Monday, 10 March 2014

"What's in a name?"

"What's in a name?"

This question was first posed over 500 years ago, but it's as relevant today as when Bill Shakespeare  first had Juliet ask the question to Romeo.

Maybe I'm channelling Grumpy Cat again, but I'm really getting over the idea of parents giving their children stupid names.  Kids have enough reasons (whether real or trivial) to get seriously annoyed with their parents by the time they reach adolescence, without adding a silly name to the list of grievances.

In France, registrars of births have the power to tell parents, "No, you're not giving your child that name.  It's a silly name.  It will be burdensome on your child as he/she grows up."  They have that power, and they're not afraid to use it.  On this particular issue, Vive La France!

In this part of the world, the name has to be aggressively stupid before a registrar will step in.  A New Zealand registrar made headlines a few years ago by knocking back some parents who wanted to name their daughter "Tallullah-does-the-hula-from-Hawaii".

Anyway, here are some suggestions for parents as to what to do (and what not to do) to avoid giving your child a stupid name.
  • If you give your child a religious name (a name from the Bible, a saint's name, etc.), make sure you know who the person is that you're naming your kid after.  Read up on the person's story.  If your family isn't all that religious, you may want to reconsider giving your child a biblical name like Esther or Isaac, or a saint's name like Hildegaard or Aloysius.
  • The same goes for literary or artistic names.
  • If you want to name your child after some geographical location, only do so if it's a place you know well (or at least have visited) and like.  Only call your kid Brooklyn, Chattanooga, Glasgow, or Tipperary if you know the place.   
  • If you want a name that's a bit distinctive, but not silly, consider giving your child a personal name that's also a surname.  The advantage is that a surname-as-first-name frequently works for either gender.  Another advantage with having a surname as a first name is that, if you get tired of your name, you can just turn it around.  Instead of being Norman Martin, you can experiment with being Martin Norman for a while.  (This works particularly well if you're one of those lucky individuals who needs either a "pen name" or a "stage name".)
  • Please make sure there is some ethnic coherence between your child's personal name and surname.  If you have an Irish surname, for example, don't give your child an Italian personal name (unless there are Italians in your family, as well).  If a person bears the name of Ludwig MacDonald, this should mean that he has both Scots and German ancestry.  (Otherwise, it's just pretentious.)
  • Don't give your child a name of one of your favourite TV characters.  The programme will probably have concluded by the time she/he begins school and your child will still be stuck with "Storm" as a name.
  • Similarly, don't name a child after a celebrity, unless you're particularly sure that said celebrity won't wind up in a scandal of some sort.
  • Definitely avoid giving your kid a first name that was used by any dictator in the past, say, 100 years.  (Trust me, even if it was the name of your great-great-great-grandfather, you really, really don't want to name your son Adolf.)
  • If you give your child the formal version of a name, she/he still has access to all the informal variants if the name.  If you give the child a casual version of the name to begin with, that's all that he/she has.  If you call your son "James", in addition to James, he has Jamie, Jim, Jimmy, Jimbo, Jazza, and Jock, at the very least.  In adult life, James can be Jimmy to his parents and siblings, Jim to his wife, Jimbo to friends from his schooldays, and James R. as far as his chequebook and the electoral roll are concerned.  If you name him "Jimmy", that's all he's got.  (I can think of a number of names - both male and female - that work this way.)
  • Similarly, good names are very translatable.  James in the previous paragraph can be Jacques in France, Hamish in Scotland, Seamus in Ireland, and Giacomo in Italy.  If he has a brother named Louis, he has the really cool possibilities of Ludwig and Luigi.
  • Remember that babies grow up.  A name that can be very cute for a baby may be a real nuisance for an adult to deal with.  As I implied earlier, a name that can be very cute for a baby can be one more reason for an adolescent to resent her/his parents.
  • Never ... never ... never give a child a misspelled name.  William is not spelled "Will-yum".  Maria is not spelled "Maree-uh",  If you really want your child to resent you, give her/him a name where they're always saying "And that's spelled ...." after giving someone their name.
In any event, I have a modest proposal to deal with the epidemic of stupid names.  At any time once attaining adulthood, any person who believes that he/she was given a silly name in childhood may apply to have the name changed to a better name without cost to the person changing the name.  All legal and administrative costs of this process shall be billed to the parents who first gave the child the silly name.

Perhaps if parents realise that giving their child a silly name may cost them money at a later time, we may see an end to the epidemic of stupid names.

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Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.