Baby Names: Jack vs. Frank

In naming our first child, my wife and I were very careful to choose a name that fit several important criteria: a) it has to be familiar, yet not overused or trendy; b)  there can only be one obvious way to spell it; c) there can only be one obvious way to say it; d) it has to be a “classic” American name; e) it has to be a strong name, f) it has to sound good with my last name(“Alex Shell” couldn’t work because it sounds like “Alec Shell”- same thing with “Max”). So Jack was the most obvious choice.  But as we have daydreamed about what to name another boy if we were to have one, we’ve had trouble finding another boy name that would fit our criteria.

All I could come up with is Frank.  But here’s the problem with Frank.  It’s not a cool name these days.  You can’t name your baby Frank.  Despite all the cool, classic, all-American Frank’s in our nation’s history, Frank isn’t a cool name for a baby in the 2010’s.  Even Frank Sinatra’s legacy of coolness can’t change that.

So why has Jack remained cool but Frank has not?  I’ve only got ridiculous theories.  But here they are:

1. Frank is another word for “hot dog”.  Jack is not.

2. Not a lot of cool young names start with “fr”.  Like Fred, for example.  But a lot of cool young names do start with “j”.  Like Josh, Jerome, and Jake.

3. Frank is pretty similar to the f-word.  So is Chuck.

4. Frank sounds rhymes with both “stank” and “rank”, which indicate bad odor.

5. It’s not easy to think of a recent, young Frank who is cool.  The closest I can come up with is the Jewish Frank from the Ali Fedotowsky season of The Bachelorette.  But by referencing that TV show, it obviously is an indication of “not cool”.  (So what does that say about me for admitting I watch the show?…)

6. It’s easy to think of cool Jack’s- like Jack Donaghy (30 Rock), Jack Tripper (Three’s Company), and if this were 2003, Jack Black.

7. I can’t think of any negative associations with Jack, where I obviously easily was able to with Frank.

8.  As you continue eating leftover Halloween candy, keep this in mind: Jack O’ lanterns are cooler than Frankenstein.

What Not to Name Your Kid

There are some topics I would love to write about but I know they’re way too controversial or potentially offensive- this is one of them.  But if I am vague enough and only give over-the-top examples, I might be able to pull this off.

When naming our son who is due to arrive in November, a few ground rules were that the name had to be easy to say and spell, easily recognizable, and not made-up.  So that’s one of the many reasons we went with the classic American “Jack”.  Other than my dad, I don’t know anyone else with that name, yet it’s highly popular in movies and TV- therefore making it popular but not overused.

I do take requests as far as topics I write about.  “What Not to Name Your Kids” was an idea suggested to me by a few different people and I decided to take the challenge.  After all, we all are familiar with baby names that we say, “oh, I like that” when the soon-to-be mom tell us, yet we later tell our friends “you gotta hear this name, it’s so weird…”  So I have come up with a list of “no no’s” when it comes to naming a North American child.

Last names for first names that are not classic or already decently popular. Madison and Mackenzie are acceptable.  But when I hear more obscure ones like Middleton, Smithwell, Dresden, Spurlock, Applegate, and Hester, I can’t help but feel sorry for that kid.

Wrong gender names. Obviously names like Jordan and Taylor are good names that truly are completely neutral and work well for a boy or a girl.  But when I hear of a girl being named James or Scott or Todd, or if a suffix is added to a boy’s name to make it feminine like Markley, Davidanna, or Johnlyn, I get irritated.

Funny names. Jack B. Nimble, Robert Robertson, and Sunshine Day.

Random, made-up names that are supposed to be cute. Spiffet, Tindle, Gladdon, and Marxon.

It used to be that a person’s middle name might be a little different or off-beat.  But nowadays, parents are going all out on the first names.  That will surely be a trait of the Class of 2030.  Weird names.

The Way a Name Sounds Compared to How a Name is Spelled

My name is… My name is…

Some people have long, complicated names. Like Ben Roethlisberger. Or M Night Shyamalan. I’ll even throw Weird Al Yankovic in that category. But just because a name is short, that doesn’t mean it’s not complicated. My name, in theory, is very simple. Especially when it’s written down.

But when it’s simply spoken, especially over the phone, to someone who has never heard my name before, they usually don’t get it right on the first try. Some popular variations include, but are not limited to the following, in all possible combinations:

Mick Shale
Mike Snell
Rick Schell
Nicky Shaw
Nic Snow
Mickey Show
Nate Shelton
Ned Shells

Because when all a person has to go on is what they simply hear, they are working with a muddled form that sounds literally like this: “Nicgtkahshelahw”.

I remember how fascinated I was when someone pointed out to me about ten years ago that often, when we say a word, we don’t correctly pronounce it, because we can get by without doing it clearly. When we say “cat”, we pronounce it “caaa”. We leave off the “t”. I had to practice a few times at first. Then I realized it’s true.

But if we are sure to emphasize the “t”, the word “cat” literally sounds more like this: “cattuh”. We tend not to hear the extra syllables we add on to the end of words. And we make a habit of leaving off the strong consonant sounds on the ends also, as previously mentioned.

I wonder, too, what mental image my last name gives people. Personally, I’ve always envisioned a turtle shell, hence the picture of a turtle at the top of this site. But people usually tell me they think of “a seashell at the ocean”. When in truth, “schel” is simply the German word for “loud and noisy”, which over time evolved into “Shell”. It would be nice to imagine my ancestors were a bunch of cool hippies hanging out at the beach. But in reality, not so much.

Secretly, some sort of picture pops up in my head for everyone I know- as soon as I hear their last name. I’m taking requests, actually. For those who send me a request on facebook I will reveal my mental image for their name.

I expect no one to actually do that, though. That would be like getting sucked into the TV screen.  It’s what we in the theatre world call “breaking the 4th wall”.