Celebrity Names Blog

Initial Explanation: Mystery of Laila Ali's Baby Name Solved

Initial Explanation: Mystery of Laila Ali's Baby Name Solved
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When Laila Ali recently announced the birth of her first daughter, Sydney J Conway, a mini-mystery in the world of celebrity baby names developed. Just what was “J” short for?

Now we can tell you: it's not short for anything!

The boxer daughter of Muhammad Ali and Dancing with the Stars finalist, tells People in a new interview that her little one’s middle name is simply the letter “J.” It isn’t an abbreviation -- it’s a stand-alone letter used in tribute to her NFL star husband Curtis Conway’s late grandmother, whose name was Jurldine (a form of Geraldine, meaning “to rule with a spear”). The couple, clearly fans of the letter “J," also are parents to a son Curtis Muhammad Conway Jr., who they call CJ -- the abbreviation for Curtis Junior.

Laila didn't detail their decision behind passing down just an initial from grandma Jurldine's name -- instead of the full thing. It could be that they weren't fond of the name, but wanted to honor the woman who meant so much to them. Or perhaps there are several Jurldines in the family and they didn't want to replicate names. Another reason could be that they just thought the initial alone was a nice tribute. There is a certain hipness to taking a name -- which would largely be considered an "old name name," which we've discussed much recently -- and making it into a snappy, standout symbol of a beloved person.

Harry S Truman is probably the most well-known example of a famous figure who has a letter for a middle name. According to his Wikipedia page, "His parents chose 'S' as his middle name in an attempt to please both of Harry's grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young."

Laila and Curtis’ name selection also brings to mind a Name Lady question from last fall titled Does My Baby Need A Whole Name? A reader and her husband wanted to name their son J.R. but couldn’t agree on what the “J” and “R” would stand for, so they were thinking about giving the child a name that was just initials. The Name Lady’s answer, in short, was to go back to the drawing board to pick an actual name. You can read the post in its entirety -- as well as the 40-something comments submitted by Name Candy readers -- here.

This letter-as-a-name scenario also makes us think of the recent unconfirmed news report that Israeli-born Natalie Portman named her son Alef -- the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. That is the equivalent of naming him “A.” However, as we pointed out, Alef is close to the globally popular name Alex, so it could pass for a name, especially in the United States.

What do you think: Is selecting a letter as a name -- like Laila Ali and Curtis Conway did -- a good way to honor a person whose name, perhaps, you aren’t fond of? Or do you think it’s a bit of a cop out? Talk back now.



Please do not add links to your comments. Thank you.

June 20, 2011 1:58 PM
By mk (not verified)

While I don't think one letter would work for a first name, it seems fine to me as a middle name.

Harry S Truman's middle name was just the S to honor both grandfathers.

And there's also Homer J Simpson!

June 20, 2011 4:04 PM
By Cleo (not verified)

That is the joy of middle names you can do whatever in my opinion even a letter.

Although Homer did eventually find out his name is Homer Jay Simpson.

June 20, 2011 5:01 PM
By Suzy

You're right! Added Truman. Thanks!

Meanwhile, Homer's "J" stands for Jay. Matt Groening explained:

'When I was a kid I loved Rocky and Bullwinkle. Homer's name is kind of a tribute to that - Bullwinkle's full name was Bullwinkle J. Moose, which is where the J in Homer J Simpson comes from. There was a great joke when Homer becomes obsessed with finding out what the J stands for... and it turns out it stands for Jay.'

June 20, 2011 5:53 PM
By Zoe (not verified)

They really couldn't spring for a whole name? There are so many good names starting with J out there (just ask the Duggars for suggestions!)

I went to school with a girl named Sarah Jay. While I dislike the masculine name on a girl, even it is better than just the letter. My friend, by the by, was named for her grandfather Jacob who always went by Jay.

June 20, 2011 8:27 PM
By mk (not verified)

Thanks for the Homer info. I could have sworn there was a show that revealed it stood for nothing, but I haven't watched in years.

June 21, 2011 7:59 AM
By Aletheia (not verified)

My grandfather has the middle name of Z. Just Z. My great-grandmother gave all of her kids letters for their middle names. From oldest to youngest they spelled out the name of my great-grandfather, Eleazer.

I think it's cool if the letter is a middle name, but it'd be weird if your first name was just a letter.

June 28, 2011 5:41 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I knew a man named D...yes, just the letter D, for his first name...he confirmed it's actually the name his parents gave him!

June 29, 2011 9:36 PM
By Amme (not verified)

My grandfather had a one-letter-only middle name. He was Archie S Lastname. His first name was just Archie, not Archibald, and when he tried to find out what "S" stood for, he found out it stood for nothing. He claims it came from the nickname "Slim".

October 16, 2012 1:47 AM
By Venice Venable (not verified)

I could have sworn there was a show that revealed it stood for nothing.

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