The Naming Way: Part II

In part I we discussed how names are used differently in various situations. We also touched on the idea that first names can take multiple forms, depending on the situation. But how are these names chosen? What factors influence a parent’s decision to brand their newborn child with a label for the rest of their life? First, let’s talk about name popularity.

Statistics from name databases clearly show the historical rise and decline in the popularity of certain names assigned to children at birth. Some names were popular at one time but have since tumbled into oblivion. Henry and Bertha, for example, were trendy titles in the late 19th century, but are seldom used today. Other names, such as Aiden and Addison, are hip newcomers to the name scene, surging into style from obscurity in the mid 1990s.

There could by any number of causes for the swell and slump of particular names, from heroes and villains in television and film to inspiring saints or despised politicians. It’s possible that Hitler and Stalin were popular names at one time. Another cause for increased popularity could be short-sighted parents who want to give their child a trendy name. But what happens when that name is no longer fashionable? The child grows up to be just another Henry or Bertha, bearing an old-fashioned title that conjures imagery of grey hair and false teeth.

Parents also express themselves through the names of their children. In an attempt to appear unique and enlightened, they may choose a name from another culture, which may result in long explanations of pronunciation and spelling. Another recent trend is the use of traditional names with non-traditional spelling. Rather than giving the child a feel of individuality, these alternate spellings merely confuse others and produce unnecessary identification errors.

An additional factor in name choice is the parents’ feeling toward certain names based on personal experience with people who had that particular name. The parent could have shared a deep friendship with someone and as a tribute, desire to pass that name on to their child. Conversely, the parent could have been bullied or harassed by someone and, as a sign of harbored resentment, refuse to proliferate their name. This is often a point of conflict between spouses when they have had opposing experiences with the same name. Now let’s explore some potential hazards into which parents often fall when naming their newborn.

Parents should answer several important questions before deciding on a name for their child. First, does the name sound pleasant? It is important that the name embodies the qualities of the child’s gender. Feminine names are expected to be beautiful and masculine names are supposed to be tough. Names like Ulga and Percy do not fit this requirement and should be rejected. Sometimes names which have traditionally been male are adopted by females. This usually happens after a male name gains popularity, making the females jealous, causing them to steal the name. These names are usually smooth and mild, so it’s unlikely that a girl would receive the name Gary or Walter.

Parents should also consider how the name sounds together with the family name. Some names can produce an annoying alliteration, such as Steven Stover, while others, like Chris Smith, remind us of a winter holiday. After finding a first name that works well with the surname, parents must still navigate the maze of middle names.

Middle names, sometimes called second and third names, can be given for a variety of reasons. They can honor the family’s heritage or religion, or serve as a fallback option in case the first name fails. Parents should be mindful of how the middle name, or names, sound in conjunction with the first and last names, as well as the initials they create. It would be very cruel to name a child Samuel Harold Isaiah Thompson.

Parents must also imagine what form of a name their child will be known by, since many of us go by nicknames. A name may seem like a perfect choice, but parents must imagine what people will actually call their child.  Samantha sounds nice, but she’ll get called Sam. Peter seems like a good choice, but he’ll probably go by Pete. There are also names which have short forms that do not resemble the full name at all, like Richard and Dick or James and Jim. Some names have multiple forms, such as William and Robert, which each have five variations.

There is always one variation which, for some reason, is not legitimate.

Parents should also be aware that there is a possibility, however unlikely, that their child might be mocked at school. They must consider what cruel insults may be hurled at their children before settling on a name. Plain Jane, fat Albert, snoozin’ Susan, deaf Jeff and smelly Shelly are all potential aliases for your child once they’re exposed to the vicious and relentless ridicule of elementary students.

After answering these questions and carefully choosing a name, there is yet one question which has been have ignored up to this point: is it fair that parents decide their child’s name? Children are autonomous individuals, not pets, so why must they endure being labelled by another person? Perhaps children are not responsible enough to be trusted with their own name. Perhaps having a fixed name is beneficial to the child’s identity. Regardless, children should get one free name change when they become an adult.