Calling Names

I was walking down the street this afternoon when I spied something familiar in a newspaper machine. It was an infographic on the front page of USA Today, accompanying an article on popular baby names.

The graphic looked familiar as it was created by Wordle, an interesting tool I stumbled upon a while back that combines two utterly geeky fields– statistics and typography– to create informative works of art. Or at least artsy arrangements of words. You can feed it any text you like to see a frequency analysis. For example, here’s my RSS feed.

Go think one thing now, like something.

Now back to the topic of names for children. This topic was also being discussed on the radio this morning. As I listened, two sides to the story emerged. One one hand are trendy parents who now tend toward giving a child the most exotic name imaginable, in the hopes that the child will live up to the promise of the name. On the other hand is everyone else, who not only worry that children with bizarre names will suffer under them; but who also won’t be able to spell or pronounce the name. (I can sympathize with the latter. I have a nice easy name, but most people want to spell it wrong.) Unsurprisingly, the show concluded that it was the responsibility of the parent to choose a name with a balance of originality and familiarity, with a strong hint that historical names, such as those of one’s grandparents, would be suitable.

That’s a reasonable suggestion. But last I heard, this was America. Responsibility? Balance? Hints? Pfff! We’ll name our kids Pabst, 4Real or Tallulah Does The Hula if we want to. Okay, so those last two are actually from Australia or New Zealand or something. But speaking of foreign countries, a few of them publish lists of acceptable names to prevent this sort of thing. Well, that and to prevent cultural erosion. Of course, America doesn’t really have a base culture to erode, but rather a layer of sediment that has accreted into a somewhat firm mass, and also nobody here would ever stand for being told what was and wasn’t an acceptable name for their baby…. never mind if the name they liked happened to already be on the list.

So, why not make everybody happy? Some cultures have "child names" and "adult names." Why not let the parents name their kids whatever nutty thing they want, but also give the child the opportunity to choose a new name at some point?

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5 thoughts on “Calling Names”

  1. Um… My best friends mom was an inner city teacher. She had a student named Schmelly. Last name? Butts.
    Not kidding.

  2. I wanted to try that Wordle, but everytime I paste in text and click the create button, I get a blank gray screen and a notice that Java failed. :( Boo… now I’m a sad girl.

  3. In India, traditionally, parents do not name a child until it’s a year old. First, because of the high rate of infant mortality translating to a seldom-spoken fear that naming a child will attract the Indian equivalent of the Evil Eye.
    And secondly, because by the end of the first year, it’s more apparent who the child is as an individual, and therefore easier to name.
    The major exception is if the parents choose a god’s name to give their child, there being some kind of protective magic in that.
    As for American parents, anything will do to set their child off as special and, if a girl, not immediately identifiable as female by the name. One child of friends of mine is named Eluned. Can’t pronoune it, can’t spell it from the pronunciation (the d is th).
    And not obviously feminine, unless you know the child’s middle name–Grace.
    My name is frequently misspelled. Irks me no end.

  4. Heh… this is one of the big reasons that we ended up naming our daughter Gwendolyn.
    I have yet to meet a Gwendolyn (and only one or two Gwenneths and a Gwen) which will hopefully keep her from being the 37th kid in her class with the same F’n name, but at the same time the teacher isn’t going to look at the name and go, “Oh hellz no!”
    Of course she’s probably going to loathe us over her name as the full name has 27 letters and contains about 2/3 of the alphabet. There isn’t a scantron out there that will fit her full name. :]

  5. that’s a great idea! then the parents could be all weird, and the the kid could grow up and revert to “tim” or something!
    I blame Hollywood, how many movies have you seen where characters have the same name (and its not a plot device)?

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