Saturday, August 7, 2010


We've all heard the proverb, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words (or names) can never harm me." This quotation is generally applied to schoolyard taunts, adult name-calling, and generally insulting and derogatory terms. I'm considering it today in a more literal sense.
Parents in almost all cases name their children. With very few restrictions, a parent can choose just about any name he or she wants to give to a child. Prudence indeed would dictate (sorry for the plagiaristic T. J. reference, but he's far too dead to care, and I think the document has to be public domain by now anyway) that a parent would choose a name that: a) the child might like; b) that would give others a favorable impression of the child; c) would, at the very least, not subject the child to abuse of any kind. Prudence may dictate until her face turns purple, but parents have been known to commit all sorts of atrocities, some bordering or actually crossing over the line to outright tort, in the naming of their offspring.

The most common name faux pas, and possibly the one least harmful to the child, is the choice to combine a given name with a particular surname for the purpose of creating a precious, saccharine, or otherwise cutesy overall name. We've all known a few. Candy Cane comes to mind, as do Chris Cross, Kelly Green, "Ima Hogg," "Candy Barr," and "Pearl Harbour." Those are the ones I've heard personally. One could search the net and come up with a catalog of similarly charming first and last name combinations. (Some are even urban legebds who probably never existed.) The parent or parents presumably thought the name to be innovative and appealing. In the cases I've known where the child was saddled with such a name, the child didn't usually agreed with the parent's overall assessment of the name's endearing qualities. In the cases of the females gifted with such names, often they marry and eventually rid themselves of hearing the same lame comments made each time they are required to give their names. In the cases of females who do not marry, or males in general, although I understand it's unusual but legal for a male to adopt his spouse's surname, they're stuck for the duration of their lives hearing muffled laughter every time their names are read aloud (in middle school, those laughing do not even bother with the formality of muffling their laughter),or shelling out hard cash for court costs involved in legally changing their names. Beyond the cost -- I have no idea what the cost actually is -- there's an embarrassment factor in changing one's name. Usually one is required by law to post the name change in a local newspaper, which in and of itself can be a source of discomfiture (I admit to using a thesaurus here). Beyond that, one changing his or her name would constantly run into the quandary of what to say when meeting up with acquaintances from one's past. Should one tell the person, "I changed my name legally and am no longer named Robin Hood, " or just let sleeping dogs lie? It's funny to me because I don't have to deal with that issue, but I try to put myself in the place of one who does and imagine the baggage that goes along with such a name.

Another charming gift some parents bestow upon their children in the form of names is to name their children after someone famous. George Clooney wouldn't be such a bad name to be given, but what if the poor kid happened to be butt-ugly? Going through life with a name like "Henry Ford" isn't exactly a life-long trip through Busch Gardens, but my cousin had a kid in his football division whose given name is "President Ford." This young man's parents supposedly admired our nation's thirty-eighth president so much that they chose to name their son after him, yet they couldn't even be bothered with looking up his first name of Gerald? In that case, I can't decide if it's more a case of stupidity, laziness, or some more evil force at work. This last one I cite is inevitable, because Keller is something like the tenth most common surname of German ancestry in the Unites States, but couldn't parents with the surname of Keller show just the barest minimum of restraint by not naming their daughters Helen? I'm not suggesting that Helen Keller led anything but an exemplary life, but the jokes alone are sufficient reson to kill the name. Would anyone want to go through life hearing, "Why did Helen Keller masturbate with her right hand? So she could moan with her left." (Sorry, Mom.) If a person wouldn't like having such jokes directed at him or her or said in his or her her presence on a daily basis, why would he or she assume that his or her daughter would like it any more? If a child is determined to be famous, the child will find his or her own path to fame. Giving the child the name of an already famous person will not expedite the process even if fame is the child's ultimate goal.

The next naming spectacle is one my mother calls "The Scrabble Letter Phenomonon." She calls it such because the child's name sounds as though the parents or whatever people chose the child's name were playing some sort of a drinking game whereby each couple was required to draw out a given number of scrabble letters and to somehow combine them, using each letter drawn, to come up with a name. She maintains that or some very similar method had to have been used in choosing some names she's seen because there is no other conceivable reason a child could have been stuck with such a peculiar name. My mother works in the counseling department of a school district. She comes across the name of every student who registers at the high school level in her district. She and her cohorts maintain a list of the more bizarre names they've come across. I would share that list, but I would like to attend college next year. If my mother loses her job, college may have to be put on hold until my mother finds another job. Thus, I'm going to have to keep the list to myself, which is truly disappointing, because I know you'd enjoy reading it. I'll have to make do by sharing with you a few names apparently chosen by "The Scrabble Letter Phenomenon" that I've come across from sources other than my mother's list. Zazzette, Qwerty (actually the first six letters on a standard kepyboard; at least there was a method to this particular madness: the parent would always be able to spell the name if a keyboard were available), Phrygix (perhaps the game's participants were awarded points based on the value of the Scrabble letters, in which case both Phrygix and Zazzette would be contenders), and Sillyhp, which is , coincidentally, Phyllis spelled backwards, although I'm not convinced that had anything whatsoever to do with the actual name, which, to me anyway, a little too closely resembles the word syphilis.

Another naming transgression is usually borne either of a desire to be different and, hence, to make one's child different, or inherent ignorance in regard to standard spelling. Some names have more than one common spelling. Catherine, Katherine, and Kathryn are all recognized spellings of the same name. Even a few slight variations ar not so heinous as to label the child stuck with the name as a freak. Lindsey and Lindsay are both considered standard forms of the name. (Oh, my gosh! Should I edit this part out? Might I be sued for infringing on a copyright or trademark by even using this name?) On the other hand Megan is standard, while Meggun is not. Meggun will have to spell her name to every person who writes it for her for the rest of her life. Maybe Meggun will like the extra attention of being different. Most likely she'll very soon grow tired of it. Furthermore, her parents will appear to be semi-literate at best for having spelled her name as such. As a general rule of thumb, if a child desires to be different, the child will distinguish himself or herself from his or her peers in some way. The parent dose not need to make that decision for the child at birth. One particular anomaly concerning spelling of a name is that a parent's spelling of a name is not required to be either standard or phonetic. In other words, a child's name could be spelled uvfrhgm and pronounced /tim/. I'm not sure why anyone would want to do that to a child, but no law prohibits it.

In the United States, laws concerning naming of a child are both broad and vague. Numerals can only be used in distinguishing a child from a relative of the same name, and are typically Roman numerals, although I'm uncertain that such is a requirement. I could find no law, however, stating that a child could not be given a number for a name; it just has to be spelled out. A child can be named Seven, but not 7. I haven't found the law, but I assume there must be some statute prohibiting the use of recognized curse words in the naming of children. Otherwise, with the number of total reprobates proliferating society, we would have little Motherfuckers and Sons of Bitches in most classrooms. (Some teachers would tell you that we do, but just that those are not their given names. Sorry, Mom.) Since I'm unable to locate any laws pertaining to such, I'll ask Judge Alex. He's busy now, so I may not get an answer, but it's worth a try since he's the most intelligent person of my Internet semi-correspondents. I'll also ask Russ carney, as he's the most culturally aware person among my Internet semi-correspondents. Another legal question I would like to ask Judge Alex is this; what if the parents cannot agree on a name? Is it the mother's final decision? Does it vary from state to state? Does it matter if the parents are married?

In one of my many bouts with insomnia, I developed a solution to the plight of bizarre, attention-getting (in a bad way) or strangely-spelled names. Statistics are kept on names. A person can consult the Internet and instantly come up with a list of the top however many names they want for any state or for the United States as a whole. My proposal is this: A list of the two hundred most frequently chosen names for the state or nation (parent's choice; in a place like Utah, it would make a diference) is printed and given to the parent. If the parent chooses a name that is not on that list of the top two hundred names for the state or nation, a panel will appear before the parent. The panel will consist of a "typical" child a schoolyard bully, a teacher, a human resource director of a hospital, law firm, or other business or corporation, and a member of the opposite gender of the child. The parent must listen to each panel member's take on why that name is or is not a good name. The bully will tell you how other kids will make fun of the name and what about any particular name would bring out his predatory tendencies. The normal kid (a fourth or fifth grade boy or girl who receives many B grades, who is probably not the class representative on the student council but may be the alternate, one who probably doesn't receive a "Student of the Month" award every year, but probably does every other year, and one who is usually chosen neither first not last when teams are selected for anything -- the "average child, if there is such a thing,) will give you an ordinary kid's perspective of that name. The teacher will tell you if your child's name is likely to be mispronounced or misspelled,or if there are presently a disproportionate number of dysfunctional students with that name(my pseudo-aunt, a teacher, says avoid the name Liam like the plague; it was fine for those of Scandinavian descent a generation ago, but anyone under the age of fifteen with that name today is almost certainly doomed to terminal geekhood or juvenile delinquency --usually the latter, if not both). The human resources director will tell you the first impression he or she gets from that name in terms of hiring potential. The member of the opposite gender (five to eight years old; we don't want to promote total pedophilia) will tell the parent if he would go on a blind date with a person with that name. The panel would vote. If the panel were to give the name an OK, the name may be given with no stipulations. If the name is nixed, the parents may still give the name to the child, but must post bond equaling whatever is the total cost, includng court fees, lawyer fees, publication fees, and and other hidden costs, for the child to change the name if the child decides later that it is not a name with which he or she can live. An age at which the child may elect to change the name must be selected. I propose that the age be a minimum of eight years. A minimum of ten years would be preferable, as we know eight year olds can be fairly stupid at times, but if the name is truly hideous, the child's life could be virtually ruined by the time he is ten. Thus the earlier minimum. The child must choose from the list of two hundred most commonly gien names for the child's birth year. If the kid wants to change his name to something ridiculous like X-Box when he's eighteen, he can pay for it himself.

For the sake of argument, middle names can be exempt, embarrassing as middle names sometimes are. If a kid doesn't like his middle name, he should be allowed to simply drop it at the age of eighteen.

What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet . . . or would it?


  1. I am one of the lucky souls who like their name. My grandmother actually named me, Rebecca, because she saw it in the TV Guide and liked the sound. That sounds horrible reading back, like we are some sort of hick family that consults the TV Guide for baby names, but that's how the story goes. Pearl, my middle name, is after a close family friend. If it wasn't for my grandmother's suggestion of Rebecca Pearl, I would have been stuck with the name Nicole Catherine. Putting aside the fact that Nicole and Catherine were (and are) both rather popular, I was born the day before Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered... and it would have been sort of creepy to share her name.
    I am a guilty consulter of the US Social Security name list, and hence refuse to saddle my future children with any name in the top 100. I tend (as you know) to like more unusual names, such as Olympia or Stellan. But that being said, I more than likely wouldn't dish them out as first names. I think there is the ability to go uncommon, but not completely unusual. For instance, I was scoring this morning and came across a post announcing the birth of Apocalypse. Why would this mother name her newborn son Apocalypse? There was also another thread contemplating the usage of Hallelujah, for a girl.

    I think the drive for uncommon names stems from the parents' desires for their child to be special

  2. You may be right about the "special" thing. My mom said she read in a recent journal that mother who seek truly unusual names are usually attention seekers themselves and thus seek out attention for their offspring. But there's mildly unusual and then there's downright insane. My aunt had a Darvocet at her school. What next, Vicodin? Oxycontin? Kaopectate?

    By the way, I really like Olympia. I think it could stand on its own as a first name.

    I like Rebecca Pearl as well. My mom chose Alexis just because she liked the name. She didn't think I'd be a girl. I never turned the right way in any of the ultrasounds for anyone to tell. My middle name is Anne. It was my grandma's name. She died when my mom was thirteen. I'm sorry I never knew her.

    Names are fascinating, huh?

  3. My wife and I heard a mother shouting her child: "Come on Peppa! Time for tea!"

    They'd named the child after
    Peppa Pig!

  4. Peppa is a pretty ridiculous name. i overheard my mom talking about an "Adonis" that registered in her high school district, but then she said he spelled it "U_H_D_O_N_I_S." What, if anything. were his parents thinking?
    My aunt's best friend's sister has a student named ABCD 0all caps), and it's pronounced just by pronouncing the letter names. Bizarre!