Friday, January 6, 2012

It's all in a name

Or is it? As you've read in my sign-off or seen in my profile, my name is Therese. When I feel like being fancy I insert the French acute and grave accents just like this: Thérèse. In addition to Italian, German, and Irish, I am of French heritage with great-great grandparents Pierre and Marie-Anne from Romagny and Guebwiller in the Alsace region of France.

My American mom and dad from Italy named me after little Saint Therese of Lisieux, the Carmelite nun, mostly since my mom attended Little Flower High School in Philadelphia.

As a child I didn't know any adults with my name. I remember worrying and even crying one time that I couldn't "keep" my name when I grew up because it was only for children. Very young, I knew only one other friend with my name, and then she moved away. As I grew, though, I worried less and appreciated the uniqueness of my name.

"Therese" of Greek and French origin means: harvester, late summer, the divine hunter, guardian, to reap what you harvest. The name is, of course, a variant of the more well-known Teresa and Theresa.

I recently did some research on my name and confirmed that it's not very popular today in the United States with a rating of one out of five stars on one baby name website. No wonder my name is perpetually mispronounced by anyone who calls it out!

Over the years, I've met others with my name or those who've studied French in high school, and there's some dissension about how my name is pronounced. Everybody says it differently, so I was never sure if my parents' pronunciation was the official one.

Turns out there is no one official way to pronounce Therese. During a quick google, I found that this girl's name is used in English, Italian, French, German, Scandinavian.... That explains how I could find so many pronunciations: teh-REHZ, teh-REES, tay-REZ, TehREHZah, tay REHZ, te-RE-zə.

I asked my mom recently how she and my dad arrived at their pronunciation. Mom says that dad always called my name with his Italian accent and mom couldn't remember if she mimicked the nuns who taught her or not, but she does know that she said my name the way she liked, because to her it was "pretty and soft."

Different folks over the years have called out to me Theresa, Terri, Tressa, Tracy, and then wondered why I didn't respond. I was always looking around to see where these other people were, not realizing they were calling me. A neighbor from my childhood said my name like "trays" of glasses, with one syllable. That wasn't right either.

So years ago, I came up with a mnemonic device to help others remember how to say my name. Very animated, whenever someone struggles with furrowed brow, I say "'Ta raise' the roof" and push my hands up to the sky over and over. It always gets a laugh and folks remember how to say my name next time as they visualize me looking like a fool.

The 1990 U.S. Census shows that Therese was a very popular first name for women (#569 out of a sample of 4,276), but it was most popular in the mid- to late '50s and early '60s. In the year 1955 the name ranked at #252 in 1,000,000 babies. In 1960, the name still ranked high at #258, but the last time Therese appeared in the top 1,000 was in 1980. It ranked #978 in that year. This all means that I don't run into people with my name very frequently.

Yes, I'll admit that I do get excited when I see my name in print or in movie credits. Any child with a unique name or one with an unconventional spelling knows how it feels to repeatedly search the boardwalk racks for a license plate for your bike or a personalized mug for your Kool-Aid only to walk away empty-handed each time.

During a visit to Paris years ago I thought I'd at least find some trinket to bring home with my name. Not even there! "Therese" was sold out on every rack, of course. It figures my name is still popular in France while it's faded from use in the U.S.

Problem solved at this point, though. I love a site that my daughter found,, where you can customize just about anything with your name.

Under the Christmas tree this year for me was a mug with my name on one side and the intro to my blog on the other. How special! I even received a flowered insulated lunch bag with my name embroidered. This Therese hit pay dirt! What can I say? I'm just a big kid at heart.

Yay! I love my new "Therese" mug!

And during my research I found a site called Namipedia that includes an interactive poll to survey how people feel about different names. This was fun, especially since I liked the results. Would have sucked,  though, if the results were "no ways" across the board. Hey, give me this at least since the other site said my name only rated one star, will you?
Found this survey on
...results are promising for a name that's out of favor.
So here we are on this good earth, not by our own volition, and with a name chosen for us. It is a label people remember us by, just one marker of our unique selves.

Are we defined by our name? Does it influence who we become?

How have you felt about your given name? Do you like your name? Do you prefer a nickname or have you requested that others call you something different that you prefer?

I'd love to hear what your chosen name has meant to you and if it's impacted your life or not.

Until next time, yours namely in fun...Therese


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Sorry, Karen, I removed your comment in error with a single swipe on my blog dashboard on my smartphone. Shows how easy it would have been to delete a post. No way to reverse an error. Not such a great UI.

  2. Hey, Karen, thanks for remembering! After all, we are wildebeest buddies! ;)