What’s in a name?

Posted on: 01 October 2010 by Allan McLachlan

Kids today are being blessed or cursed by their parents' idea of an individual name. Is it acceptable to call a boy Nebechudnezzar or a girl Ikea? Allan McLachlan shames the names.

modern names for children

We stopped being appalled by the names that ‘celebrities’ foisted upon their offspring a long time ago. Brooklyn, Apple, Peaches, Pixie, Prince Michael, Prince Michael II aka Blanket, we’ve pretty much heard them all. In fact, did any of us bat an eye when Jamie Oliver named his new-born son Buddy Bear?

It’s not just the z-list famous who choose such ‘individual’ names for their children.  Looking down the class lists for my two primary school-age sons, I see two Kais, a Chardonay, a Sparkle and three – count ‘em – Princesses.

Obviously, as with any modern inner city school, many of the names reflect the cultural or national origins of the children. But discounting them, there sure are a lot of children with oddball names.

There are a few kids at the school who have ‘made-up’ names, constructed from the first names of the parents or grandparents: Tomella, Jessally and Stelinda. Some are named after rappers or footballers such as young Eminem and the many many Waynes and Ryans. And then there are the just plain wrong ones like Sodapop.

The baby and pregnancy site Bounty recently carried out a poll of 3000 primary school teachers.  Girls with names like Aliesha, Casey and Crystal and boys named Kyle, Liam, Jake and Brooklyn were more likely to be perceived as ‘troublemakers’.

There’s definitely a class rift when it comes to names. The aspirational middle classes will smirk at names like Salesha and Mason, instantly condemning the bearers to lives of council housing, nylon track-suits, hoop earrings, bad tattoos and pregnancy at 15. Yet they will smugly name their children Merlin, Hereward, Agamemnon or, if they’re Jewish, Abarron, Seraphim or even Abba.

“It’s because we want her to grow up as an individual,” the English mother of five year old Aberdeen told me proudly. “It’s the most important gift we could give her.”

Have none of these people ever heard Johnny Cash’s ‘A Boy Named Sue’? The name that you give your child is important. They’ll face enough in their lives without the ‘gift’ of an ‘individual’ name. I sometimes wonder if some parents have forgotten their own childhoods, the capacity of kids for cruelty and savagery, to exploit and pick on any weakness, whether it’s a physical shortcoming or an easily-mocked name?

Thinking back to my own time at school, the kids I felt sorriest for were the boys with the sexually ambiguous names. We had a Lesley, a Hillary and a Jocelyn. They were picked on mercilessly and ground down. One day, though, Lesley fought back and gouged out the eye of one of his tormentors. He never came back to school after that. I like to imagine that he’s now a successful serial killer somewhere.

Actually, the UK is one of the few places where there is no law to prevent you from giving your child any name you like. In Germany, you must be able to tell the gender of the child by the first name, and the name chosen must not be negatively affect the well-being of the child. Also, you cannot use last names or the names of objects or products as first names. In Japan you are only allowed a given name and a family name and it has to be obvious which is which. In Denmark you have to choose from choose from a list of 7,000 pre-approved names, some for girls, some for boys. If you want to name your child something that isn't on the list, you have to get special permission from your local church, and the name is then reviewed by governmental officials.

New babies in China are now required to be named based on the ability of computer scanners to read those names on national identification cards. Simplified characters are preferred over Traditional Chinese ones. Parents can technically choose the given name, but numbers and non-Chinese symbols and characters are not allowed. The naming law in Sweden was originally enacted to stop people giving their children ‘noble’ names. It was extended to ban names which “cause offense or can be supposed to cause discomfort for the one using it, or names which for some obvious reason are not suitable as a first name." Recently rejected names in Sweden include Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb111163 (pronounced Albin), Metallica, Superman, Veranda and Elvis.

So do we need a law like that here?

I don’t think so. But you dread to think about what will become of poor wee Buddy Bear Oliver when he goes to secondary school.

Then again, unusual names – one hesitates out of politeness to call them ‘stupid’ – are becoming the norm. This was driven home to me recently when my seven year old son William came home looking a bit troubled. I asked him what the problem was.

“Amadeus keeps saying that I’ve got a silly name,” he said.

Maybe I’m the mangy son of a b*** who went and named his son Sue!

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