespeare had much to say about names – from the lovestruck Juliet’s flirtatious “That which we call a rose
 by any other name would smell as sweet,” to the oft-misquoted Iago, who expounded that “Good name in man and woman…is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash;….
But he that filches from me my good name
 robs me of that which not enriches him,
 And makes me poor indeed.”
The Johnny Cash classic, “A Boy Named Sue,” at least provides some context, as the narrator finally confronts his father, who reveals why he gave him a name that drew trouble like a light draws moths.
But for all the Greeds, Avarices, Lusts and Wraths out there; for all the pseudo-historical heritage books, and whacked-out pop-tart starlets, and yes, even the every day folks who put some thought and care and love into naming their children – for those kids who find themselves the subject of teasing and torment over their names, I offer up this:
At least you were not named Rhoshandiatellyneshiaunneveshenk Koyaanisquatsiuth Williams. If I ever meet that poor beleaguered resident of a small town in England, I intend to offer my sincerest apologies, and tell him about a boy named Sue, and maybe even a lady named Siffy.
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