My mother had my name picked out before she had a husband picked out. She had three friends named Barbara and wanted a daughter with the same name. At first glance, this sounds like a heartwarming story about why I like my name, until one realizes that most women with the name Barbara are usually pushing 80. Barbara was the third most popular name in the US for girls born in the 1930’s. By the 1960’s the name was losing popularity and today the name isn’t even on the list. I’m the youngest Barbara I know and many of the others I know with the same name are at least ten years my senior. Unlike boy’s names, many of which seem timeless, the popularity of girl’s names seems to change like the wind. The popular names of my generation such as Lisa, Susan, Karen, Debra, and Donna are rarely given to kids today and we’ve all been replaced by girls with names like Madison, Destiny, Sydney, and Brianna. Brooklyn and even Bronx have become popular names; I’m hoping some kid is named Queens soon. At least it’s more likely than being named Staten Island. ( I think).
My mother used to like to tell me about the origins of my name and how it meant “little stranger.” But once I started doing my own research, I noticed that many simply translated it as “strange,” which while possibly a more accurate way of describing me, doesn’t have the sweetness and innocence of “little stranger.”
The funny thing about my name is that few people actually refer to me by it. It’s as if it’s too much of a mouthful for anyone with all those redundant syllables and repeating letters. People call me different names depending on what period in my life they met me. Friends from high school often call me Barbie, some call me Bobbie, others call me Babs and everyone I have ever met from outside of the five boroughs calls me Barb. My own father hardly called me by my name, favoring his limitless nicknames including Barbie doll, sweetie-petitee, and the questionable Boober.
At this point I think there are only two people on the planet who call me Barbara; my mother, who has been so attached to the name for close to 80 years that she would never think of shortening or otherwise butchering it, and the Goy/Mench who always called me Barbara in his perfectly pitched Queens accent.
Don’t get me wrong; I like my name and it certainly has its upsides. I saved a lot of time when taking the SATs because when I filled in the bubbles on the answer sheet to write my name, I only had to find three letters and then repeat them two or even three times. I didn’t usually have to repeat my name to strangers or spell it out (well, until Barbra Streisand came along, confused everyone, and screwed things up for the Barbaras who had been following the rules and spelling the name correctly all along).
But these days it’s getting harder to carry this name. I’m sure if I had to apply for a job, a hiring manager would take one look at my name on my resume and assume I was hiding 30 years of work experience. When I am in situations now where I need to say my name, it takes longer for it to register with people. Case in point, I went into a coffee shop the other day where they ask your name and write it on the cup. I ended up with a skinny mocha latte marked Aruba.