Off and On: What makes a worthwhile life?

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By Ralph Damiani

Have been filled with thoughts of mortality lately. Part of this was brought about by the death recently of a friend in Georgia.

Several things went through my head when I heard of his death. How short life is was one of them. And sadness over the fact that I let contact be lost and really did not communicate with a good man like I should have.

Now I can’t, and that is sad.

Then I thought of one’s life and how do you gauge it and its success?

I remember how full of ambition he was, how he wanted to do so much. And he did. But will he – will any of us – be judged on how many awards he won or how many top contracts he obtained?

No, I don’t think so and would venture to say, he did not think so either. You are judged by the lives you touch, the lives you help.

And by that standard, he was a success.

You can recite his accomplishments – or mine or yours – but in the end they don’t matter. What matters is the child he helped in soccer or that his children are first-class people who want to follow his example and try to make a difference.

I only hope the same can – and will – be said of me. That awards and medals aside, that I helped someone, made a difference in a life, that I reached out, that I cared.

This can be said of my friend. What more can a person ask out of life?

I will remember him, regret the lost chances and will continue to try to do the right thing. Succeed or fail, it is that effort that we should be remembered for.

And it is in that effort that our lives really do have some accomplishment.

Just what’s in a name today?

According to a report from LiveScience.com there is a new crop of names today.

Some 50 years ago brought us baby names such as April and Sunshine, and naming new Americans has never been the same.

So when Sunday Rose Kidman Urban was born this week, the baby of an actress and a Country Western singer, news of her distinctive name created only a small stir.

While many parents still use many of the traditional names, babies today are given an ever-increasing diversity of names for which the inspirations range from the calendar to languages from afar.

The top 10 baby names from 1950 look nothing like today. Here’s the list from 1950, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration:

Most popular boy/girl baby names in 1950:

1. James / Linda

2. Robert / Mary

3. John / Patricia

4. Michael / Barbara

5. David / Susan

6. William / Nancy

7. Richard / Deborah

8. Thomas / Sandra

9. Charles / Carol

10. Gary / Kathleen

Here’s the list from last year:

1. Jacob / Emily

2. Michael / Isabella

3. Ethan / Emma

4. Joshua / Ava

5. Daniel / Madison

6. Christopher / Sophia

7. Anthony / Olivia

8. William / Abigail

9. Matthew / Hannah

10. Andrew / Elizabeth

The name Mary stayed at the No. 1 baby girl name from the 1880s through the 1950s, while John was one of the top five boy names during that same period. Parental preference for Michael took off in the 1950s, holding strong to this day.

The diversity in names has exploded since the 1950s. Back then, a quarter of all boys and girls got one of the top 10 baby names, according to Laura Wattenberg, author of “The Baby Name Wizard” (Broadway, 2005).

In recent times, the top 10 names account for only one-tenth of all baby names, Wattenberg writes. Her blog has an interactive tool that displays the historical popularity of thousands of names from the 1880s to now.

When it comes to contemporary inspiration, the days of the week are just one of the everyday resources from which folks snag new baby names.

Celebrities especially seem to reach far and wide lately, with baby names ranging from fruits (Apple Blythe Alison Martin, born to Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin) to colors (Fuchsia Catherine Sumner, born to Sting and Frances Tomelty) to plants (Poppy Honey Oliver, born to Jamie Oliver and Juliette Norton.

Movies can also cause a name to leap in popularity.

While historically, the name Madison was more associated with boys than girls, the feminine usage took off in the 1980s and became ranked 29th as a female baby name in the 1990s, according to the Social Security Administration.

Some say the movie “Splash,” which came out in 1984, is behind the boom. Daryl Hannah’s mermaid character was named Madison after the street name in New York City, states the LiveScience.com report.

E-mail Ralph Damiani at ralph@lamonitor.com.