Nearly fifty young women received their degree of A. B. a few weeks since at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts
The Boston Daily Advertiser
, in mentioning this fact, makes a proper criticism on the trivial names often borne by the young ladies who appear oh the list.
Unfortunately it goes too far in its form of statement, and with that hastiness which sometimes marks even masculine journalists, launches a boomerang that recoils upon the favored youth of its own pet institution, Harvard University.
With just disdain it thus speaks of the young ladies: “No doubt each had properly qualified herself for this distinction.
But when one finds among the names of these graduates Nellies and Carries and Jennies, and even a Virgie and an Annie, it does not seem as if the grave letters A. B. will well become their owners.
One does not see Georgies and Freddies in the list of those graduated at Harvard College
(The italics are my own.)
Does not one see them, indeed, or their equivalents?
Then it is because one has not looked, or because one has read the list only in the safe obscurity of a learned language, where all endearments disappear-although Cicero
, to be sure, might have wished to see his beloved daughter appear on a college list as Tulliola instead of Tullia
But if any critic of women's nicknames will turn to his Harvard College catalogue in English
, he will find there, in the official list of the sterner sex, precisely the same tendency towards the more familiar names as at women's colleges.
In the Senior Class
, just graduated, he will find Harry occurring five times and Henry seven; Frank once and Francis four times; and his eyes will be regaled also with Fred and Bertie
In the Junior Class
, to graduate next year, he will find only one Harry to nineteen who bear the name of Henry; but, on the other hand, he will find the brief name of Frank carrying all before it-ten Franks
, while Francis occurs but four times.
In the Sophomore Class
it is almost precisely the same-Frank is to Francis as eight to three; while Henry occurs ten times, Harry three times, and Harrie once; there are also two Freds.
In the Freshman Class Francis
gets the upperhand of Frank at last, and is as seven to three; Henry occurs ten times, Harry three times, Fred once, and Dan
once — the latter being probably the old Scriptural
name, but possibly a colloquial abbreviation of Daniel
Among the special students Francis and Frank balance each other, one of each, while Henry is found twice and Harry once.
To sum up: in the whole undergraduate department Henry is to Harry as forty-eight to thirteen,while Frank is to Francis as twenty-three to nineteen; and there are four Freds, besides Harrie and Bertie
There are thus in these official Harvard lists nearly forty of these familiar nicknames, which are thought so preposterous at a woman's college.
Of course they are not the same nicknames, because they belong to a different sex; but can it be maintained that Harrier and Bertie
are essentially noble, heroic, masculine, while Georgie and Freddie are hopelessly feminine, and therefore weak?
Whether the numerical proportion of pet names is greater at women's colleges is not to the purpose; very likely it may be, but forty of them at Harvard
are quite enough to destroy all feminine monopoly.
The whole discussion is therefore reduced to the question whether there is such a difference between the terminations y
as to make it a fine thing to be called Harry and a thing of degradation to be called Jennie.
Now with every disposition to be conservative in this matter of terminations-to stand with the y's
, if I may say so without suspicion of a pun — I must declare this to be simply a matter
To old-fashioned people Tom Moore
Fly, fly from the world, O Bessy, with me,
would lose half its charm if addressed to Bessie.
In the same way,
Kitty, a fair but frozen maid,
would melt into insignificance if put into the new mould of Kittie; and what should we do with Dibdin
's chorus — if Dibdin
's it was-
Anna, Anne, Nan, Nance, and Nancy,
if we have to stretch the line far enough to bring in Annie and Nancie also?
Yet, after all, what we call old-fashioned spelling in these cases is not really the oldest.
In old English books we find the words now ending in y to end usually in ie
-a form which we still preserve in their plurals-and may note in successive editions the gradual substitution, for instance, of philanthropy
, and folie
by an unconscious tendency some two centuries ago; and now, in case of the familiar names of both sexes, this tendency is being unconsciously and very gradually reversed.
It is only a few years since Sallie began to be substituted for
Sally; Mollie has hardly yet achieved its position; and Nancy still holds out, though sure to yield to Nancie.
Among men's names the influence is as inevitable, though more slowly exerted, Willie and Charlie being well established in place of Willy and Charley; and Harrie is already beginning to offer itself as a substitute for Harry, it seems, even on the Harvard College catalogue.
However we may regret the change, it looks as if Harry would yet follow the analogy of the other names, and terminate in ie
It is thus plain that, both in the use of the familiar name and in the form of its ending, women have simply yielded earlier than men to a current that reaches both sexes.
Both these tendencies I deprecate, being, as was said, an old-fashioned person as to these matters.
Yet I must admit that I have heard of one case where the official use of the pet name was quite justified.
I was told by the president's secretary at Vassar College that a student just arrived was once called upon by the lady principal to give her name to be recorded in the books.
She gave it promptly as “Kittie.”
“Do you not think, my dear young friend,” said the dignified official, “that it is a pity to employ so trivial a name in a serious matter?
Nothing can justify it unless there is something very uncouth or difficult
in your real name.
If your name were Kerenhappuch, for instance-” “It is, ma'am,” interrupted the young girl.
This is probably the most unexpected and conclusive reply ever given by an undergraduate to a teacher.