Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What's In a Name?

My son's name isn't really Han Solo. It's just that I don't feel right identifying him on the internet since he is only two and has no say in the matter. Plus, I don't want people to make fun of his real name.

His name isn't even particularly unusual, comparatively speaking. It was ranked #242 in popularity for the year he was born. It's the name of one of our favorite actors, as well as an astronaut who hails from my hometown. It's a handsome name, one that I feel connotes strength and intelligence. And yet, every time I holler it in public I feel a stab of self-consciousness. Does it sound pretentious? Quaint and archaic? Just plain weird?

So I gave him an out--a perfectly normal, mundane middle name that he can choose to go by if he hates his first name. Because, after all, people will be calling him by that name for the rest of his life. His teachers, friends, girlfriends (or boyfriends) and employers will all know him by a name I chose for him before he was even born. It will be a fundamental part of his identity, influencing every aspect of his life.

Picking a child's name is a huge responsibility. So why the recent trend towards unique and sometimes bizarre baby names? This is particularly prevalent among celebrities--Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon named their twins Monroe and Moroccan. One of TV chef Jamie Oliver's daughters is named Petal Blossom Rainbow and the other one's name is Poppy Honey. Lisa Bonet gave her child the unwieldy (and borderline incomprehensible) moniker Wolf Manakauapo Namakaeha Momoa. The list goes on and on.

But it's not just celebrities getting in on the weird name action. In New Zealand in 2008, a judge ruled in favor of a 9-year-old girl whose mom and dad had stuck her with the horrendous name "Tallulah does the Hula." She was allowed to change her name to one that does not reflect her parents' "poor judgement". And speaking of poor judgement, there is now a child named "Facebook" in Egypt and one named "Like" in Israel.

Why are we so eager to give our children unique names? Are we worried that they won't stand out in the world, that ordinary names will condemn them to ordinary lives? Have reality TV and internet fame soured us on the idea of living outside the glare of the spotlight? I honestly don't know the answers to these questions. But one thing is for sure: every name more unusual than my son's makes me breathe a sigh of relief because, as uncommon as his name is, at least it won't be the weirdest one in the classroom, workplace, or even among his friends. Maybe he'll even grow to love it, and his "normal" middle name will stay sandwiched between his first and last, forgotten. Then and only then will I breathe a sigh of relief, and know for sure that I made the right choice.

 What are some of the weirdest baby names you've ever heard? Do you think parents are helping or hindering their children by choosing something unique? 

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