Friday, June 7, 2019

What’s in a name?

The 52 Ancestors theme this week is “namesake.”

Who were we named after? Lucky for me, that’s a question I’ve already asked my Mama. Over the last few years, Mama has been patiently answering my questions about our family and this was one of them. Here’s what I learned about how the five of us were named.

Mother's Day (ca. 1962)

Bonita Carol Lankford: My oldest sister, Bonita, is the namesake of two people—a movie star and my Grandpa. Her first name comes from an actress popular in the 1930s and 1940s, Bonita Granville. Her middle name honors my paternal grandfather, Carroll Harvey Lankford, who himself may have been named after his grandmother, Caroline Hobbs Lankford. Daddy selected both of Bonita’s names.


Jennifer Gale Lankford: My second sister, Jennifer, is the namesake of Academy Award winning actress Jennifer Jones, who was popular in the 1940s and 1950s. Her middle name, Gale, was a random pick.


Susan Denise Lankford: My namesake is another Academy Award winning actress popular in the 1940s and 1950s, Susan Hayward. My middle name was also a random pick. I’m the only one of the five that goes by a middle name.


Michael Anthony Lankford: In the late 1950s, Mama watched a television show called “The Millionaire.” Mama remembers the show being about a millionaire who gave his executive secretary, who was named Michael Anthony, one million dollars to give to someone. If that person revealed where they got the money, the money was taken away. The identity of the millionaire was never revealed. Mama loved the name so that’s the name she chose for her only son.


Vanessa Leigh Lankford: Mama’s grandmother, Hattie Rhinehart Shields, thought TV was the devil’s instrument. In the late 1950s, it was thought that Hattie had cancer so she was sent to a cancer hospital in Rome, Georgia where she stayed for a year. They eventually determined that Hattie didn’t have cancer after all and she was sent home. While she was gone, Mama’s grandfather, James Stewart Shields, bought a TV. Hattie saw it when she returned and made him put the TV in the back room. But then she started watching the TV and found a soap opera she liked called Love of Life. Hattie loved one of the actresses on the soap opera who was named Vanessa. When Mama gave birth to her fifth child, Hattie asked her to name her Vanessa. For Vanessa’s middle name, Mama honored her mother, Daisy Lee Shields, however, she felt “Lee” was too masculine so she spelled it Leigh instead. Vanessa carried on the tradition by giving her second daughter the same middle name—Jennah Leigh Marston.


So, movie stars, TV stars, and a little bit of family thrown in is the answer to the question. I think they are all classic names and I can’t imagine us having been named anything else!



  1. What a fun post. I never asked this question of my mom but I remember saying that she had a different first name picked out for me but the nurse said they were awful together. She chose a different name. When I asked her what her original choice for my name was she said she couldn't remember. Lucky you to have all this information!

  2. Funny that she changed your name because of the nurse, someone she most likely didn't know! Thanks for reading.

  3. I too wish I had asked my Mom who I was named after. I am the middle child and the only one called by there middle name.