Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A rose by any other name

What ever happened to Dick and Jane?

If you grew up in the United States and are over forty, as I am, you should remember them.

Dick and Jane were brother and sister, main characters in a series of primary readers written by William S. Gray and used within the American public school system from the mid 1930s through the early 1970s to teach reading skills.

The books relied on whole language theories (or "whole word reading") and repetition, using phrases like, "Oh, see. Oh, see Jane. Funny, funny Jane.”

The one most remembered is Fun with Dick and Jane. If you aren’t American or aren’t over forty, you may remember that as the title of two American movies – one in 1997 with George Segal and Jane Fonda and the other in 2005 with Jim Carrey and Tea Leone.

Gray first used the names Dick and Jane because they were, at the time, two of the most popular names parents selected for their children.

Dick is a diminutive of Richard, a name with Norman roots; that means brave ruler or brave power. Jane is a feminization of John, perhaps the most common name, in all its manifestations, in the world. John has roots in Hebrew, Yochanan, and translates as God is gracious.

You don’t see either name on too many birth certificates these days.

According to the Social Security Administration, the most popular names in Washington state in 2008 were Ethan and Olivia.

Ethan means "solid, enduring" in Hebrew. Olivia was first used in this spelling by Shakespeare for a character in Twelfth Night. He probably based it on Oliver, which has its roots in Latin, oliva, which means "olive".

For me, they just don’t have the same feel, particularly with today’s pressures for gender equality.

See Ethan run. Run, Ethan, run. See Olivia run. Run, Olivia, run! You can run faster than Ethan.

And what about Spot, Dick and Jane’s dog?

Last year, the favorite name for male dogs was Max. The favorite name for female dogs was Bella. Both names have Latin roots and mean Great and Beautiful, respectively.

I culled information on name meanings from the Behind the Names web site. Shakespeare, of course, had a bit to say about Spot, too, but it was not found in the Behind the Names database.