I fear for our future.
Am I losing sleep over global warming? Our fractured and divided country? An unending worldwide pandemic?
My biggest fear is for our children, and what we are naming them.
The list of the most popular baby names for girls in 2020 includes Riley, Ava, Mia, Zoe, Luna, Scarlett, Kinsley, Paisley, Aurora, Isla and so on.
They are all lovely names. And that’s the problem. They are too cute. And we are doomed.
The best girl names, and there is no debate here, belong to another age, one in which baby girls fresh into the world were named Agnes or Eunice or Gladys.
These are the names of the moms of my childhood. They are strong names, stout, and to the point. They mean business. They are names that still scare the bejesus out of me. So did the women who wore them like a coat of armor into daily battle.
The mothers who herded us off to school, off to church, and off to bed each night had no time for feet dragging, lollygagging and dilly-dallying. They lorded over large clans of rambunctious kids who had little regard for what it takes to keep a family on track. It had to be drilled into us.
And not one of those Drill Sergeants was named Lily or Madison or Chloe. Again, all lovely names, no doubt, but none strike fear in the hearts of unruly children.
A child needs help picking out a kitten? Send in Emma. Deciding which shoes go best with a new outfit? Mia, you’re up. Maybe a tyke needs a glass of water before bedtime? No worries, sweetie, Maya will bring it.
But if you’re dealing with sass and household anarchy of biblical proportions, you send in a Myrtle or a Bertha to suppress the insurrection – and then you stand back.
What’s in a name? It better be brawn or the hordes of clamoring kids I grew up with will run right over you.
Next to our mothers, the most powerful women in our Kid World were the sisters of our Catholic Church. To them, there was no such thing as nonsense. We got a heavy dose of iron-fisted “nun sense.”
We had as many as forty kids in a classroom in our Catholic school. Forty! Imagine. I can’t, either, but I do know that when the good sisters of St. Paul Catholic School shushed us, we stayed shushed.
It had something to do with the nun’s habit. It was ninja-like. Black and white, layered and mysterious, the habits were intimidating. And all those secret pockets! They could as easily held brass knuckles as a rosary or a spare tissue. Few kids chanced it.
There was respect, certainly, backed by incredible fear of rapped knuckles and pulled ears. To this day, my right ear is slightly larger than my left. There’s a reason for that, and her name is Sister Mary Margaret. Thank you Sister, I will never talk again without first raising my hand.
In eighth grade, and this is a true story, Sister Mary Victor had to tell us only once not to test her. “I will always come out the Victor,” she said steely-eyed, in a cold, unemotional delivery that would have made Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry proud.
Challenge that? No thank you. I’ll just sit here quietly and study my Altar Boy Rules and Regulations pamphlet.
That was my in with the good sisters. I became an altar boy in the fifth grade. I had stepped out from the collection of mouth-breathers in my class to become part of The Show – which at that time was an all-male revue.
I discovered early on that the most important part of being an altar boy was just showing up. That I mastered. I was never late – miracle of miracles – for early-morning mass, which endeared me even further to the good sisters.
When I graduated from high school I was one of only three from my class to serve mass for eight years. It was quite the accomplishment, ensuring me not only an Eternal Reward, but also special dispensation from the yardstick punishment non-altar boy slackers often suffered.
I’m afraid if the nuns of my youth had been named Sister Abigail or Sister Aubrey or Sister Emily, and wore Casual Friday Clothes – heaven forbid! – my formative years would have been far more rowdy.
And my eternal afterlife just a wee bit hotter.