Name games

My wife’s family are all ready for some big events this week, and her birthday is one of them. But, I feel that it has to take its place at least alongside the long-awaited arrival of a new nephew for her and of course a new grandson for her mother. The boy has been given his name, which I will not disclose, but it will give him the initials ABC. It seems like a good starting point to life.

We think that names matter, so usually spend a lot of time choosing them for our children. Or do we? As we watched the local Bahamian news broadcast on ZNS last night, we saw students of the College of The Bahamas talking about their restart of studies, and one name flashed across the screen and was met with a collective “What was that?” We did not get a replay of the caption, but were convinced it was Sheronique. Well, no disrespect meant to the child or her parents, but when I looked up the name on Google the only references I found were to an Australian thoroughbred horse. It’s hard not to pun and say the girl has been saddled with her name.

The black community in the western hemisphere has gone about naming children in a way that is different; I hesitate to say unique (not all -que words are made up). They tend to be readily identifiable as names for black people. I have no list, but I think I know one when I hear it. They have been much parodied (check YouTube). That may make them more special. I am not going to get into saying anything pejorative about the names, and I wonder about linking them to ghetto life, and somehow discriminating against the choices that some people wish to make.

In the Anglophone cultures, we have a lot of latitude that allows us to create names freely. We can make them up as we please, or we can take names associated with other things (say an appliance) and apply them to a person. We know that so-called celebrities go off into a world of their own when naming their children (see Sunday Times report). What were Frank Lampard and Elen Rive thinking when they named their daughter Luna Coco Patricia? By contrast, the French and Germans have lists of approved names, and if your chosen name is not on that list, then back to the drawing board you go. Does that freedom explain the attractiveness for foreign stars to play in the English Premier League? I presume that the French authorities wont ask you to claw back the name if given to the child if registered abroad.

In Muslim cultures, too, there are naming conventions, and they can result in a lot of confusion for those outside the culture, for instance, when many people will present themselves with the name Mohamed (or variations on it). Many African and Asian cultures, with their long historical traditions, tend to keep to traditional names (though, I am happy to be told otherwise by those who may know differently).

None of our children has common names, but we can find their origins and meanings. That does not suggest that other names are meaningless: if it is a blend of parents’ names that may work well for some families, or if it’s a sort of mnemonic (like Justus) then power to the people. I remember being laughed at once when I was yelling in the park one night for a puppy we had at the time; I was not a father then. I thought then that if people laughed at the name I gave a dog, I never wanted them to laugh at the name I gave my child. I think the name should be carried with dignity (and my little daughter is in a phase where she is complaining about “I have lost my dignity”–it’s a joke, but we don’t get it, yet). If the people who have what we see as strange names feel dignified by and with them, then who am I to say otherwise? It’s just not my choice.


About The Grasshopper

Professional international economist, recently retired from an international organization. I use blogging as a way of organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, and spent many years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for a few decades, and worked and travelled abroad extensively. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of girls. Also, married to an economist.
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2 Responses to Name games

  1. wordnymph says:

    You might remember a chapter in Freakonomics dealing with impacts of given names on children in adulthood. Chapter 6, “Would a Roshanda by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?” Interesting.

  2. Dennis Jones says:

    @Monica, I remember the Freakonomics work. It’s also ironic that the latest addition to the family has the name they predicted would be the most popular for boys by 2015. I will check how the parents agreed on the name.

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