Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What is in a name?

Have you ever wondered how your parents came up with your name? Some of us have probably heard the story of how Mom and Dad finally landed on our unique nom de plume. Maybe it had to do with a loved one who had passed, the name's meaning or even a famous movie star. Who knows, parents have their reasons. I was going to be named Samantha but my parents had already given that name away to the cat. So, on to plan B - Stephanie. My middle name, Ellen, came from my grandmother.
I've always been quite fond of my name. It is easy to pronounce, not too difficult to spell and never leaves people saying, "Whaaaat??" Plus, as an added bonus, I get to write a cursive S every time I have to give a signature and I tend to think that is one of the prettiest letters written in cursive. And last, but not least, is the meaning of my name. I hit the name meaning jackpot: crowned one. I will refrain from elaborating so that I don't appear to be flaunting my good fortune.
I've never asked why the name picking came down to Samantha or Stephanie and why my parents liked those names more than Jessica or Ashley (the top names of 1990). I assume that parents now do some google searching to aid in the name hunt. There is a whole website devoted to unique baby names and pages for the top names of any year you can think up. I looked up the top names of 1920 and sure enough a list of 200 girls and 200 boys names popped up in a split second. Mary was number one, followed by Dorothy for the girls. Toto didn't make it on the list but Robert and John did for the boys. The internet even had popular names for 1899. John and Mary topped the list again. Apparently, in the late 1800's to early 1900's Mom and Dads weren't getting very creative with their name choices. They were devoted to names of Biblical figures. Who could blame them? The Bible provides some solid name choices. Who wouldn't want to have a child like Mary? She had crazy faith by the age most girls are just getting a driver's learning permit these days. And John was the beloved disciple. Those names have good meaning. Cudos to those parents for sticking with solid name choices.
Now, I'm not sure a round of applause is necessarily in order for the names being stamped on baby birth certificates in this country in the 21st century. I blame celebrities. The Hollywood Hills are alive with the sound of crazy names.
Take for example Blanket, son of Michael Jackson. His "formal" name is Prince Michael Jackson II.
So original given that Michael's first son was named Prince Michael Jackson. I guess he liked the name so much he decided to reuse it. But that is a pretty long name to be yelling across the ranch to get the kids back in the house for dinner, hence the need for a second, odder name - Blanket. This name choice is the set up for a very strange superhero. Instead of a cape, he will wear a baby blue bed cloth, saving children from scratching wool quilts. I can hear the theme music now.
And who can forget Apple? Daughter of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. My guess is Gwyneth had some pent up anger about her own name. Parents, don't take out your name rage on an innocent child. They had nothing to do with your parents twisted thinking that went into your namesake. At least Gwyneth picked a good fruit. It could be worse. She could have picked Duku - a fruit found in Asia. A child named Duku would have a lifetime of difficulty ahead. Can you picture the first day of school? The teachers would struggle to pronounce the name at role call, scanning the room for a would a foreign looking student, no doubt. What a shock to see an all-American girl probably sporting $300 hair ties and a diamond encrusted lunch box. The name Duku would create utter confusion, leading to a lifetime of Duku repeating and spelling out her name ad nauseum. For the sake of children everywhere I hope parents stick to more well known fruits.
Although fruit names haven't made a massive sweep in the celebrity world the odd name choices continue to abound. We could be here all day really. Pilot, Rocco, Sunday (last I checked that was the holy day of the week), Winter (thought that was a season, but what do I know), Axel (a part of a car?) or Kal-el (huh??).
But it isn't just celebrities. Your average Mom with a mini-van and grown out roots is in on the action too. Names such as Peria (girl) and Quentin (boy) make it on baby name lists. Parents don't even need to make up crazy names. They already exist. The internet is here to prove it.
Choosing a name for a child is not a matter to be taken lightly. That name will be stuck on them like a tattoo. Removal, if they so choose, won't be easy. Just think of all the things a name is attached to before a child can even read it. A social security card, birth certificate, insurance policy, the family Christmas greeting card, birth announcement and probably a birthday cake. We rely on our names for everything. In a moment a name is assigned. All it takes is the sweep of a pen across paper. Yet that name defines us for a lifetime. Parents, don't take this responsibility lightly.
So, how should parents approach such a colossal decision?
The implications are huge. Parents probably fret about what the name they choose will mean for their child's furutre. I understand it may be too much for some parents to bear. What if they mess up? What if their child hates the name choice? What if it leads to being teased in school?
Fear no more. There is hope.
Have a contest. The Virginia Aquarium is doing it, why not you too? A baby otter that has recently become a new member of the VA Aquarium family showed up without a name. Knowing the importance of a name, we know having an anonymous otter won't do. You can't go around calling your otter, "hey you, the one tail."
So, how to choose the proper name? Hold a contest, of course. The aquarium is asking people to submit their ideas for this little guy's name and then a winner will be chosen.
This is brilliant. It takes away all the need for endless internet searches. I wonder if they will put all the names in a hat and then draw one at random? Let fate decide. This takes the pressure off of the aquarium staff. What a relief. Now the staff won't have to live with the dread of a bad name choice.
So, I'm putting in my recommendation: Elmo. Hey, if a red puppet could pull it off why not an otter?
What would you choose? Get creative. Deadline ends June 15. Don't miss this golden opportunity to get in on some otter naming action.

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