Wednesday, 1 August 2012
Cruel and unusual punishment
Mrs G and I were of a mind when it came to naming our minions.
We didn't want to saddle them with a name they would end up hating, so their second names had to be "sensible", a back-up name by which they could choose to be known. Where possible, their names had to be capable of dignified shortening. Their initials could not be allowed to spell anything rude or even pronounceable.
Also, they needed two middle names, after we were told a story by a photographer we met, about the police knocking on his door one night with a warrant for the arrest of someone with his exact three part name and a birth-date in the same month who, nevertheless, was not him. We figured an extra middle name wouldn't be that hard to come up with, and should prevent any such thing happening to our children.
We now joke that, should we have a "surprise child", we're over being responsible. A female daughter will be named "Epiphany Persephone Stephanie Rhapsody Serendipity ..." and on we go inventing further middle names on the theme until we've made each other laugh enough. It's our own "Truly, Madly, Deeply" game. A male child will be named simply "Minion". But we're joking. We wouldn't actually do that.
It is from this perspective that I see the naming of many babies these days as cruel and unusual punishment.
When I was young I remember being told by my parents about their friends, surname "Arthur", who had named their first-born "King". "King Arthur". It was told humorously (if you know my Dad, you'll know how), but for me it also carried a warning. That warning was "don't subject your children to unnecessary torment and inconvenience for the sake of a whimsical choice of name".
We'll all be familiar with the interesting spelling choices you see in the birth announcement columns: "Aliviah", "Cansas", "Jaidynce", "Phayth" (all genuine names, I'm assured). Going to the other extreme, I'm reminded of another story, related by a friend of ours who is a teacher. At a conference, the teachers were exchanging horrible name stories. One fellow reckoned he had them all beaten when he invited them to guess how to spell the name (here I present it phoenetically) "ab-si-dy". After several attempts everyone gave up, and he revealed it was how you pronounce the name of a child christened "Abcde". Our friend swears this is a true story, and those parents ought to be shot.
Look, I'll be the first to chuckle at a good joke name. In five years of working at Dirty Dick's I presented bibs to thousands of punters, bearing names like "Ben Dover", "Vi Brator", "Willie Rippernickersoff", and "Helen Highwater". Today I heard a new one at work, "Will Swallow", but that is an actual name, not a made-up one.
And here's where I just shake my head and wonder what the parents were thinking. There are enough pressures to conform in a child's life, to not stand out from the crowd, without saddling them with a name that might as well be a neon sign attached as a cranial prosthetic. Talk about giving the bullies a free-kick. Why would you do that? If you must be cute about your child's name, what's wrong with having a nickname for them that amuses you in whatever way it is you wish to be amused, while leaving them with a public moniker which will serve them in whatever walk of life they choose?
Sure, there's no saving someone who enters the military and becomes "Major Downer", or "General Nuisance". Hopefully their rank will prevent too much ribbing. And there are certainly legitimate, culturally significant names which cause us English-speakers some problems, like "Ruaidhrigh" (which is a Gaelic spelling of "Rory"). But forcing teachers to learn a seventh new spelling option for Kate, simply because you wanted her name to be interesting, reduces the amount of brain-power they have left to teach your precious child while also exposing your child to ridicule. I just can't get over how selfish those choices are.
Then again ... perhaps we're reaching saturation point, when the Marys and Johns will be the odd ones out. Perhaps they are the cruel choices now.
Am I overreacting? Will the kids work it out? Have Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa ever forgiven their father? Is this a #FirstWorldProblem? I'd love to hear your thoughts.