What’s in a name?

I’m not very maternal.  I wasn’t a girl who had dolls when I was little, I don’t coo over babies (or fuzzy black and white pictures of foetuses), and I can often be heard telling people that I’d much rather have a horse than a baby.  In fact, give me five horses.  Or ten.

But I do have a limited interest, and it revolves around names.  One of my guilty pleasures is reading the birth announcements in the weekend papers and picking the most ridiculous ones (added bonus when you get the longer versions, which deign to tell readers how little Johnny is already expressing a keen interest in palaeontology, or how Mathilde looks exactly like her great-Grandmother who had a fondness for parakeets and, wouldn’t you know it but so does this baby).  The ones which never fail to surprise me are parents of multiples (twins or more) who manage to give the poor blighters not just a ridiculous first name, but one or perhaps two insane middle names each.  I’m never sure whether these people are terminally indecisive, insufferably pretentious or simply have too much time on their hands.

Either way, my opinion is that far greater thought must go into the offspring-naming process and that registrars should have the authority to give counselling beyond the prohibition of profanities and brand names.  I wouldn’t advocate going for regulations such as some of these mentioned here, but I would offer certain suggestions.

Parents of newborns, please hear my cry: you did the deed on Friday night, you have a few months to think about how great it was and read my rules on how to name the result of your night of passion.

In the UK, you have 42 days to name your child.  This is possibly either too long or not long enough – my opinion has always been that there should be a cooling off period, because I’m convinced that some children are named in a drug-induced or drunken (or perhaps even ecstatic) haze.  Many people think that nine months is long enough to have been thinking about this, but if in the cold light of day you still think Butternut Squash Johnson is a good idea, you my friend, are sadly mistaken.  Spend your first month as a parent contemplating the future: how will I feel shouting this name in Sainsbury’s the week before Christmas when all I needed was tin foil but instead I’ve taken two phone calls to say that we’ve run out of both sellotape and hand soap, and can I also possibly juggle a latte home?  How will I feel when my child graduates with a PhD in molecular genomics and they’re now Dr Cher Ponsonby-Smith?  What if my darling daughter falls in love with a charming man and marries him to go from Bridget Ursula Hackett to Bridget Ursula Marshall?  And – my aunt’s favourite – just think about how many Britneys there will be having bed baths in nursing homes 80 years from now.  Yeah.

Now that you’ve thought about it: think more!  As I hinted above, too few people consider initials or how a name sounds when pronounced.  Whilst you can’t mitigate against future marriages and name changes (because lots of people are choosing to go for either double barrelled married names or, my personal favourite, mashup surnames – a couple I’m friends with could be the Powies… or they could choose to be the Cockerings one day.  Wonder which they’d be keener on…), you can still prevent any major atrocities.  Firstly, look at your surname: a woman I worked with wisely eliminated any first names of either gender beginning with F, C or K when she was pregnant – her surname is one which starts O’K.  You can figure it out.  Avoid anything that spells out BUM, or having a J and a B anywhere near each other as initials.  I don’t care if every first born in your family is called either Bernard or Bernadette, if your surname begins with a J, the tradition dies.  Dig deep: someone asked me last year what I thought of as Hugh for the name of their baby.  As the couple are unmarried, I asked what the surname would be.  “We’re going with O’H,” was the reply.  “No,” I answered flatly, “It sounds like ‘ho’.  And that’s something only Santa, gardeners and people who want to be cruel say.”  They did it anyway.  I think they can just about get away with it, but if Hugh were Henrietta or Harriet, I may have been a little firmer.

The final mandatory consideration is spelling.  The rule here is very simple, I cannot claim having come up with it, but it is the truth: if your surname is “difficult” to spell, for the sake of your relationship with your child, give them a first name which is easy to spell.  And easy doesn’t necessarily mean Catherine (or Katherine, or Kathryn) or Alastair (or Alistair, or Alasdair) – see what I mean?  Think about how often you have to spell your surname out for people.  If you find yourself phonetically spelling out your name (particularly if your surname is hyphenated or has more than seven letters), do the decent thing and give your child a name which means they won’t spend hours on the phone every week: “Yes, it’s Hotel, Echo, Romeo, Mike, India, October, November, Echo, and my surname is Oosthuizen, do you need me to spell that out too?” (note, these imaginary parents have also broken the “calling a girl ho rule”).

There’s actually a subsection to all of the above – I’m heavily against the use of middle names.  Beyond primary school, where they’re used to identify beautiful finger-painted creations upon which it’s impossible to scrawl a child’s first name and surname prior to hanging them to dry, when middle initials are a useful method of identification, nobody uses them!  Ever heard of David Robert Joseph Beckham?  Thought not.  How well do you know Julia Fiona Roberts?  Not very.  Many of us – myself included – will go on to not even introduce ourselves via our “proper” given names anyway.  Any time I’m asked to introduce myself, it’s Becky.  My hairdresser calls me Becky.  My CV says Becky.  Only my family call me Rebecca and only the bank, the passport office, the US Embassy and the Police know that I have a middle name (it’s Emily).  Madonna, Beyonce, Bono, Pele… your name is a summary of yourself in one word.  And that’s all that is necessary.

I’ll admit that my last rule is a bit more of a personal choice and a plea, but I hope that you listen.  Simon Cowell has spawned a son (congratulations, Lauren Silverman, you pulled the wool over his eyes in a way that Sinitta, Terri Seymour and all of the other identikit brunettes couldn’t.  Your medal’s in the post).  Said son has been named… Eric.  Two sins here: this name is so not 2014.  More like 1914.  And there’s a reason for that: Cowell Junior has been named after Cowell Senior’s father.  It’s a tribute name, and that’s something I’m passionately against.  Firstly, it’s offensive to all of those you’re not tipping your hat to – how do parents decide whether to give a nod to one side of the family or the other (in this particular case, it’s because she’s already got what she wanted, so he can have absolutely everything else)?  Secondly, I don’t see it as a cute way of remembering the person that this new life has been named for, but you are instead saddling them with a burden of living up to it.  Parents, you are already giving your child a name which carries through – your surname.  Do the decent thing and give them a name which is theirs.  Cherish their individuality from the word go.  Even if that means you want to name them Sausagea or Hashtag.  Don’t ask them to try and be Michael Phelps Junior or Marie Curie Junior.  Let them beat their own path and cheer them on every step of the way.

And all of the above will one day lead to me having a son called Kermit (reasons: everyone knows how to spell Kermit; there will be no other Kermits in Kermit’s class at school).  If I don’t get a horse first.

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6 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Don’t knock the middle names – mine’s pretty handy, actually. If you put my name without my middle name into Facebook or Google, the results are pretty much endless. There are literally thousands of us in the world. Some of us, thankfully, have middle names to help separate us out from that massive pack, though usually it separates us out into a smaller pack. (The number of Emma Janes out there…) Plus, both my first name and middle name are short (four letters each) and easy to spell. Good thing too since our surname causes people such difficulties, all six letters of it!

    • That’s true, at least you didn’t get called Phoebe Hermione, or something like that. I stand by my point though: if your name’s Kermit, you don’t need anything else.

  2. I agree with most points except a tribute name (although as a second name so perhaps I am kind of questioning two of your pleas 😉 I like second names for that tribute name exactly 🙂 They don’t have to be used often or even at all but carry a sentiment – perhaps I am a sentimental soul 😉

    And ditto on Kermit being pretty internationally easy to spell!

    • You are disagreeing with two of my points! Because how do you choose who to honour?! And then you end up with a poor child who has three or four names. It’s personal, and all a bit of fun 🙂

      Sadly, I doubt I’ll find a father who is willing to call his child Kermit… fortunately, you don’t have to consult anyone else when naming a horse 😉

  3. As Wiola knows, I’m having a big strop at the moment about people spelling my name wrong – it’s Susy. Not Susie, or Suzy, or any other variations. I hated having to spell it out for people or for cousins to spell it wrong until the age of 15. Even now, it drives me mental when people email or Facebook (my name is in the address) and still spell my name wrong – it’s ignorant!

    I went to school with a girl called Giselle. Who had six middle names, after various family members! Crazy! One of which was Winifred …

    And on the subject of interesting names, I read Noughts and Crosses when I was a teenager and loved the name Persephone. My yard used to name the foals after Greek gods and goddesses, so one year I volunteered the name Persephone. Everyone shortened it to Pissy. I can’t even look the poor mare in the face anymore 😒 it would have been such a pretty name too.

    But yeah, name picking is a nightmare.

    • I’ve had many people (and very intelligent ones at that) reply repeatedly to work emails (yes, where my name is clearly displayed multiple times) and spell my name incorrectly. The worst was “Backy”. Ugh. And my surname proves tricky too (it’s Hughes).

      Persephone is a lovely name, I like that theme too.

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