Thursday, October 06, 2005

Baby names

We have received an e-mail in which we learn that a shirt-tail relative, connected to us in some way through a cousin of my husband's, has just had a baby girl, who has been named Gracie Allen Last-Name-Withheld-By-Me.

On the one hand, I'm delighted that there are young people out there who know and admire one of the funniest performers America has ever produced. (Full disclosure: one of my cats is named after Gracie Allen - another after her husband, George Burns.) On the other, to give the poor child the entire moniker instead of, say, naming her Gracie Something-Else (or naming her Grace Something-Else and calling her Gracie) seems a bit much.

This is not to say it can't be worse. See what the actor Nicholas Cage did to his son recently, for a sad example.

Then there are friends of ours, who, being not the least Greek as far as I can tell, named their baby girl Anakhoreo Ilona Last-Name-Withheld-By-Me. And, no, I'm not entirely sure how to pronounce it. (And I had to go back to an e-mail to make sure I had the spelling right.) The friends and relatives were (and are) a bit flummoxed. Plan A, amongst some of us surprised friends and relatives, was to call the dear child Anna. As it happens, though, she is usually referred to as Oreo, as in the cookie. Some people think this is cute.

I appreciate not wanting to go with the crowd on names. There are real problems with naming a child with an over-popular name. I'm 49, which means I was born during a "Kathy" glut. All the way through school, I was never the only Kathy in any given classroom. All through grade school, there were three of us, and we were required to use our last name initials at all times. In junior high and high school, where the grade schools converged, it got worse. In college, I got lumped with the other Kathys, particularly the one in the room next to mine, under the classification "The Kathys," and was introduced, as often as not, simply as "One of the Kathys." When I lived briefly in a big city, my fellow apartment dwellers dubbed me Kathy 27 (I think it was 27) the day I moved into the complex. It was not that I was the 27th Kathy to live there - oh, no, there were far more than that. I got the Kathy slot that had just come open, when the previous Kathy 27 moved away. Everybody thought it was funny. Except me. It's hard enough feeling like an individual in a big city without the neighbors refusing to learn your last name because your first name is part of a local running joke.

My sister had the opposite problem. She was given an unusual-looking and unusual-sounding name based on a last name, with a "De" in front of it. Teachers had to ask for instructions before teaching her how to write it. In databases, it winds up with a space and without one. Until the Internet came along, my sister was convinced that she was the only person in the world with her particular first name. Now we find that although it's uncommon, it is used as a first name, and has been used as such since colonial days. Especially in the South. (Particularly in Louisiana. Usually for guys. Not what she wanted to know.) In her younger days, she defiantly refused to answer to a nickname. In recent years, she has insisted upon one. (Her new husband, she tells me, is rather fond of the full, formal name, and may undercut her on her nickname quest.)

I expect that child naming is something of a lose-lose proposition. No matter what you come up with, the kid will almost certainly be upset about it at some point or points, for one reason or another (too common, too strange, too much someone else's name, too old-fashioned, too trendy, not trendy enough...). But sometimes I wonder what some people are thinking when they name their children. At the one time in their lives when they should be having their eyes solidly on the future, why is it that so many parents seem to have 'cuteness attacks' that make them give a cute or 'clever' or babyish name to someone who, barring catastrophe, will be a baby only a short time before launching into adulthood, when such a name will probably be jarringly out of place?

1 comment:

coffeemamma said...

I know some similar stories. My s-i-l and her husband named their firstborn after a character from a Russian novel. Neither parent can pronounce it correctly, nor can anyone else in the family- we call him Jack. His new baby sister, otoh, has been given a Muslim name common in the Middle East. They are a very un-Russian, un-Muslim, un-ME family.

When my oldest was born in the late 80's, the rage was naming babies after soap opera stars. She went to school with kids named Storm (boy), Channel (girl), 2 Cheyennes (a boy and a girl), Stone (boy), and more that were too silly to remember.

When we named our four kids, our number 1 rule was: unusual but Not Strange. It must have worked, because everyone comments on how lovely my children's names are ;-)