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The Importance of Nomenclature

written by: Anita G. Gorman


When John Smith met Mary Jones, they fell in love almost immediately, even though Mary was hoping to find a man with an unusual name to counterbalance the ordinariness of her own. John was similarly occupied in looking for a woman named Melisande Rackenberry or Josefina Martinskop, or something like that. Instead, he fell for and married Mary Jones.
At first John suggested that the two could combine their surnames, but however they arranged them, Smith-Jones or Jones-Smith, the ordinariness of the names could not be dispelled or disguised. Smashing the two names together looked silly in their opinion, so Mary Jones became Mary Smith and John Smith remained with the name he had always had. His parents hadn't even bothered to give him a middle name, for crying out loud, so he consoled himself with the idea that maybe he was a descendant of the famous John Smith who knew Pocahontas. Pocahontas--now there was a name to sink one's teeth into, so to speak.
John and Mary, or Mary and John, went about their lives and found other things to fret about besides their very ordinary names. International crises occupied some of their time and national crises another part of their time. And then Mary was pregnant and the only crisis concerning the Smiths was their own domestic one.
"John," Mary said after learning that the baby was a girl, "we need to think about names for the little one."
"How about Mary?"
"You know I want something more unusual, something special for our special girl."
"OK. How about Pocahontas?"
"No, someone would criticize us and the baby for cultural appropriation or something."
"Melisande? Josefina?"
Mary made a face. "I don't think so. No, I want something really different." She looked out the window at the leaves returning to the maple tree in the front yard. "That tree gives me an idea."
John looked alarmed. "You don't want to name her Maple, do you? Or Tree?"
Mary laughed. "No. I think I'd like to name her Spring."
"But she won't be born in the spring. She'll be born in the fall. Hey, that'll work!"
"No kid of mine is going to be named Fall!"
"No, not fall. Autumn. Autumn Smith. I like the way that sounds."
And so the first child of John and Mary Smith was named Autumn.
A few years later, Mary was once again expecting a girl. "John, what do you think? Any ideas for this baby's name?"
John was watching highlights of the 1940 World Series. He never could get enough of the Cincinnati Reds. Why couldn't he be the father of a boy? Then he could name the kid after famous Reds players and even announcers. Nuxhall Smith. That would be a name to contend with.
"What? Oh. She'll be born in the spring. How about naming her Spring?"
"I'm not sure I like that paired with Smith."
"I like it. I like it a lot," John said, never taking his gaze from the television set.
And so Spring was welcomed into the world.
It was two years later when Mary said to John, "There's going to be a Summer."
"Well, there usually is. Every year."
"No, I'm talking about the fact that I'm pregnant again, and I just know it's a girl."
"Maybe not. Maybe it'll be a boy, finally." John was still hoping for a baseball player in the family.
When Mary's obstetrician reported that the baby was indeed another girl, John and Mary said at the same time, "Summer." And they were both pleased with their daughters' seasonal names. Their family was now complete, and everyone was happy. The girls seemed to like their names and celebrated their own and each other's seasons with gusto. And then the unthinkable happened.
"John, I think I'm pregnant."
John was watching a documentary about the 150th birthday of the Cincinnati Reds.
"John, did you hear me?"
He turned toward his wife. "Huh?"
"I think I'm pregnant."
"You think so? Not impossible. Not at all."
"Let's talk later. I want to watch this." He turned back to the documentary, which was still focused on 1869. Mary stomped out of the room.
When the documentary was over, John went up to their bedroom. Mary was lying on the bed. Had she been crying? "Sorry, Mary." He snuggled up to her. "So what's this girl's name going to be, Winter? No one names a kid Winter."
"It would be kind of nice to complete the group. Winter makes sense to me."
John didn't answer. "Well, maybe it'll be a boy."
Mary laughed. "What are the odds?"
But it was a boy. John was elated. At last, a baseball player! A buddy in front of the TV! Not that girls couldn't like baseball, but so far Autumn, Summer, and Spring were just not interested.
"John, let's name our baby boy Winter."
"What kind of name is that for a boy?"
"It sounds more like a boy's name than Spring, Summer, or Autumn."
"You got that right."
Mary started to sulk. John started to sulk. "I think Winter's the perfect name for our boy. It sounds tough and strong."
"There you go with your stereotypes," said John, who was not without stereotypes himself.
But John was stubborn. So was Mary. Then Summer and Spring and Autumn were told about the baby. They all started to yell at once. "Winter. Our brother Winter. Yay!"
"Winter Smith," John repeated and frowned. Sounds like the guy in that novel. You know, Nineteen Eighty-Four. What was his name?"
"Winston Smith. Not the same as Winter Smith."
"Maybe not. But it's close." The girls were still yelling about baby Winter. Mary looked unhappy. John searched for an idea. Then it came to him.
"Winter Nuxhall Smith."
"Who? Who's Nuxhall?"
"Joe Nuxhall. Left-handed pitcher for the Reds. Later became an announcer. 'This is the Old Left Hander rounding third and heading for home.' He liked to say that at the end of a game." John remained lost in his memories.
"OK, what?"
"OK to Winter Nuxhall Smith. Even if the girls don't have middle names, I guess it's fine to saddle our boy with one."
"That's my girl," said John as he silently vowed never to call their son by his first name.

Anita G. Gorman

Anita G. Gorman

Anita G. Gorman grew up in Queens and now lives in northeast Ohio. Her scholarly work has appeared in such publications as Clues: A Journal of Detection; FOLLY; Mythlore; Dime Novel Roundup; the Swedish-American Historical Quarterly, and eight volumes of the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Her essay “Where Are You, O High-School Friends?” was published in Unfinished Chapters (2015) and “Finding Bill” in Finding Mr. Right (2016). "Tea with Barbara" appears in the 2018 collection Table for Two. Her short stories have appeared in Gilbert, Down in the Dirt, Dual Coast, Jitter Press, Red Fez, Speculative Grammarian, Scarlet Leaf Review, Knee-Jerk, Eyedrum Periodically, Adelaide, and Inwood Indiana Press. Her one-act play, "Astrid; Or, My Swedish Mama", was produced by the Hopewell Theatre in Youngstown, Ohio in March 2018.
Anita G. Gorman

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GRAMMAR OF THE SENSES, a poem written by Małgorzata Kulisiewicz at Spillwords.com