Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Joanna: The Best Worst Name in the World!

I loooooove names, of any and all types. I like finding out where they come from and what they mean-- the more unusual the better. First names, last names, doesn't matter. I've been through them all.

In fact, I don't know if she knows it but one of the meanings of a friend of mine's name is "Goat." Not kidding. (No, Gayle, it's not you.)

"Goat", I figure, kind of negates any of the good qualities this particular name has. Kind of like when Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise named their baby Suri-- a very pretty name with several pretty meanings in different languages, including "Princess", "Queen", and "Rose". In other languages, though, it means "Pickpocket", "Pointy nose", and "Llama." (See?) Llama's not as bad as Goat, but "Pickpocket" is pretty harsh. And that's not even an obscure language, Pickpocket, it's in Japanese. Not exactly Sorbian, is it?

But "Joanna" is different from Suri and The-Name-That-Will-Not-Be-Named-But-Means-Goat, if only because of its sordid modern history. Joanna has been the go-to name for troubled and trouble-causing female characters in books, movies, and TV in a way no other name has formillennia. No, really. You may not realize it but you've been conditioned to associate the name "Joanna" with annoying, immoral, and evil women.

I know I'm biased, and more likely to remember uses of my own name. Maybe, hopefully, at the end of this I'll get comments from Natashas or...I really can't come up with any other female antagonists that share a name. And, really, to be honest, I can only come up with two characters named Natasha. Neither are paradigms of morality and sense or manners...but 2.

Joanna is the English spelling for the feminine of John and Hebrew for "God is Gracious". Anna, Hannah, Janet, Jane-- they're all derived from Joanna. That being said, it's not, as modern trends would make you think, a combination of the names "Jo" and "Anna"-- it was a single unit before those were taken from it. Its first recorded use was in the New Testament and it was downhill from there:

Joanna was one of Mary Magdalene's reformed prostitute friends. She was one of the three women that went to Jesus' tomb to anoint his body and found it empty after He had ascended to Heaven. This is pretty cool, but if Mary Mags is still called a hooker, so's Joanna.

Joanna was the ugly, armless and legless doll that nobody wanted until Beth took pity on her in Little Women.

Joanna is the name of a girl in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith) that has a baby out of wedlock, causing a scandal in the neighborhood that eventually leads to the other women in the neighborhood stoning her.

A former Queen of Spain, Juana, the mother of Charles the First was apparently off her rocker and, in English, has gone down in history as "Joanna the Mad".

The wealthy bitchass Goldie Hawn plays in Overboard is named Joanna before Kurt Russell rechristens her "Annie" when he kidnaps her amnesiac self.

Joanna is Jennifer Aniston's character in Office Space, and though the character is generally okay I don't like Jennifer Aniston, so it counts.

A minor character that brought me no end of grief in elementary school: Joanna, the pet goanna lizard (think small komodo dragon if you're too lazy to click the link) of the main villain in The Rescuers Down Under. I was often told "These are not Joanna eggs!" I don't know why several teachers showed us that movie, but they did. It was also played a lot when the weather was too bad for us to go outside during recess.

I can't think of any others, but you see my point. The trouble with my name is more than just never being able to find my name on personalized tchotchkes, or people managing to pronounce it wrong somehow (my favorite so far is "Joan-a"), it's the negativity associated with it from all these characters. The best I've got are the 1.5 Joannas in Love Actually: Sam's beloved dead mother and the classmate he's got a crush on, the coolest girl in school. I count 1.5 because Sam's mother never gets to talk...she's just dead.

I love my name. I just wish it had a better reputation.


  1. After reading your post, the name Joanna now has connotations of clever, humorous, and intelligence. Bravo, Joanna.

  2. How sweet of you to say! Thanks so much, and I'm sure the other Joannas in the world appreciate it as much as I do.