The Name Says It All

It’s Saturday morning, and I just returned from my Walgreens-laundry-Caribou-laundry-library-laundry run. I spent a good hour perusing the fiction wall at my local library branch (around the corner from me), then it was on to the new books section.

I now have a carefully selected pile of 7 books to fill my holiday vacation.

As I was looking through the section of new non-fiction, a book called “American Heirloom Baby Names” by Charlotte Danforth caught my eye. For those of you who are advocating that I should forget about a husband and begin my role as a parent tomorrow, I’m sorry to report that the “baby” part of this title isn’t what interested me.

I think a name says a lot about a person. And I was interested to see what names were included, as well as the commentary on each one.

To my delight, the book is a collection of biography paragraphs about people who had the featured names. And to my further delight, the names of the three members of my household were all included.

NELLIE: it may be a familiar form of Cornelia, Elanor, or Helena. Variations include Nell, Nella and Nelly.

Rosie Riveter

NELLY BLY (1864-1922) was born Elizabeth Jane Cochrane Seaman. The most famous American journalist of the nineteenth century, Nellie made a name for herself with her expose of the horrific conditions at an insane asylum in New York; she feigned insanity and was committed for ten days to get the inside story. Other subjects she reported on were equally controversial for a “lady” of her time: divorce, slums, and factory conditions. Capitalizing on the popularity of Jules Verne’s book Around the World in 80 Days, Nellie set off on a trip to travel the globe in less time — and she did, in seventy-two days. Her reports from her trek made her a household name, and she became the inspiration for a board game, doll and trading card. She retired from journalism when she married, but was in Europe when World War I erupted, and came out of retirement to cover the war from the eastern front.

NETTIE: it may be a familiar from of Annette, Antoinette, Henrietta, Nanette and Natalie.


NETTIE MARIA STEVENS (1861-1912) was a brilliant student who didn’t pursue her passion for the sciences until she was in ther thirties. A native of Vermont, she went to Stanford University at age thrity-five and earned a master’s degree in biology, then received a Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr. Nettie went on to work with the Nobel Prize winner Thomas Hunt Morgan at the Carnegie Institute, studying sex determination in insects and worms. She found that the X and Y chromosomes were responsible for gender — and announced her findings — before Edmund Wilson did, though he received most of the credit.

SADIE: a familiar form of Sarah, from the Hebrew for princess.


SADIE CREEK ORCHARD (1860-1943) liked to say she was from London, but she was an Iowa girl. She moved to a mining town in New Mexico in 1885, ultimately settling in Kingston. She ran a brothel there, but soon she left “the business” and operated a stagecoach line and a hotel with her husband. Sadie herself drove four and six horses every day over primitive roads, braving bandits and Apaches. When she discovered her husband was running bootleg whiskey she sent him packing — after filling him with buckshot. Sadie also raised fifteen hunded dollars to build the first church in Kingston, and adopted a blind, mentally retarded boy. During a flu epidemic she closed her hotel to tend to the sick and took in orphans, then cut up her silk gowns to line the coffins of children.

So there you have it. Our little family. An undercover-journalist-world-traveler, living with one cat who studies insects and worms and another cat who is a reformed brothel owner.


1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    DIY said,

    Lose the cats.

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