What kind of name is that?

My mother was born with the name Mavis Worthylake. When I tell people this, it never fails to amaze. But then I go for the kicker: her sister is named Juanita. Juanita Worthylake. She married a Wilcox, which was only a small improvement.

Mom used to complain that the only fictional characters named Mavis were truck stop waitresses. It’s not even an especially old-fashioned name like Beulah or Ethel. Mavis is just… rare.

Her mother – my grandmother – was a WWI nurse who came to Canada to marry the injured soldier she had met in hospital, Prescott. Her name was Florence. Everyone called her Flossie. Flossie Worthylake.

Everyone calls my Aunt Juanita “Wheet,” but no one calls Mom anything but “Mavis” – which is fine with her. As much as she’s ambivalent about her name, woe is anyone who calls her “Mav.”

My father’s name is Robert. Everyone calls him Bob, or at least they do now. I remember the great giggly delight I felt as a kid when friends of his parents would call him “Bobby.”

Dad’s full name is Harry Robert Dick Murray. “Harry” was his dad’s name and “Dick” was his mother’s maiden name. He doesn’t use the “Harry” and he’s dropped the “Dick.” There are so many potential jokes here that it’s almost better than the Worthylake sisters.

Considering this history of semi-unfortunate monikers, you have to wonder why my parents would have named me something as odd as “Ross.” They had already produced a Janice, a David and an Andrew, so things were going pretty smoothly. And then they had me. It’s as if they panicked.

Like my mother, I used to lament the lack of Rosses in popular culture. The only people named Ross were… well, no one. Eventually there was Ross Perot.

Remember this guy? Photo: latimesblogs.latimes.com



Then Ross Geller.


In Grade 1, I had to write a composition about my name. I explained that I was named after my great-great-grandfather, which to me was the only thing that could possibly make sense. My parents saw my report and said, “What? No. We just liked the name.” Facts, shmacts, I aced the composition, which may have laid the groundwork for my future career in journalism.

I’ve learned to live with “Ross” (as has my wife – ba-DUM-bum!), and I don’t know that I would now choose an alternative. What I’ve often wished for, though, is a cool nickname, certainly not “Flossie” but something with that kind of oomph.

Nicknames are funny things. Sometimes they come pre-arranged. We knew from the outset, for instance, that we would call Katherine “Kate.” Later, Kate informed us that she preferred “Katie,” so now we call her “Kate” only when she’s done something stupid – usually with an exclamation mark.

Emily is occasionally “Em” but James is always “James,” never “Jim” or “Jimmy,” though sometimes his mother calls him “Magoo,” which is far too embarrassing for everyone involved to discuss here.

The reason for nicknames is to convey a sense of affection and familiarity, but also because speaking is hard work and short words are better. Or at least that’s the only reason I can think of for the fact that some people call Abby “Ab” – like that extra syllable is just so difficult! If you’re going to do that, then the trip from “Ab” to “A” is short and ridiculous.

With “Ross,” there’s really nowhere to go. Consequently, a small handful of people go the other way and lengthen it to “Roscoe,” while others lengthen it still further to “that big jerk Ross.”

My brother Andrew calls me “Rossy the Cow.” He’s the only one who does, and it’s not something I encourage or fully understand. He started doing this in high school, and it was perhaps out of fear that it might actually stick that I attempted to self-lobby my own nickname: Moss. Moss Furry, if push came to shove.

Of course, it didn’t go anywhere because a) it was cringingly stupid and b) true nicknames are organic; you can’t assign them to yourself. Nicknames emerge from characteristics or circumstances and are often beyond your control. There used to be an oldtimer in Stanstead named Poopy, and I doubt very much he picked that himself. After he died, his friends installed a granite bench engraved in his memory, so next time you’re in Stanstead, don’t forget to sit a spell on the Poopy bench.

Now that I’m a card-carrying adult, I’m at peace with knowing I’ll never have a great nickname (and let’s just keep that “cow” business under our hats, shall we?). What I can do is start planning my grandpa name. I’m thinking something hip that combines my unique first name and grandfatherliness. I’m thinking “G-ross.”

About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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76 Responses to What kind of name is that?

  1. I don’t know whether I’ve commented before. If not, permit me to introduce myself. Hi! Love your blog! I’m Hippie Cahier, but they call me HC. . . among other things, most of which I probably don’t want to know.

    May I call you R-Dog? I think that has a smooth, contemporary flair. No? Ok, then.

    P.S. I think Mavis is one of those names that might make a hipster comeback. I sure wish Juanita would.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I’ve noted your presence before and said to myself, “Hippie Cahier. That name is balls!” So, welcome.

      Funny, I thought of making an R-Dog reference in this piece, and then I thought, “Never, ever do that.”

      My mom just got her first cellphone at 83, so hipsterdom can’t be far off.

  2. Wasn’t there software named Mavis that taught typing? Mavis Beacon I think. My mom calls my youngest son Magoo. Not sure why. Is your wife a bit nutty like my mom? Maybe that’s the connection. I never got a cool nickname either in spite of my best efforts. I kind of feel the same about Don as you do Ross. Eh.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      When your mom is peeved, does she call you “Donald”? At very least?
      You’re correct about Mavis Beacon. I wonder if she’s on skid row now, what with all the spelling-be-damned, thumb-driven texting.
      And two Magoos? Who knew? Is your son legally blind, short and bumbling? Neither is mine. Just wondering.

  3. Mavis Worthylake is a tremendous name. It’s like Benedict Cumberbatch. Charles Dickens couldn’t have come up with better.

    May I suggest “Boss”, since it rhymes, or perhaps “Studmuffin” as a nickname for you?

    • rossmurray1 says:

      It is very Dickens isn’t it. Since posting, I looked at some family history and learned that my Uncle Grant, mom’s brother and the only one who seemed to have a sensible name, was actually named Millard Grant. Millard Worthylake is so posh!

      My sister calls me Ross the Boss sometimes. But it’s too much not true to actually stick.

      Yes, Studmuffin, please.

  4. El Guapo says:

    There are three nicknames I’ve had that I liked (out of many). To this day, there are still people who still only know me by one of them.

  5. pinklightsabre says:

    My father in law’s name was Dick Box. No nicks in that.

  6. Tez says:

    Everybody in Australia is automatically given a nickname, either as their plane lands or as soon as they are born. Aussies love shortening and/or adding an ‘a’ or ‘o’ to the end of names, i.e. Thomas/Tom becomes Tomo, Dave becomes Davo. If the name can’t be changed they give it an variation of rhyming slang i.e. Helen Welon or Helen Melon. In my case I became Tez or Tezza (from Terry) and I love both names; they made me feel like a real Aussie even though I was from the UK. My kids have called me Tez since their teens and it’s such a term warmth and love. Ah, the power of the nickname!

  7. Katie says:

    “We knew from the outset, for instance, that we would call Katherine “Kate.” Later, Kate informed us that she preferred “Katie,” so now we call her “Kate” only when she’s done something stupid – usually with an exclamation mark.” A girl after my own heart.

    My aunt’s name is Alfreda, my mom’s name is Sylvia, and my uncle’s name is Karl. …He lucked out. My mom positively hates her name.

  8. Aussa Lorens says:

    I vote for G-ross, most def. Then you can transition to just straight “gross” and there’s a lot you can do with that one.

  9. ksbeth says:

    great post and i love your family names, though i have a different perspective, as i didn’t have to live with the names. my childhood nickname was, ‘peaches’ and i’ve since reclaimed it as a grandmother and i love it,.

  10. Elyse says:

    Ross is nice and easy and people don’t mess it up. Try being a little kid named “Elyse” — Pronounced “A Lease” Nobody could pronounce it and every substitute teacher called me Elsie (Else – IE). This was during the days of Elsie, the Borden Dairy spokescow. I was a tiny little girl and there was no resemblance, but you’ll have to take my word for that. Today anyone who calls me Elsie goes immediately onto my shit list and must work very hard to get off.

  11. rarasaur says:

    My name is Radhika, and it was the only name I went by till I was 7. I was adamantly against nicknames. Then I moved to a tiny town where no one could say it properly and since I didn’t like being called Raw-Dick-Ahh, I switched to “Radha” (pronounced the way a Brit says “rather”), and then my nephew was born, and he shortened it to “Rara”– which stuck amongst my siblings and anyone younger. Meanwhile, my friends still said Radha and my parents (and their friends) said Radhika– except for my mom who converted to Miss Radha. Then the Internet happened, and my username for everything at the time picked up, and then I met those online friends and they moved closer and still call me “Fair”, and then I started a job that relied heavily on the phone and people decided to shorten it to my basic initials “RJ”, and then I was married. People are inclined to call me Mrs.Martinez, but that isn’t my name at all since I never took Dave’s. People who know me through Dave’s work call me Mrs.Queen because that’s his artist name.

    You should see the confusion at my birthday parties.

    In other words, my nicknames are a mess, and (though I love my name), I’ve always wished it was a name that fit all circumstance without much or any alteration. Like Ross. 😀

  12. List of X says:

    You are lucky that your brother called you Rossy the Cow. “Ross the Horse” would have been catchier and could have stuck.
    Personally, my most common recent nicknames were “Robot” and another, more or less closely translated as “Satan from Hell”. I’m very proud of both of them.

  13. monicahlv says:

    My father was born Elsmer (that is not a typo it was E-L-S-M-E-R) Lloyd Worden Jr. In my almost 49 years and even after living in Europe for over 4 years, I have yet to meet ANYONE with his first name. He was called Bud by his family and Al by everybody else. My parents were nice though and gave my younger brother a normal name, Michael. I got a not so normal name for the times (1960s), Monica, and until I went to college I only knew three other Monica’s. Most of my family called me Monnie and some of my younger second cousins used to call me ‘Aunt Mommie” because that is what they heard. I did have a nickname that I HATED; one of my mother’s friends called me Mona. I have a nickname now among a select group of friends of MonMon, and I like it.

  14. ddupre315 says:

    Diana was shortened to Di sometimes and I hated it, my mother hated people calling me Diane, “that’s not her name!”, my brother’s friends labeled me dinnanabanana.

    Be thankful you never had a nickname.

  15. cat9984 says:

    My grandmother was Willis Treganowan. Most of her mail came to Mr. Willis. Family and friends called her Bounce. Don’t want to think about why.

  16. haha this is perfect – It totally IS nickname week ’round here!

  17. mollytopia says:

    G-Ross is awesome! I love that your parents panicked and called you Ross hahaha. My nickname was Molly, which is now my legal name – I ditched all the other ones. But as you noted, most people can’t be bothered to say my full name because it’s so long, so they call me Mol…In other news, my dad’s name was Robert, most people called him Bob and his parents generation called him Bobby too! You and I have so much in common we’re practically best friends…Your blog is awesome – I’m so glad I met you through that crazy Ned character : )

  18. Kylie says:

    Rosemary, at an office where I used to work there was a woman named… Margarita Pancake. I’m not joking. And she wasn’t the kind of person you’d joke around with, either.

  19. Yahooey says:

    The first Mavis (Staples) that comes to mind has made living singing the blues. seeing as she started singing with her sisters, I don’t think the name was the cause for the choice of genre.

  20. Ned's Blog says:

    I remember a kid in school, Rich Ross, who we nicknamed “R squared.” We thought we were pretty clever. We also all struggled in math. I was actually named after my grandfather, Edward, which has many proper nicknames: Ed, Eddie, Ward, Moses and Ned. When we moved to Oregon, I decided to go by “Ned” as my new monicker. New place, new name, possibly a better chance with the opposite sex. That part didn’t really pan out until I was 40. But hearing my wife call me “Ned” was worth the wait. Some of the other things she calls me, not so much…

    • rossmurray1 says:

      What were you before Ned (which has a power that no Flanders can ever take away)?
      You almost had me at Moses.

      • Ned's Blog says:

        I was an Eddie for most of my “kid” years, but when we moved to Oregon and I started high school, I wanted something that sounded more “grown up.”

        Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking. I just knew “Moses” was a bit strong.

  21. Nic says:

    Confession: I LOVED Ross Gellar. Or, not so much loved, but identified with on random levels. (Not as much as I identified with Pheobe/Rachel, though, for obvious reasons.)

    Something I also love? The fact that you totally made that grandfather shit up in first grade. That is so something I would have done.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Well, you know, the pressures of first grade drive a man to do things he’s not proud of.

      My kids were obsessed with Friends for a while, watched them all the time. We have all 10 seasons on DVD. I can quote entire episodes as a result. By the end, those characters came to be — how would you put it? — close acquaintances.

  22. benzeknees says:

    Ross was my maiden name. Benze is the best nickname I’ve ever had & I actually like it. I certainly didn’t have it in mind when I came up with my avatar name & was quite surprised when I first saw it in print, but I’ve grown to love it, so much less formal than Benzeknees!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      It’s good to get a nickname you like. There are three grown men in the town I live in named “Beaver.” I wonder what they think about that, not to mention the lack of originality.

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