October 26, 2009

The Name Game

One of my favorite book excerpts comes from Freakonomics by Steven Levitt, which is a continuation of his paper "The Causes and Consequences of Distinctly Black Names."  He talks about how there are no people in power who have really off the wall names that we usually associate with African American youth.  He talks about unfortunate children with names like "Female" because the mother thought the doctors had named her when they wrote down the gender.  He alludes to other famous stories, such as the brother, Orangejello and LeMonjello, whose parents named them after two things they had sitting around the house.

Levitt discovers through his complex economic regression that it isn't the name that makes life hard, but that a bad name is a symptom of a much bigger problem, that being bad parenting.  Essentially, if your parents can't be bothered to come up with a good name for you, most likely, they are going to be negligent parents and you will not get all of the opportunities that will help you succeed.

This is something that I've been thinking about for years, ever since I knew I wanted to have children.  Naming a child should be something on which you spend a considerable of time and energy.  Some names come easy, like naming them after a dearly departed loved one.  Other names can be quite difficult.  With this in mind, I made a small list of rules for naming children a few years ago and I've had to modify them slightly.  They are as follows:

1)  No numbers or punctuation (apostraphes, hyphens, etc.)  There is a girl in my current district whose name is Le-a, pronounced "La DASH a."  Seriously...
2)  Don't name the child something that reasonable people will find offensive.  In Erie, there really is a girl named Shithead, pronounced "Shi-thead."  Seriously...
3)  If you have to pause before saying the name, it's not a good name.   Seriously...
4)  You MUST consider your last name when picking a first.  A coworker of mine went to school with a girl whose last name was Cianci ("SEE-an-see").  Her parents thought it would be a good idea to name her Nancy Ann.  Her name was Nancy Ann Cianci.  Say it out loud.  Even the most benign name can be bad.  Even though he grew into a formidable actor, Billy D. Williams had to spend his childhood as William Williams.

There are a few others, like "If you're going to name the child after an object or an emotion, you need to be VERY careful."  New Zealand actually has laws on the books about what you can name your child.  They are very similar to the first 2 that I put up there.

With that in mind, Sara and I have spent a great deal of time considering names.  We began when we first found out that she was pregnant and continued our discussion for several months in order to find something that we liked.  We wanted names that were individual without being absurd.  We had a hard job to start because we wanted to honor our maternal grandfathers, both of whom have passed and both of whom we were very close to.  My grandfathers name was Herman, so by Jewish tradition, we wanted the first name to begin with an H.  Her grandfathers name was Lowell, even though he went by Eugene, his middle name.  Coming up with good names to fit the initials H L was not an easy task.  We are pleased with our selections and I think they will honor our loved ones while allowing this baby to have a good name.

If the baby is a girl, her name will be Harper Lynn Aion.  If it is a boy, his name with be Harris Lowell Aion.  If it's a boy, we're going to take a page from my aunt's book and give him a nick name right from the beginning to prevent people from calling him Harry.

If we have a second child, and it is a boy, I already have a name for that one too.


sleepsong said...

I absolutely adore the names you have picked. I also have one more thing you should add to your rules:

Don't give your child a name with 15 different possible pronunciations of the spelling. I can't begin to list for you how many different ways people have tried to say my name, and it gets more and more annoying each time.

(Also, don't give your child weird spellings of normal names. Khameel? Jazmyne? Really?)

Ruth said...

Hi Justin. We had HL to work with also. We liked the Hebrew pronunciation of Hannah, but figured nobody in the U.S. would be able to handle the gutteral. We asked the rabbi how to spell it so it would rhyme with Donna instead of banana. He said there was no way - she'd just have to correct people. So we broke some of the above rules. Hmmm. Maybe that's why she does not give much credence to rules....

Ruth & Jules

Mary said...

I was named after both my grandmothers, which I think is a really nice idea.

If I were a boy, I would have been named after both grandfathers...and you'd be talking to Steven Albert.



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