Childhood, Soul Homework

What’s in a Name?

In last July’s tater tot post, I asked what you would rename yourself if you had the option? Or are you content with the name you were given at birth?

For a long time, I didn’t like my name. That is to say, I didn’t think my name suited me. I didn’t feel like a Kari. But do you think your name fits you?

Someone else decided your name while you were still forming in the womb.

What you will be known as for the rest of your life is decided before you even arrive on this planet.

Take a moment to think about that.

Photo by Jonas Kakaroto on

It would make complete sense for human beings to undergo a name change ceremony when reaching an age of your choosing. I believe we should be able to change our names on a regular basis. We change our minds about everything, from the color of our hair to the paint colors on the walls of our homes to the people with whom we choose to spend our lives. Why should we be bound by our first names?

Why is it acceptable to change a surname when you take a husband (or wife), but it seems impolite to change your first name? A family name that has been passed down through generations is perfectly appropriate to change, but the idea of changing our first name, which is far more expressive, makes us cringe.

However, I haven’t always been this open to changing a first name. My two daughters have both expressed displeasure with their given names at some point. I was initially bothered by this.

What? Why?

Your names are beautiful!

Your names are family names!

I wish I had your names!

So much better than mine….oh….now I get it…

Not my kindergarten picture. I don’t have one on me.

When I was in kindergarten, I shared a classroom with 15 other children who all had different names. I had a crush on a boy who shared my name but spelled it differently. I’m sure the attraction was more about the name than the boy. But I was surrounded by new names, and it was in that small classroom when I discovered I didn’t like my own.

Perhaps it was because I was learning to write my own for the first time. Maybe it was because I was experiencing independence for the first time. Or possibly because I was learning about the letter Z.

I recall sitting in the front seat of my mother’s car in a Dairy Queen parking lot, deep in thought about why I needed to be named Elizabeth moving forward.

But I want a Z in my name, Mommy!

Please, can we change my name to Elizabeth?

If times had been less rigid back then, I’m sure my mother would have allowed me to change my name.

Would my life have been different if I were an Elizabeth?

My name, Kari, is largely Scandinavian in origin. It translates as “pure.” In Norway, it is still a very common name. It is also a popular surname (last name) in India. When my mother was younger, she had a sweet older neighbor named Carrie, and she loved her name. My father also loved the name but preferred a more contemporary spelling.

When I looked up my name, I discovered that my “name day” (day of the year linked with my given name) is the same day as my youngest daughter’s birthday, which is pretty cool.

My middle name is Ellen. I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it here. It was in honor of my grandmother, Ella, but my parents didn’t like the way Kari Ella sounded, so they went with Kari Ellen.

Ellen is a Greek name that means “sun ray” or “shining light.”

I discovered that Ellen is a diminutive of Elizabeth. That is, the name Ellen is a nickname for Elizabeth. So I guess, I did receive the name Elizabeth after all. Perhaps I was named Elizabeth in a previous life and the name stuck. ๐Ÿ™‚

I took my daughters’ dislike of their names too personally, at first. I’d spent a lot of time thinking about their names, and it was what connected them to me before they arrived. But their names do not reflect who they are as human beings.

Their names do not define them.

I’ve become accustomed to my given name over the years. I love the story of how I became Kari and Ellen. And now I love that I discovered, while writing this post, that I am, in fact, an Elizabeth after all.

Do I feel like a Kari? On most days, no. But that is not how I identify in my everyday life. That is not how I am addressed by those I love. Very rarely am I called by my first name.

I am just me.

Have you done any research into your birth names? Have you changed your birth names, or would you like to?

53 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?”

  1. I love your photos. Second, I was named Elizabeth Ann after my grandmother Betty. In second grade I was so embarrassed about Ann that I told everyone my middle name was Marie. The teacher called me out on it and the class was shocked. I insisted my name had been changed from Marie to Ann. I went home that day begging my parents to let me change my middle name to Marie. They didn’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, I love them as well!

      Hello there, fellow Elizabeth. I knew there was a reason I liked you. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I’m sorry a teacher called you out in front of your class. I’m glad that current generations (and those yet to come) recognize how that practice, especially in school, is harmful and abusive. I went through it multiple times in public school.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I love your name and you are totally a Kari Ella to me! How sweet that it all came full circle from what you thought you wanted as well.
    I never had an issue with my name but I went through a phase around 12 where I only wanted one N. My Mom, God bless her, went with it and even ordered me stationary spelled Suzane.
    I think I still have it. What was I thinking? Look how lucky I was to have a Z? ๐Ÿ˜‰
    I suppose we all grapple with our given names at some point. I remember my brother Mark questioning why he was Mark? โ€œIsnโ€™t that a mar on a piece of furniture or a stain on your clothes?โ€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I love this! I’d love to see a picture of that stationary if you can find it. I’ll be thinking of your mom every time I think of my Z story. ๐Ÿ™‚

      And yes, you were SO LUCKY to have a Z, Suz. So lucky.

      Aww, I never thought of the name Mark in that way! Isn’t that interesting? We spend so much time thinking about ourselves under our own little microscope that we don’t notice others as much as we assume they notice us.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think itโ€™s human nature to be more deep in our own thoughts, right? Weโ€™re all here, just muddling through together.
        Your friend, Suzzzzzzzane. ๐Ÿ˜˜

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never really liked my first name. And, to add insult to injury, my father didn’t believe in 2nd names, so I don’t even have a middle name to fall back on. When I was much younger I used to make up middle names for myself. Hmmm…maybe I should pursue this again?


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Deb, my college roommate didn’t have a middle name. She made up her middle name whenever she needed one– and of course they were always different each time. It was a hoot. I hadn’t thought of that in years! ๐Ÿ˜Š

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I have a legal name and I have a nickname so I bounce back and forth between the two depending on who I’m with, what I need to accomplish. I like them both, btw. When I was a kid I went through a phase when I wanted to be called Jamie. I don’t know why other than I thought that name sounded so grown up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t even bring up nicknames! I’m envious of those who have names that can be nicknamed. Because mine was so short, I was always simply Kari. I was frequently asked if my name was short for something else. I should have said, “Elizabeth.” ๐Ÿ™‚

      Jamie! That’s very 70’s/early 80s! I really like that name for a female, by the way.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I also wanted to be a Jamie, especially after I learned that I almost was one! My dad’s name is James (but goes by Jim), and my mom thought that naming me Jamie would be nice because of that. Unfortunately, a cousin of my dad’s named his son Jamie a few months before I was born, so they felt unable to use that name for a girl. This is a cousin I’ve met maybe twice in my life. I think I’m glad now to be Rita and not Jamie, though it would have been nice to have that tie to my dad.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I am just fine with my name now; though you are right in that it’s hardly ever used anymore! But for most of my school years I really hated it. Everyone had no idea how to spell it (true story that even my own father often misspells it!) and they always try to shorten it but I am really not into nicknames– certainly not Jo or Joe (which sound like a guy’s name) or Jojo (which was the name of my grandmother’s dog and a nickname I heard much too often), I might not have minded anne but no one ever tried that. I wonder if it’s only a girl thing though as I have never heard my husband or boys say one single peep about their name.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I hated my name when I was younger. “Rita” was an old lady swimming in a sea of pretty young Kims, Kristins, Kathys, and Karens. (Boy, so glad now that I’m not a Karen.) It didn’t help when I learned that Rita was the name of a girl my dad had admired in high school. (My mom thought she was great, too, but still.) Years later, going through some old family photos, I found my beloved grandmother’s confirmation certificate and learned that she’d chosen Rita as her confirmation name. So now I tell myself that that’s where my name comes from. I don’t feel I can change my name (and I’ve had three different last names, so I know more than a thing or two about that), but I can change my story about my name. That’s good enough. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I enjoyed reading the stories of yours. My daughter and I both wish I’d switched the order of her first and middle names. She has a nice, old-fashioned name like your girls do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love your name, but I can understand you not loving your name. When I was a teenage Kari among a sea of Jennifers, Heathers, and Kims, I never considered my name in relation to others. But I do recall having an unusual thought after becoming a mom. I could never envision my name being a name for an elderly person. Probably because I knew no other “Kari’s” that were older. These are the stories we tell ourselves.

      I love your daughter’s name. I think you know why. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love my daughter’s name(s), too. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’d switch the order of hers because I think Victoria Grace just sounds better than Grace Victoria, and because she’d rather have Victoria as her first name. It’s less common, and it probably would suit her a bit better. (Though she is so much Grace to me, I don’t know.) I would have chosen it as her first name, but I was afraid of the nickname issue. I didn’t like any of the nicknames for Victoria. Little did I know we were entering an era in which long given names could remain what a person was called! I do think she likes that both names come from my grandmothers, as she knows how much I loved them.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Both of those names are equally beautiful. But you are so right in that many Victoria’s become variations. I’m curious if this happens because bigger names look too big for small children? As a result, we make their names smaller to accommodate us? I’d love there to be a study of which names are abbreviated the least. I’m not even sure if such a study could be conducted. I would geek out to something like that. ๐Ÿ™‚


  7. I’ve never much cared for my full name. It’s Biblical. Matthew David. I never go by Matthew when I introduce myself. Very few people have my permission to call me that. It’s always been Matt except when I was dating my second girlfriend, I started calling myself M and for that matter started signing artwork as such. She would call me Mmy (Emmy) I was ok with that. When I wrote things or made short films I went by M. David Snyder cos I liked the flow of it, till people started only calling me David, that’s the usual reason but it wasn’t my intention. For awhile I even tried Thew but then came to realize how much I hate that part of my name. M. Is cool. But if I had to change my name it would be David with an accent on the I (pronounced Daveed) with no last name. The Biblical origin is so ironic because I ain’t religious. My brother is a Jr…he hates his name even more especially the middle name it was supposed to be Donald LeRoy Snyder but on my dad’s birth certificate they misspelled it Leroy, so he prefers Donnie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My brother’s name is also Matthew, he also prefers to be addressed as Matt. When he was younger, my mom and grandma called him Matthew but I don’t remember my dad doing so, and I only just realized it! Maybe he did, but I get the impression that my dad addressed him as Matt. Now I need to ask…

      I have relatives who used their middle names instead of their first names. One of them was my grandmother. Ella Lucille was her birth name, but she went by Lucille for the majority of her adult life. This always fascinated me because Ella is a lovely name, and Lucy in my opinion, is a softer version of Lucille. But that is exactly it; MY opinion. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I do like my name. My mom got it from “Gone with the Wind”. It was a little different in the sea of Debbie’s, Linda’s, Susan’s, Lisa’s, Kathy’s and Karen’s. I never knew the meaning of my name until I was an adult and looked it up: “clad in darkness” or “blackness”. Yuck! Not a nice meaning for a pretty name, IMHO.

    Some people call me Mel, which is fine…I have an aunt who calls me Mimi because that’s how I used to say my name when I was a toddler. My friend in Atlanta calls me Lanie…and then for whatever reason, my First Best Friend recently started calling me Mel Belle. I don’t like that, but I don’t have the heart to tell her!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh! I remember Melanie in that film! Now I will always think of that!

      So, after reading about the meaning of your name, I decided to do a deep dive on it. So, yes, I saw the darkness you’re referring to, but there’s a fascinating twist I discovered. I found a website that linked your name to a Greek goddess who, “mourned all winter for the return of spring.”

      Is that not you???

      Then I did a little more research (because I’m invested at this point), and it turns out that the name Melanie was given to the Greek goddess Demeter, who was the goddess of harvest and agriculture.

      Is that not you???

      So, your name is more than just darkness. ๐Ÿ™‚

      If you want to read more, I’ll leave the links in the comments!


      1. OMG, this is fascinating! And makes me feel better about my name! Yes, please to the links! PS – I dreamed about Ella last night…that she was with me at the office I was working at. (You had asked me to watch her that day.) She had bought me a rug (??!) for my office and I wanted to show it to her. More weird details to the dream, but that was the gist.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. This is so fun. I did not have a Z, but I did not crave one – I just wanted a name that people knew and not one that could be either a boy or a girl name. I hated that. Remember the skit on SNL with ambiguous Pat? Nowadays my real name is much more mainstream – in the 70s it was not familiar. As a kid, I wasn’t having it. I changed my name in kindergarten to my ‘followers’ and requested that they call me either Julie or Mary. The issue was that I never answered to either, so that little project died off before it really got off the ground.

    Oh, nicknames. My first 2 kids’ names can have nicknames, but after that I gave all of my kids names that couldn’t be shortened . . . I mean they CAN still get nicknames. And they do. Lad started calling Reggie ‘B’ – which is his actual first initial and then followed it with the first 3 letters of our real last name and it has stuck. People call him that ALL THE TIME. Not just at home.

    My childhood nickname is Ernie. See that – another boy name. Add that to the failed Dorothy Hamel haircut and you start to get why I have issues.

    Mini recently gave me some grief about her name. I was like HUH? It suits her so well though.

    I could go on and on about names. I love this topic. I do think you are a Kari. I love that name. Being Irish, I’d probably spell it Kerry and in honor of you I’d probably try to sneak in a silent Z somewhere. Hee hee.

    Growing up I loved my siblings names and hated mine. My sisters didn’t have names that could also be boys’ names. See, I told you – I could go on and on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am in love over your enthusiasm for this post! I can understand why you don’t like your name, but I love it. Personally, I love Irish female names. All of them, even the difficult-to-pronounce names like Saoirse and Roisin. I cannot imagine how many teachers and classmates would botch those names, or how they’d be called out at Starbucks. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I, too, had a botched Dorothy Hamill hairstyle! For many years after, some of my “friends” referred to me as “pumpkin head.”


  10. I love this post & comments! Iโ€™m totally fascinated by names. Love to hear peopleโ€™s name stories, etc (lol that was my Ask Anything question for Suz!). I love the history and/or the randomness- and how people sometimes totally fit their name or totally remake their name to fit them!

    Luckily, I love all my names. I love my full given name and my ten thousand nicknames. In your post you mention not being able to change your first name…. which makes realize how lucky I am to have had several (loved) first names (nicknames, pet names, handles) given to me by family, friends, and even acquaintances. I feel like Iโ€™ve had many lovely first names…. many diff versions of me.

    But now Iโ€™m wondering…. did you not have this too growing up? When you realized you didnโ€™t feel like a Kari what stopped you from choosing another first name and using it? I think your given name is beautiful and has a really lovely, meaningful back story. I also hope that if *you* donโ€™t feel like a Kari then maybe thereโ€™s a nickname (or two or three!) you sometimes go by that *does* feel like you! Kari Ellen Elizabeth you deserve it! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This post is turning out to be one of my favorites! I got the inspiration from a poetry book I picked up at the library this summer. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s names and origins, as well as what their nicknames. All of this fascinates me.

      I don’t recall having any nicknames or names given to me by my friends. I know at times my parents or friends may have called me Kar (rhyming with Care), but I was mostly addressed by my full name. My ex-husband referred to me by my middle name because he liked it. That was interesting to me because I didn’t particularly like my middle name at the time.

      Working in retail for many years, I wore a name tag with my name on it. I was working at a jewelry counter one day when an older woman commented on how pretty my name was. She asked me if I was Norwegian, to which I said that I was not; my parents chose the name because they liked it. But her “seeing me” in that moment was so unexpected and lovely. For many years, I was virtually invisible to the majority of people I helped when I worked in retail. Just having her notice my name and tell me it was lovely was a sweet moment. ๐Ÿ™‚


      1. Your retail story is so lovely (& also reminded me of my retail days). Blessings to those who make time to *see* retail workers. Simple acts of good travel far.

        Kar rhymes with Care fits you as caring is clearly your super power! ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Fun post, and one that allows me to reflect on my given name, Sally Jane. I was born in the 1950’s, at the peak of the Baby Boom, with a lot of classmates named Kathy, Debbie and Linda. It is derived from Sarah, and is sometimes a nickname for the Sarah’s of the world. But it is not a common name, and I didn’t like that feature in my early years.

    I was named for my maternal gr-grandmother, Susan Jane McDevitt. And I was going to be Susan until an astute relative of our ginormous Irish Catholic family pointed out to my mother that all the granddaughters named for her had died young. So she kept the Jane and added Sally. As an aside, I got the chance to visit Susan’s birthplace in Ireland before Covid and it was an amazing experience.

    My maiden name is Brown, and when Peanuts and Charlie Brown became popular, it gave my classmates a kick to remind me that his little sister was named Sally Brown. I even had curly blonde hair, so it was a remarkable likeness.

    As the years have gone by, I have come to appreciate my name, and I think it fits my personality. There aren’t many Sally’s around, and that is an easy way for people to remember my name.

    I have two daughters and one likes her name (Laura) while the other is kind of lukewarm (Lisa). I wanted names that couldn’t be shortened to nicknames, and that has worked out well. I of course still love their names, and think they fit them nicely.

    Thanks for sharing your name journey, and letting us share ours as well. Quite an interesting thread!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love your story! My mom’s name is Sara, with no h at the end. I had no idea that the name Sarah was derived from Sally. Now I want to dig into the origin of my parent’s names.

      I am so glad that you got the opportunity to visit Ireland. What an amazing experience that must’ve been. My husband’s family on his father’s side hails from Ireland. He’s never visited, but I would love to see him and his father take a trip there together.

      Thank you for taking the time to share your story with us! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  12. My given name is Katie, but very few people actually call me that. Iโ€™m just NOT a Katie. I am a Kate though. I always wanted to be Rory which is the name my mom wanted to name me that but my dad couldnโ€™t be convinced. (Heโ€™s one of the few people who still call me Katie, actually.) My mom and I were talking about this the other day – she wanted to rename herself Panda. I kinda like it to honest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So many things! First and foremost, I don’t think that I’ve ever met a Katie who wasn’t short for a longer name! How cool. And despite the fact that I’ve never met you in person, you definitely seem more like a Kate than a Katie.

      I love the name Rory as well.

      I love that your mother wanted to rename herself Panda. I kind of like it too!


      1. I only know one other Katie as a given name. I used to bug my mom about not giving me a โ€œprofessionalโ€ name, but I donโ€™t love any of the names Katie is typically a nickname for either. So Iโ€™ll just be Kate. I think it suits me. (Kate and Kari have the same meaning which is kind of cool I think.)

        As for Elizabeth – thatโ€™s one of Vโ€™s middle names. I do love it (and a Z).

        Iโ€™ve always found names and the stories behind them (because there always is a story) interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Just Kate. Love THAT. I also think it is cool that you and I have the same meaning. I love that we are connected.

        I love that your daughter has a V AND a Z in her name. I would have been very envious of her as a child. Perhaps I’m still a little envious. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        I, too, am fascinated by the backstories of names. There are so many stories to be discovered about how people meet, where they live, how they ended up blogging…


  13. OMG Names and stories to go with! I have so many stories re names in my family, including the one I’m about to be divorced from plus how my children ended up with theirs plus one re one of my oldest friends who changed hers so many times I ended up creating a new one for her but I’ll just give you a kinda short one re my own names.

    First you should know that many Jews name their children after family members who have passed. We also have Hebrew names. My American Name is Susan Linda, which led me to wonder if I’m of the same generation as Melanie Riley but I couldn’t link to her blog or anything to try to confirm that. I do know, though, that I read in Weekly Reader, which was a publication distributed in my elementary school classes, that my two names were the most popular for girls of my generation. Amazingly, though, I don’t remember any classmates with exactly the same first name and only a couple named Linda. I also know my Hebrew name and I believe that the first part came from my mom’s grandmother who was named Sarah. The second part is Layah and I have no idea where that came from!

    My first and middle name were not often misspelled. My married name is Frederick and my husband always said if you wanted to spell it correctly to remember Fredericks of Hollywood and oddly enough it appears some of his siblings also use the “s” at the end. It may even appear on his own birth certificate and there’s a bitter story to go with how i/he/we found that out, but I’ll spare you. I have a Zoom divorce court hearing in the the state where I left him this Friday and am taking the further step of requesting my maiden name back. It was and is a nice, simple and short name – Brook. Believe it or not, that was and still is more often misspelled than any of my other names. When my mom was in the recovery room all by herself during COVID, she didn’t think they were calling her to be released because they kept looking for Mrs. Brooks! People also try to put an “e” on the end of it! Really, people, can’t we just KISS?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First and foremost, I thoroughly enjoyed this comment! While I was reading it, I was talking and laughing, and my dogs thought there was someone else in the house, so they began barking!

      I was aware of the practice of naming children after family members who’ve passed! I recall Weekly Reader’s from school as well! My mother’s name is Sara, with no H, and you wouldn’t believe how many times it is misspelled. Actually, you would understand because of the whole Brook situation. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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