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Would You Hire a Lawyer Named 'Kitten'?

I'm in the midst of writing a bestseller. It addresses one of the primary issues affecting women's credibility and power, so I know it'll sell like hot cakes. The title says it all: "The Dangerous Practice of Naming Daughters, or Why I Am Often Mistaken for a Poodle."

This is serious business. Names shape lives. In fact, social scientists looking into the changing roles of women and their relative success in the workplace have entirely missed the boat by ignoring the essential role of names in determining that success.

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Think about it: During the rich and silly 1950s, we thought father knew best. So we let him give his girls any number of too-cute-for-words nicknames, like Kitten and Princess, Mimi and Mitzi, Candy, Bambi, and Boo. I sprang from this era. For the first few years of my life, I thought I'd been named after the only other being I knew called Mitzi: the mutt around the corner.

By fourth grade, Mrs. Hunter, my teacher, said I couldn't grow up and use a name like Mitzi. But I was full of my unique status as the only Mitzi in the entire school, so I laughed at her.

In sixth grade, though, Mrs. Watt told the class stories of her Mitzi, a miniature poodle who dragged toilet paper around the house. I began to have my doubts. But the truth is that I was up to my tail in adulthood before I really noticed how serious a problem a name could be.

You see, I'd started conducting a lot of business by phone with people I'd never met, and I kept noticing these long pauses after I'd introduced myself. After the silence, he or she would speak verrrrrry sloooooowly and use tiny words to convey the real message, which was, "Do you think we'd buy writing or anything else requiring intelligence from somebody named Mitzi?"

ACTUALLY, that's reasonable. I wouldn't buy something from a suspected poodle, either. The good news is that I was blessed with an emergency backup real name - Mary Anne - at birth. And though it had only been dragged out for use when my mother was really mad at me during the first 25 or so years of my life, it has come in incredibly handy in my work life. It makes me feel like the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz," instantly imbued with a brain, or at least the credibility to convince others that I do have one.

But in the meantime, the ensuing decades of daughter-naming haven't been much kinder to the girls-who-would-be-women. The Earth-loving parents of the 1960s and '70s managed to give us a few Rainbows and Stars, at least one Moon Unit, and lots and lots of Dawns - some Amber Dawns and plenty of Misty Dawns.

The '80s, while offering a resurgence in real names, also seemed to be the decade of expensive consumables in girls' names, from Tiffany, Brandi, and Brie, Jasmine and Jade, to the time-honored but newly connotative Mercedes and Porsche (the latter transformed from the Shakespearean to the sports-car variety).

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It seems odd to me, as we have ever more daughters of women who've had to struggle to create a fair place for themselves, that some of these women still don't stop to do a simple "name test" before deciding their daughter's destiny. (No, I wasn't thinking of the "Janey Janey Bobaney, Banana-fanna fo-Faney" test, although that's not a bad idea.)

What I have in mind is asking a simple question to test the power of a name over the long haul, such as, "Would I want someone with this name to defend me against a murder charge?" A Rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but who cares what she smells like if she's ignored in school or permanently underemployed?

We'll have to wait and see how the '90s stack up overall as a daughter-naming decade. Without advocating a return to Ethel, Gertrude, and Edna, I plan to sit right here at my computer, staring off into space in my tireless effort to produce a sociological masterpiece on the importance of naming daughters.

Come to think of it, perhaps the book deserves a better name as well - something like "How to Keep Women Who Run With Wolves From Raising Daughters Who Identify With Poodles."

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