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Expressway: Where have all the Yettas gone?

Cover of the book

Cover of the book "The Perfect Baby Name" by Whitney Walker and Eric Reyes Photo Credit:

When I was growing up in Hicksville in the 1960s, my friends' mothers and my female relatives had names like Clara, Muriel, Sylvia, Blanche, Fannie, Yetta, Myrna, Pauline, Frieda and Evelyn. There was an occasional Carol, Gail and Kate, but you'd never find a mom named Brittney, Amanda or Kayla.

According to the Social Security Administration's online list, Isabella was the most popular girls name in 2010. I suppose not since Columbus has Isabella been so popular. The same name ranked No. 1 among girls born in Oyster Bay in 2011, and No. 3 in North Hempstead, two Long Island towns where popular names were recorded.

Another popular girl's name today is Madison -- No. 5 in North Hempstead last year, No. 8 nationally in 2010. I first heard it when the mermaid in the movie "Splash" looked up at a street sign and adopted the name as her own. What's next? A girl named Fifth?

I've lived with a little girl's name my entire life, always saying I'm the oldest living Mindy. I have two Mindy friends from Long Island, both somewhat younger.

2011's popular names have a retro, adult sensibility. Ava (No. 1 in North Hempstead) reminds me of 1950s actress Ava Gardner. Olivia (No. 3 in Oyster Bay and No. 4 in North Hempstead) and Sophia (No. 2 in both towns in 2011 and in the top 10 nationally since 2006) carry a gravitas not assumed for the Tiffanys and Ambers of the world. Popular in the 1980s, those latter names have the cutesy ring of Sherris, Wendys and Tammys of the 1950s.

I think we've likely seen the last spate of Gertrudes, Ethels, Bernices and Mildreds. Growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, this serious-sounding group lived through the Great Depression and World War II, managed without modern conveniences, and set the stage for the women's movement of the 1960s. They migrated with their postwar families from Brooklyn and the Bronx to "the country," as Long Island was called then. Yesterday's potato farms and movie drive-ins have been replaced by corporate headquarters.

Today's grandmas have names including Debbie, Susan, Mary, Linda Joann and Terri. This generation of matriarchs practices yoga, hikes in Peru, has high-powered careers, cooks organically, yet carries on the traditions of its predecessors. They celebrate Christmases with several generations or cook Passover seders, and host baby and bridal showers. Photos of my great-grandparents' 50th anniversary party show women in their 50s and 60s looking downright elderly. The hairdos and clothes (girdles underneath, no doubt), bring to mind the word matronly, not one that fits my generation. Today, great-grandmas drive all over Long Island to lunch dates with friends and live about eight years on average longer than their '50s counterparts.

 

A 2004 Psychology Today article titled "Hello, My Name Is Unique" said that whether people swoon over -- or even disdain -- our names is beyond our control.

"Ultimately, self-esteem and the esteem of the world dictate the degree to which we hold our name dear," the article said. "Like our vocation or hometown, we tout our name as a distinguishing mark if it 'fits.' If it doesn't, we might say that, like an inaccurate horoscope, we don't believe in that stuff anyway."

Reader Mindy F. Wolfle lives in Long Beach.

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