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In the Old Testament, God sent Adam out to name all the animals. He came up with things like, dog, cat, hippopotamus – which is a lot of syllables for a guy who was just created. Kudos!
Even so, people names can be a bit trickier because, let’s face it, a hippo can’t grow up to tell his therapist how much he’s always hated his name.
Which is why names can be a very sensitive subject.
But names are also highly suggestive.
How many times have you encountered a written name (with no other information, no context) and found yourself conjuring up an image or assumption about the person who carries it? Wait…you don’t think you do that? Really? OK, let’s play a game. I’ll give you a list of names and you see if you don’t paint a mental picture of the bearer (no matter how hard you try not to). Ready? Here we go:
I predict you envisioned Jessica as a beautiful young woman, probably with flowing hair. She is tall and lithe, with perky boobs.
Eunice is older, she’s wearing glasses, a tweed skirt, possibly support hose and extremely sensible shoes. She talks through her nose (sorry, Eunice).
Armando is a sexy suave European with his sport coat thrown over his shoulder and a scotch-on-the-rocks in his free hand. His gaze is smoldering.
Sheldon, in his white socks, Hushpuppy Oxfords and chinos is sitting in a messy office balancing his clients’ books.
I apologize to Shel as well, but you see what I mean?
This is why some expectant parents torture themselves over the naming of their children. I’ve known people who will not divulge a name they’re considering because, invariably, someone will urinate all over it:
“Katrina? My best friend was named Katrina! She used to pick her nose and eat it.”…“You’re gonna name your kid Luke? Why?”
…and so on.
Then there are those who are not expecting but have picked names for possible future offspring (that they may or may not ever have) as a way of calling “dibbsies” on their friends and family. I’ve even heard of siblings and cousins competing to get pregnant first so they can “score” a coveted family name. It’s like a twisted pregnancy lottery.
When we were thinking about names during my first pregnancy, we were advised to give each one the “playground test” which means: don’t use any name unless you can comfortably call it out without incident (so “Fire” would be an obvious bad choice), or embarrassment:
“Caesar? Caesar! Caligula Caesar!!! Leave that kid alone! C’mere, honey. Mommy’s got Sunny D!”
Hubby and I wanted a name that was a little unique, but nothing outlandish. So that’s the kind of name we bestowed on our baby boy. What we didn’t expect was that he’d go through a phase of hating it. I found this out when I learned he was using an alias at day camp. He was six. Really, he should be thanking us, because we were seriously considering the name Crispin until we found out St. Crispin is the patron saint of shoes. Why would shoes need a patron saint? They don’t have souls. Oh, hey, wait a minute…
When people tell me the names they’re planning to use, I try not react. I know a woman who is planning to name her boy Buzz, when he’s born this summer. I can’t lie. My first reaction was, “Buzz? For real?” But then I mulled it over a little. “Buzz. Buzz. Buzz!” The more I said it, the more I liked it. In fact, I think I love it. It’s a good, strong, masculine name! Who’s gonna mess with a guy named “Buzz”? It worked for Buzz Aldren (and didn’t hurt Buzz Lightyear either, for that matter).
So that got me thinking about other names, and I began to feel a little ashamed of myself. When Gwyneth Paltro named her daughter “Apple,” I thought it was a marginal form of child abuse. But now I say, “Why not?!” People, especially girls, are named after objects all the time: Rose, Ivy, Peaches…Peaches! So why not Apple? I guess, maybe you just don’t want your kid to be Bananas.