Saturday, 29 March 2008

Baby Names

Oh! Contentious subject. Baby names cause more upset and uproar than even breast-feeding and co-sleeping! You did know that I would have an opinion, yes? And you also know that I waffle. Here I present “The Longest Entry Ever”. Are you sitting comfortably?

Then I'll begin:

There is a trend at the moment to be "unique" in naming your children. By unique I don't mean unusual names, like "Esmé" (which, I hasten to add, is gorgeous). I mean creatively spelled names... like Kymbyrli, Emylee, Alycksahndreeah. It's like they pulled scrabble tiles, threw them in the air and took however they landed. With the addition of a y or i. Which is fine, your choice. Just don't get stroppy when you always have to spell it and people make jokes about it. And for those making the jokes, disagree in your head if you like, but is it really your place to try and make someone else 'see the light'?

Names are powerful, names are indicators of personality and status. Other people's perceptions of you are based primarily on your name. There are studies showing that a child's school test scores have a direct correlation with their name - and the creative spellings score significantly lower than more traditional. When reading job applications, I will be prejudiced - subconsciously or not - by creative or "punny" names. Like Harry Bowe, a child we know, which is subtle but not cute. Or, as seen on another forum: "I'll be naming my daughter Miichael - not a typo, I just like the way it looks". If that child applied for a job with me, I'd assume she was so lazy and slack she couldn't even spell-check her name, and I would not - in honesty - give her application much attention.

There are a hundred thousand baby name sites and books... actually that is a lie. According to google there are sixteen million, seven hundred thousand baby name sites. Those millions of sites are catering to demand. Most people realise that names are important and they want to give their child a memorable and attractive name, whether they choose the traditional or the creative route, their intentions are generally good. Unlike this family, who definitely do not understand the original meaning of their baby's name "Aryan Justice". Aryan may well have meant "noble, honourable" originally, but the connotations have changed and it is now an offensive and hurtful name.

Culture can affect many names, changing what was originally a pretty name into something abhorrent or comical. Lolita, a beautiful diminutive of a beautiful name, Lola, now causes uproar. My all-time favourite name is absolutely verboten now. It is a gorgeous name, originally the name of an Archangel, and then used by Shakespeare, and is classically beautiful. Sadly Disney and Procter & Gamble thought so, too, and "Ariel" is permanently off my list of baby names. Mind if I had chosen that name for my daughter, who wants to bet that Fate would have ensured she marry a Darren, who used the common diminutive, Daz?

The meaning of names helps with the choice for some people. They like the idea of naming baby after Granny Ethel but hate Granny's name, so they find a word with identical meaning, Brianna. Clever, no? Sometimes baby name meanings should be checked more carefully though. My daughter tells me if she ever has a daughter, she will be named Kali. Yes, the goddess of death and destruction, the one who wears a necklace of skulls. Great connotations there! Or you find a name with a good meaning, like Alexandra – defender – and get creative. Alexia, pretty name, yes? Shame it means “loss of the ability to read through brain lesions".

There is a general thought that you should, when choosing a baby name, use these two sentences, and choose whichever one you think sounds better:
"Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States, [insert name here]."
"Now appearing on the main stage of the Eager Beaver Gentlemen's Club, [insert name here]."
A friend wishes with all her heart that her hippy parents had taken that advice. She is sick of being taken for either a voluptuous jolly soul or a stripper, when she is a mousy, home counties housewife. Her name? Velvet.

Of course, there are worse names. I know of a woman who loved the name Julianna, with the diminutive "Jewel". What a charming, sweet idea. So what did she do? Named her baby Jeweliana. Which could pass as traditional if you never have to write your name down anywhere, I guess. Unlike the twin girls Diamondy Sparkle & Pearly Twynkle. What is with the letter "y" popping up randomly?

Oh, and a new trend nowadays is to spell names backwards, to name your son after his dad but in a back-handed way. Hence "Semaj". Or Nevaeh for a girl. No. Just no, ok.

Then there are the near misses. I knew of a family who wanted to call their daughter “Gail Mary”. No, they weren’t Catholic so the “Hail Mary” jokes hadn’t occurred to them. My sister narrowly escaped calling her son “Christopher Robin”, after his grandparents. With the recent popularity of Winnie-the-Pooh, my nephew had a very close shave.

Then there are those who get cute. I made that mistake, by complete accident, actually. My daughters’ initials combined are “Jam”. Which, I tell them, is because they are invariably sticky and make me sick if they are taken in excess.

It occurs to me that I ought really to offer up my own childrens' names for public consumption and merriment since I am commenting so blithely on others. Thing One, Thing Two and The Babe, aka Jessica Louise, Alexandra Nicole and Madeleine Grace. Poke fun if you will, but I like them.. and none actually gets called by their given names anyway.

Which is a good point. Maybe names aren’t that big a deal. Just because you agonise over for months, that won't stop their school chums shortening any given name to the minimum possible syllables (hence my own diminutive, Dee, even though Donna is only two syllables and five letters!). Or, your child may impose her own version. I would like to leave the last word to a 4-yr old: “Our Emily answers to both Emmy and Emily.  However, when her kindergarten teacher asked her what she'd like to be called, she thought about it and said, "You can call me Kate.".”

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