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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Baby Naming Issues: Margaret Atwood and Maisie

E. writes:
I am currently pregnant with a girl, due this winter. My husband and I have always loved the name Maisie, and I was pleased to learn it’s a nickname for Margaret, the name of a beloved family member. My problem? Our last name is Atwood, so she would share a name with the well-known author, Margaret Atwood. We do plan on calling her Maisie, so the obvious solution would be to just name her Maisie and be done with it. But I do like the idea of naming her after a family member, and I also worry that Maisie is too whimsical as a “real name”, and she wouldn’t have something more formal to fall back on when she becomes a Supreme Court justice (ahem). I have always gone by a nickname for my formal name, and liked having something more serious to use professionally, in publications, etc. So I guess I have two questions for you and your readers: First, how weird would it be to have a child named after someone famous (though, admittedly, it’s not like we’re naming her Angelina Jolie)? Secondly, do you think Maisie is too whimsical to be anything but a nickname? I keep going back and forth on this, and would really appreciate an outside opinion. Thank you!

This is a pair of questions I can see getting opinions from ALL OVER the spectrum. My own set of opinions is that I think the Margaret Atwood connection is too strong to use the name (not because of either a positive or a negative association, but based only on the STRENGTH of the association), and that I think Maisie works better as a nickname for a given name.

I had to think a bit to come up with those opinions, though, because it's so hard to tell when a name is worth using despite issues with it: I often come down on the side of "Yes, I see the issue---but if you really want the name, it won't be all THAT much hassle, and you should go for it." What I finally did was imagine it as my OWN name. Would I want to keep discussing the Margaret Atwood thing? No. And if my name were Maisie, would I also want a more professional option? Yes.

You could do some fancy footwork and make Margaret the middle name (the connection is still very strong for me there, though) and give her a different first name but nickname her Maisie. Or you could name her Mae or May and call her Maisie. (I like the sound of Mae Margaret, too, if you want to use the honor name.)

Let's find out where the rest of us are on the spectrum. Let's have TWO polls over to the right: one on the Margaret Atwood association, and one about Maisie as a given name. [Polls closed; see results below.]




Name update! E. writes:
Update! And a surprise!

Thank you so much for posting my question. As you predicted, the responses were all over the place, and it was fascinating to see such a wide variety of opinions. I really appreciated the many suggestions of alternate formal names we could use to get Maisie. I became particularly fond of Mae, and really wanted to make it work, but...well, there's something I didn't tell you. This baby is a twin. I didn't mention it when I originally wrote to you, because I didn't think it was relevant. It only became an issue once Mae came into consideration, because we decided to name her twin sister...June. MAE & JUNE. Could you imagine? I'm just not that cruel.

So Mae was out, and I didn't love any of the other alternatives. So we were back to Margaret or Maisie. My gut was telling me that Maisie was better as a nickname, and your poll reinforced my feelings. In the other poll, I noticed that 29% of the respondents didn't notice the connection at all. This really surprised me. My impression is that your readers are a very literate crowd, and I reasoned that if nearly one-third of them didn't recognize Margaret Atwood, it was going to be far less noticeable among the general public.

I also really appreciated the commenters (Heidi J, bunnyslippers, etc) who pointed out that she would be known primarily as Maisie as a child and by the time she's an adult her peers may not recognize the connection. I took special note of the comment about the child named "Ayn Rand"--the kids didn't notice it, and adults asked about it but understood once they heard it was a family name. That seemed similar to our situation, and helped me see that it wouldn't bother me that much if people inquired about her name.

Interestingly, I have a similar issue with my name. My maiden name is Elizabeth Burton, and from time to time I hear, "Hey, that was Elizabeth Taylor's name when she was married to Richard Burton!". Do I roll me eyes when I hear this? Absolutely. Do I find it annoying? Not really. People are funny, and they're just trying to make conversation. It's not a big deal to me, and hopefully won't be one for my daughter.

So without further ado, I present to you Margaret Jane (aka Maisie), and her sister June Adeline. As suggested, I gave Maisie a strong middle name/initial to separate her first and last names. She is named after my mother (and her mother), who is absolutely tickled to share a name with her granddaughter. The babies are now 19 weeks old, and the only person to comment on the Margaret Atwood connection is their pediatrician. :)

58 comments:

Kate said...

My mother named me Katie (instead of Katherine or the like) and I have always really hated it. It's a total nickname! I go by Kate exclusively and many people in my life don't realize that it isn't my given name. I know I'm biased, but my experience with having a nickname-y name makes me say no to Maisie as a given name.

eponymia said...

I like the suggestion of naming her Mae/May and using Maisie as a nickname for that --a lot of "M" names could work that way, actually. Mary, Marion, Maris and Mariel come to mind.

Anonymous said...

If you really love Margaret I think you should go for it. I don't think the association is that strong for many people and you will be calling her Maisie anyway. My name is Jennifer but I go by Jen and if someone is using my full name they still use Jen, Jennifer just feels too formal for me and there are so many Jennifers.

mayberry said...

I know a Madeline nicknamed Mae, so maybe that could work as a formal first name? Or I do love Mae Margaret, as Swistle suggested.

Abby@AppMtn said...

Would you consider using Maisie as a nickname for something else:

Mae - especially if you'll consider a middle name starting with S. Mae Susannah Atwood is lovely.

Mary - maybe a stretch, but an option, too.

Mara - same thoughts as Mary.

Madeleine - Derived from Magdalena, after all - which isn't related to Margaret, but I feel it still works.

Marie - My last thought, and I think my favorite.

FWIW, while I love Maisie it would craze me to get to 35 and have to put Maisie on my business card. I would totally be a Maisie, but only if I got to put something else on my mortgage paperwork.

Anonymous said...

I think the association is very strong, and I must say that I wouldn't use it because of the association. You're likely to have people making assumptions that you used the name BECAUSE of the author, and if that's just not true, it could become bothersome. And for the rest of her life, if and when your daughter chooses to introduce herself as Margaret Atwood, the first thought that will pop into many people's minds is "like the author?" An aside: I know a 5-year-old girl who bears the same name as a famous radical political activist from the 1960s. Her parents gave her the name NOT because of that association (they are in fact very politically conservative folks), but chose the first name to honor a family member. I have to say it's very jarring to me, especially because this family's beliefs and those of the famous person are so far apart!

StephLove said...

Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors, so yeah, I would notice. And I agree Maisie doesn't seem substantial enough for a given name. I liked the suggestion of Mae with an S middle name. The example Mae Susannah is lovely. Mae Simone could work, too.

christa said...

I didn't notice the connection. I would want a longer, more professional name if my name were Maisie.

I say go for it, but use a distinct and different middle name so when she is "googled" in the future she comes up easily. (We all know employers google everyone!)

Sarah said...

Being a Canadian, the association is *very* strong.

I suggest Greta - derivative of Margaret. Though, there's no tie to Maisie... I do like Swistle's suggestion of Mae and also think Mavis would be beautiful. Mavis Greta Atwood.

Anonymous said...

Margery would eliminate the association and still get you the nickname. Or Marguerite.

Anonymous said...

Ok I'll chime in on the pro Maisie camp. To me it's like Daisy. I know professionals named Daisy and I wouldn't blink at one named Maisie. Maybe Daisy is more common in Latin America though? But anyway, I know several little girls named Sadie as a given name and I find that similar too. I'll throw this option out there but maybe a stretch. In Latin America there is a name Maiza (my-EE-za) and I've always found it lovely.

Christy said...

Unfortunately, I think this one's out with your last name. I think that part of it is not just that she is a famous author, but a politically charged famous author.

And, yeah, Maisie's a little fluffy to go on your MBA.

I think the best option is an alternative 'long name', Marjorie or Mae being my favorites.

NameLover said...

Slightly off topic, but I don't think a Supreme Court Justice named Maisie would be strange at all.

I think that "serious" names will be less of an issue in the future. I read an interesting article about this at
http://www.namecandy.com/celebrity-baby-names/blog/2010/10/28/why-krystal-ball-is-a-great-name-for-a-politician

Heidi J said...

I would name her Margaret and call her Maisie. As a little girl, most people know will her as Maisie Atwood. Once she is old enough to want to have a more formal name, Margaret Atwood will probably have died (she's 71 now) and be a lot less well known and popular since once an author has stopped publishing they tend to replaced by more current authors. She will probably still get a few "like the author?" comments but not as much as if she went by Margaret Atwood right now.

Jan said...

How about Maisie as a nn for Marchesa or Marissa? Alternatively, I might start from scratch.

bunnyslippers said...

Heidi has a good point. I also like Swistle's middle name suggestion.

ljdavies said...

I'd say name her Margaret Atwood. The above commenter is right - she'd be known as "Maisie Atwood" and in 30 years, when she might want to use Margaret, the connection might not be as obvious.

My name is shared with a famous professional golfer. I always use my middle initial - J - as my professional name. Maybe you can do the same? Margaret A. Atwood? Margaret M. Atwood? Margaret J. Atwood? Those break it up quite a bit.

I love the nickname Maisie, by the way. I'd love to use it too (to honor a sister Margaret as well), but it rhymes with our last name. A little too sing-songing.

So I advocate using Margaret, calling her Maisie, and just having a middle initial that she can use. Maybe she won't even care!

LiciaLee said...

I have never heard of margaret atwood, so not a problem for me. I LOVE margaret. I wish my husband would let me use it. I am not a fan of maisy though. Makes ME think of maisy mouse...

Carmen said...

My husband has a 26 year old cousin with the first name Maizie - no "formal" name to fall back on, just Maizie. I honestly had no idea it was a nickname for Margaret, I just thought it was a cool, unique name. I'd use it without hesitation. I can see, based on the poll results, that I'm in minority though. I wonder if naming traditions are different in Canada? I may have to take a poll of my own here in my office. :)

Allison said...

I don't think it'll help much when Margaret Atwood dies, because she's so well-known not only for fiction but for literature: they study her in college English Lit classes and in political science classes, so she won't fade as quickly as some lightweight fiction author would. She might be more like Charles Dickens or Saul Bellow or Charlotte Bronte. As you can tell, I voted for it being too strong an association!

I also voted for Maisie as a nickname, but even as a nickname I think of Maisy Mouse almost as strongly as Margaret Atwood. My kids watched those videos and read those books a million times.

Kailee said...

Apparently I am also in the minority, because I see nothing weird or "unprofessional" with using Maisie as a given name. I think it's quite pretty on its own! I can see a sweet little girl, a successful woman and a kindly grandmother all being called *just* Maisie.

I dunno. My cousin's given name is Jake. Not Jacob, just Jake. He's a surgeon. Jake looks fine on his diplomas, if you ask me! So, that's my two cents. If Maisie is a name you both love, use it. This random internet commenter thinks it's a perfectly lovely name on its own!

lifeofadoctorswife said...

I keep thinking of that movie Office Space, where one of the characters is named Michael Bolton. (And he was named before Michael Bolton became famous.) And everyone he meets asks him about his name and it just seems like it wears him down so much.

Obviously, Margaret Atwood is a horse of a different color. I don't know if her name is as well known, and it's possible that someone might really feel a kinship with her namesake. But I would notice that she shares a name with a writer (a writer I adore, by the way) and I would want to know the story.

So I guess I'm saying I would vote against using it as a name.

The Mrs. said...

If I were your sweet Maisie, I would love my name and also want a more "formal" name behind it.

Instead of Margaret, what about:

Martha
Miriam
Maybel
Marcella

All the best to you and your husband and your darling daughter!

Anonymous said...

I am normally one to immediately notice when someone shares the name of someone even mildly famous, and I have also read (and immensely enjoyed!) several of Margaret Atwood's works... and I didn't notice the connection when I saw the title of Swistle's post. Isn't that funny?

Now that I DO see it, I actually don't mind it much at all, especially since A) you would call her Maisie, and B) it's a very positive association for me.

I think that I would either push ahead with the Margaret Atwood plans, OR name her something else as a first name, and use Margaret as a middle name, still driving Maisie from it. Middle names are so rarely discussed, that the connection to the author would only rarely have the opportunity to be made by others.

AirLand said...

This is a tough one... I really only have one suggestion: Mae Greta Atwood. It sounds very glamorous-old Hollywood-y. You could call her Maisie and Greta is a form of Margaret.

Anonymous said...

I've never even read anything by Margaret Atwood but I was startled by the name. Like running into a Jack Kennedy. I'd have to ask if there was a connection, even though I'd realize they were probably sick of it. I'd get tired of that as the parent, I think. (Not just as the child.)

Kit said...

I would not name her Margaret - even 20 years from now, I think the association will be too strong.

I am in the minority, but think if you love the name Maisie and intend to call her Maisie, you should name her Maisie. If you give her a more formal middle name, she can put that on her resume: Maisie Catherine Atwood, for example, is both unique and distinguished.

MomTo3 said...

I love this kind of topic. I think Margaret Atwood is too obvious a connection. Maisie I think will work fine as a given name. I don't think it would have worked as well in our generation, but this next generation is full of Maddisyns and Kasons and Caylees, and it seems like everyone is just going to have to adjust to those as professional names when the kids grow up and become professionals. (But I don't think I'd want to gamble on it with my own kids' names.)

Jenny said...

All I know about Margaret Atwood is 'The Handmaid's Tale'. Instead of thinking about a little girl, I'm thinking about sex ceremonies and shredder babies.

Anonymous said...

Or what about first name Mae, middle name beginning with a C to get "Mae C" = "Maisie" as a nickname?

Anonymous said...

Or Mae "Middle Name Z" Atwood -- Mae Z to get Maisie!

Carolyn said...

A cousin named her daughter Mary Margaret but she goes by Maggie. What about Mary Margaret Atwood, nn Maisie?

Anonymous said...

As it happens, I know a teenager whose name is the same as famous author. Her name is less common than Margaret though - a good comparison would be Ayn Rand. I have noticed two things about her name. First, kids her age do not recognize the name at all. I am sure some will eventually make the connection, but by that time they will strongly associate the name with her, rather than the famous author. Second, adults sometimes question the parents about the name, but they always say that it was a happy coincidence because of a beloved relative with that name. That seems to clear it up just fine.

Guinevere said...

I'm a Jennifer who uses Jenny socially but who is very very happy to have the full name on the birth certificate and on the graduate diploma and for professional use. I'm very very glad my parents did not formally name me Jenny.

However, I think this is a cultural difference, and in non-American parts of the English speaking world, nicknames as given names are currently very hot (witness the success of Alfie as a super-star in the British name charts). So, I think it really depends on cultural context. To my American upbringing, though, Maisie sounds too cutesy for a resume to be taken seriously, although I think it's an awesome nickname.

As for the Margaret Atwood connection - if you nearly exclusively called your daughter Maisy, and she were mainly introducing herself as such, it wouldn't really come up much... but if I heard the full name, I would absolutely think of the novelist in about a nanosecond.

That would be enough for ME not to want to use it, but if you are going into it with eyes open then it doesn't have to be a dealbreaker, either. Do you LIKE the novelist? Would you be okay with people assuming you were fans and that it was an homage-name, or being asked often about whether it was intentional?

I have a similar situation in my acquaintance circle where we know a young Josephine Baker, as in THE Josephine Baker (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephine_Baker - NSFW photos further down on the page). After a year of wondering about it, I finally asked the parents if they were big fans, and the mom was, and that makes me feel more positively about the name choice for their family! I still think of the late singer/actress's banana skirt every time I hear the full name of the kid, though. Margaret Atwood is at least a very positive and wholly non-risque association, so I think it's LESS daring a choice than Josephine Baker.

Janelle said...

Marjorie! An old derivative of Margaret (some say an old nickname), so it has the same roots. Still a classic, spunky, and has the fun nickname Jorie, too, if you need another one :)

I think, given the literary association, your relative could easily feel honored by using Marjorie/ Margery as a derivative name, and IMO, it's actually easier to see Maisie as a nickname since they share the same beginning and ending.

Good luck!

StephLove said...

I'm going to put on my former English professor hat here and say I think Margaret Atwood will be well-known for generations.

I've taught two of her books (Cat's Eye and Alias Grace, and I highly recommend them btw) and I think she'll be read and studied and written about for a long time to come.

Emily said...

I agree with others who've said that the Margaret Atwood connection is too strong. Several people would think you named your daughter after her, and if that isn't the case then I could see how it would become annoying. Personally I see no reason why you can't use Maisie on the birth certificate. Why can't we have Supreme Court Justice Maisie Atwood or Dr. Maisie Atwood?

Anonymous said...

I think you should go with Marguerite, nn Maisie; OR Margaret with a lovely middle name, so that when she is 35, she can be "Margaret Anna Atwood" or "Margaret Julia Atwood".

Patricia J.

Anonymous said...

The connection to the author is too strong for me. It would be akin to naming a daughter Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Iris Murdoch, Nadine Gordimer, Dorothy Parker or Virginia Woolf, etc.- some people may not get the connection but for those who do it will be a strong one. I choose those names because they're all fairly common last names & I could imagine someone having a similar conundrum (e.g. always wanting a girl named Virginia but then marrying into the name Woolf).

I'm on the side of not using Maisie as a full given name but as a short form or endearment, that way your daughter will always have a choice. (An aside, I know a family who've three daughters - their first two have three syllable first names & most often called by their nicknames, & the third is named simply Maisie! It *goes* with her sisters nicknames but not with their lovely longer names. A few of their friends think that they must've got lazy & the 3rd daughter is missing out on having a full name!)

Fortunately, to get the nickname Maisie and/or honour a family member named Margaret, there are so many options! Here's a link to some variations of the name Margaret:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_(name)
You can stay fairly close to the name Margaret - e.g. Marjorie - & both get the nickname Maisie & honour your family member without evoking the author connection.

I also like others' suggestions of having the first name Mae with a second name that begins with either C or Z to get Mae-C or Mae-Z:
Mae Zara, Mae Zanthe
Mae Catherine, Mae Carlotta, Mae Caroline, Mae Coraline, Mae Cornelia, Mae Cerelia, Mae Camille/Camilla, Mae Cecile/Celia/Cecilia - so many great options! Of those Mae Celia shortens most naturally to Maisie for me.

Finally, I also like the suggestions of having Mae as her first name and Greta as her second, having unambiguous ties to both Maisie & Margaret. Mae Greta is stellar name.

This is such a fun one because, though I don't think you should use either Margaret or Maisie on the birth certificate, there are so many possibilities - look forward to finding out what you choose!

Jenny Grace said...

Do you like Macy? It is phonetically very similar, but the connotations of the two names (Maisie vs. Macy) seem very different to me, where someone might love one/hate the other.

I find the association too strong to use Margaret, but prefer Maisie as a nickname...

Phancy said...

I agree that the name association is such a strong one that it would be better to not use Margaret Atwood. Even though she will be known as Maisie, all of her professional documents and such will have the same name as the author, and in fact could make her professional life a tad more difficult / annoying to always be dealing with questions.

That said, I do not think that Maisie is too unprofessional of a name to have as an adult. I love the name too.
If you still wanted to honor the family member, you could tell her that you used the nickname derived from her name. Or, I love the suggestion of Mary Margaret, called Maisie, if you felt strongly that you wanted a formal name and a nickname.

(I grew up with a traditional name, but one that sounds like it could be a nickname. I liked it that, so I passed it on to my child. So that is my perspective!)
Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Why not use Thomasia (pronounced Tom-azia) with the nickname Maisie?

Thomasia Atwood.

Anonymous said...

I love Maisie as a given name. Note that in England/Wales the name was the 14th most chosen last year. Soon there will be many professional Maisie's around! In my personal opinion, needing a longer name to come across more professional sounds insecure. Maisie's personality, stature and professionalism will gain her the respect she deserves at her job. And in addition to that she will have a beautifully sweet name.

Anonymous said...

I had a relative named Maisie - it was a nickname, and her given names were Ivy Mae.

That wouldn't help with the issue of honouring a family member, but I thought I would throw it out there anyway :)

Ivy Mae Atwood
Ivy May Atwood
Ivy Margaret Atwood
all pretty cute!

Anonymous said...

I agree that Maisie is too "nicknamy" for a full name, but love the nn. I like the Mae and Marguerite suggestions, though. LOL @ Office Space association. Too true!

Christine said...

Margaret Atwood jumped at me immediately. I will 4th (5th) the suggestion of Marguerite. I think it's lovely. It can still be considered an honor name, and you get Maisie to boot. Good luck!

lynn said...

I agree that Margaret is too famous, and Masie is too nickname-y.

I liked the suggestion of Mavis. Mavis Atwood, nickname Masie, sounds good to me, or I also liked Marjorie. Other M names I like (though I know that wasn't your question) are Miriam and Melanie.

A common modern Jewish tradition is to honor family members by using a name with the same first initial as the person you're honoring, so it would be totally normal to me to honor your relative Margaret with a daughter named M------.

vanessa steck said...

Even Maisie Atwood is strong for me, although not AS strong, because Atwood is a favorite author of mine and I know that Maisie is a nn for Margaret. I would NOT use Margaret.
I like the suggestion of using Margery/Marjorie. I like Mae Marjorie Atwood.
Or Mae S-name.

Nicole J. said...

If you aren't into the variants of Margaret for the first name, I think Esme Margaret Atwood, nickname Maisie, also works.

Anonymous said...

Margaret Atwood doesn't bother me at all, but Marguerite is also nice. I have to say, I can't picture Marjorie/Margery on a baby. I mean, if you like that, go for it, but don't settle for a name you don't love just to get Maisey. I do agree Maisey needs a formal name. I also do have the cartoon association, but it isn't a bad one. Margaret is a lovely name!

Anonymous said...

(Haven't read the comment, apologies if I repeat anything)

Will the author Margaret Attwood still be well known in 20-30 years when your daughter is wanting to use her full name?

What if you choose a different name (just randomly for example June Attwood) and unknown to you there is a struggling author (or actor or politician or whatever) out there right now who becomes famous in 10 years time? Then your daughter will still have a lifetime of saying "no, not the author, actor, etc".

My point is, lots of people have the same first AND last name. You just don't normally meet them or know of them. But at any point one of these people can become famous, and there's not much you can do about it.

Marjorie said...

My real name is Margaret, but I go by Marjorie. I don't think the connection is a big deal with Margaret Atwood though. I love the idea of using Mae or Macy for a first name.

West of House said...

If you have the option of naming her after a celebrity or not, I'd say not. Kids won't know who Margaret Atwood is, but she is a big enough literary deal that if Maisie ends up studying liberal arts she's probably going to be reading a book by her inadvertent namesake in some class sometime. I do think her books will be around (and on syllabi) that long.

However, I also think Maisie is a perfectly fine full name, even for a professional. Keep in mind that what people think of as "professional" names tend to just be what people who are in public office/positions of power right now are named: meaning, middle-aged people. In the '60s when all the little girls were named Nancy and Judy, those were little-girl names; now they are senator and CEO names. When I was a kid I would have thought a doctor being named Jennifer was hilarious and guess what my current doctor's name is? When Maisie's getting a job her cohort will have plenty of similar old-timey-yet-adorable names (see: Pippa, another nickname-as-first-name) so her name won't be unusual at all.

Jessica said...

We named our daughter Maisie, to honour her grandmother, Wendy Margaret. Our family is part Scottish, and Maisie is the Scottish variant of Margaret,as Elspeth is the Scottish version of Elizabeth and Jamie for James. It means 'child of light', 'pearl', 'precious' and 'flower'. In Africaans, Meisie means 'girl' and in Swaheli it means 'knowledge/understanding'. We gave her a middle name (quite popular 'safe' name) so if she wants to change it in high school she can, but she is already thinkig of asking her friends to call her Maz when she is a teenager. The thing she loves most about her name is that it is unique (never in the top 1,000 in the States) but in the UK it currently ranks number 14 and is rising in popularity. I think it is a turn of the century name, perfect for the 1900s and will work well in 21st century. Last thought, if you both love the name, use it, because a child deserves a name its parents adore. My husband and I had a mutual 'aha' when we saw the name in a baby name book (we couldnt settle on a name for ages!)
Hope this helps!

hillary said...

Great final name choices! And your twins are beautiful!

Anonymous said...

So funny that her twin is June (the theorized name of the narrator Offred in A Handmaid's Tale)! The names are lovely, and at least Margaret Atwood the author is awesome (way better than Ayn Rand).

Anonymous said...

I love the twin uprise :). Beautiful girls and beautiful names!

Joanne said...

Beautiful, beautiful babies!