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Boy Names and Girl Names

by Dear Jon
March 24, 2009

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Dear Jon,

If a potential customer or client emails you and gives a formal salutation like "Dear Sir/Madam" or "Dear Mr. Smith," but then signs off with "Sincerely, Pat Johnson," how do you know if it's a woman or a man? You want to be respectful in return, saying "Dear Mr. Johnson" or "Ms. Johnson." Is it rude to introduce the informality with "Dear Pat?"

More and more girls are being given traditional boy names, so this becomes more of a problem.

- Tracy Jacobs

Dear Tracy,

I think the real problem is not the salutation in letters. The real problem is that too many names do not clearly distinguish between male and female.

I know a German man named Helga. What in the sam hill is that about?

Speaking of Sam, look ladies, if you are named Samantha, don't go around letting people call you "Sam" or introduce you as Sam. Okay?

In  Latin America guys are named "Jesus" all the time and absolutely every female you find has "Maria" worked somewhere into the name, even if it is the fourth name, such as "Juanita Francesca Carmina Maria Sanchez-Hernandez." But here is the cool thing about the Latin American cultures:

You do not name a girl "Juan." To designate a girl, you can add an "a" or an "ita." So you name a girl "Juanita" which, by the way, is a GREAT name and can stand alone without "Maria" being added to it.

But Latin American can mess it up too. They will give "Maria" as a name to some guys. That is so messed up the steam is rising from my ears even as I write this. Why do you suppose the United States conquered half of Mexico in the 1840's? Because we were led by "Winfield Scott." They were led by "Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón." Padua Maria Santa Anna? What is that? You name your Generalissimo "Anna," you DESERVE to get beat up by bullies.

Besides, can you imagine what happened when the armies took positions? As each side sends runners to the front line, this is how it would have looked for the Americans.

Messenger: "Sir, you are ordered to attack."

Colonel: "By whom?"

Messenger: "General Winfield Scott."

Compare that to what must have happened on the Mexican side.

Messenger: "Sir, you are ordered to attack."

Colonel: "By whom?"

Messenger: "Generalissimo Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa An--" (head gets blown off by attacking American cannonball)

Colonel: "Wait. Santa who? Now what am I supposed to do?"

Aide: Perhaps you should send me to headquarters with a letter asking for clarification.

Colonel: Great idea! Now let me see, how do we address this note? "To Whom it May Concern?"

Aide: I recommend "Senor Generalissimo."

Colonel: But the name I was given is Padua Maria Anna something-or-other. How do know we are commanded by a Senor and not a Senora?

Aide: That would be "Senora Generalissima."

Colonel: I know that! I'm as Mexican as you!

(Meanwhile the charging Americans push the border all the way to the Rio Grande, with the result that the Colonel and his Aide are no longer Mexicans but Americans.)

(Please note: In no way to do I approve of the Mexican War or its causes. According to Wikipedia, which I like to read in my spare time, Abraham Lincoln himself opposed the war while a Whig in Congress, seeing in it a gambit by slave-holders to expand their slave-holding territory. But this article is not about the Mexican War. This article, in case you have missed the point, is to advise you on why you should never EVER let your son be drafted into an army where he becomes a message runner for a man named "Generalissimo Padua Maria Santa Anna." )

(This third parenthetical statement has nothing to do with clarifying any of the points made so far, except to ask this question that has been troubling me for many years. Whose fault is it that the city in New Mexico is named "Albuquerque"? Is it named after somebody or something, and is the word Spanish or English in origin? The name sounds like it was first spoken by a Scottish Gypsy with the hiccups.)

Or, to turn Stephen Sondheim on his head:

Maria, I just met a boy named Maria,
and suddenly I've found
how stupid that would sound to me.

Maria, say it fast and he'll run from hiding,
say it slow and there's bullies he's fighting.
Maria! I'll never name my son Maria!

Readers, I am not saying that there ought to be a law. I am saying that if you are going to give a baby a name that ends with a y, or an i, or an ie, or an a, or an ita, it is because your baby is a girl. I know that two hundred years ago the English were naming their sons "Tracy" but that was also when men were wearing wigs and rouge and powdering their noses, and we kicked their butts (or "bums") in a war too.

I suppose someone will try to prove me wrong and write in protest of a perfectly normal male-sounding macho name that ends in one of those ways. But most likely what you'll get from me is:

"Oh for crying out loud!"

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