Columnist’s note: It had to happen sooner or later. I knew, if I were to write this column long enough, I would start repeating myself.

I’m about to hit seven years of writing “What I Know.” This week’s installment was going to be about names. With two grandsons being born in the past year, I enjoyed witnessing the parents go through the naming process.

I had the entire piece formulated in my mind when some nagging little thought kept surfacing. This all sounded too familiar.

And that’s because I had already written about this — on September 16, 2012. 

So, with full disclosure, although what you are reading here today is original, it is not all new.

With the birth of each of our three children, we had the names ready (boy or girl).  The mother-to-be and I had bought a baby name book and reviewed hundreds of names and their meanings.

One of our more comical discussions the first time around involved the incorporation of family names. My dad’s name was Watt, a unique name I have heard only a handful of other times. My father-in-law’s name is Walter.

I suggested – and I was serious — that if our baby was a boy, we name him “Walter Watt” after both of our fathers, and call him “W.W.”  That proposal was vetoed by my wife and was met with laughter by other family members.

I’m sure that was because they all knew, as southerners, we would call him “Dub-ya Dub-ya” and today even I admit that would have made for a difficult life.

There are all kinds of resources for perusing baby names today, and with the click of a mouse you can see the most popular and/or unique.

According to the Social Security Administration, the top three baby names in 2017 for boys were Liam, Noah and William. For girls, the top three were Emma, Olivia and Ava.

My daughter and son-in-law, both elementary school teachers, have been telling us there are Emmas in abundance in elementary school classes so I’m sure this is no surprise to them.

Names are cyclical, there’s no doubt about it, and pop culture plays a part in the process. I knew of a couple of guys named Elvis when I was growing up and, although I have never known one of them, I bet there is a middle-aged Ringo or two out there somewhere.

I knew a number of girls named Becky, Debbie and Wendy when I was growing up, but no Emmas. I would challenge you to find a Becky, Debbie or Wendy in an elementary, middle or high school today.

My best high school buddies were Jim, Joe, Jerry, Billy, Rick and Ronnie (although we all called him Mo, which is another story). Today they would more likely be Matthew, Joshua, Ethan, Aiden, Benjamin and Logan.

I certainly didn’t know any Liams, and isn’t it really a short form of William?

Today, although you might find the occasional boy named Robert, I think Bob has all but died out.

My grandmothers were Geraldine and Daisy, and I had a great-grandmother named Gertrude.  My mother’s name was Shirley. Although her name might have seen a revival when “Laverne and Shirley” was popular, I have no known peers with that name.  Same with Geraldine, Daisy and Gertrude.

My mother-in-law’s name is Billie Marie, which I think is beautiful, although she swears her mother (whose name was Lavon) named her that because she wanted a boy.  It’s not uncommon, though, to find other ladies from her generation named Billie.

My mother felt strongly that one son should be named for his father, using “Junior” following the name. As non-interfering as she tried to be, she advocated heavily for this each time we were expecting. My wife and I always thought it would be confusing to have a son with a name identical to mine, so we compromised and gave our youngest my middle name.

I am a little embarrassed to tell you we got our daughter’s middle name from a TV show in 1988. If we were to have a girl, we had already decided on Margaret for her first name, agreeing we would call her Maggie. We liked the alliteration of “Maggie McKinney.”

We were having trouble coming up with a middle name until one night when we were watching the sitcom “Family Ties.” The mother’s name on that show was Elise and that was a perfect fit for Margaret.

(As an aside, Maggie’s last name is now Majors, so she had the good fortune of not having to change or dispose of any of her monogrammed items post-marriage).

Some parents like to name their children with the same starting letter. We did that with our boys, Daniel and David, but it was coincidence rather than a desire for similar starting sounds. What it caused, unintentionally, was each of them often getting called the other one’s name. It still happens.

After doing this a few times, my mother-in-law once asked in mock exasperation if we would kindly rename one of them Frank. I reminded her I had campaigned long and hard for “W.W.” but was met with scoffing.

Daniel and David they remain.

Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at

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