Wednesday, 19 October 2005

What's in a name?

So your surname is Davis and you have a son in 1948; what do you call him? Why, David, of course! It has a certain ring to it – David Davis. Not.

I was born in France, the same year as the man who wants to be the next leader of the Conservative Party (as if I care) and my parents gave me the two most popular names for girls that year. They weren’t aware of that fact: they arrived at those two names through a long and complicated process involving the Bible, French translations of Hebrew names, dead grandmothers, etc. Still, thanks to them, I have two nice (and patriotic) names, which suit me; which have never sounded ridiculous and which I've never been ashamed of. They never will sound silly either because, although popular in 1948, they were not “fashionable”; they are old and have stood the test of time.

If you’re a responsible parent you owe it to your kids not to burden them with preposterous-sounding names. You do not call your daughters Fifi Trixiebelle or Peaches Honeyblossom, for instance. Or even Apple or Lourdes. You just don’t. Those names are ok for babies and toddlers, not for grown-ups. You don’t give them the name of the latest pop idol, whom no one will remember when you’re long gone and your kids are themselves grandparents.

If you’re not French I don’t expect you to be able to “sense” how utterly stupid the name “Ninette de Valois” sounds to my ears. “Ninette” is a diminutive and, combined with the aristocratic “de Valois”, it creates a weird picture. It’s impossible to take it seriously. Ok, that was a made-up stage name, but it’s never a good idea for the name on the birth certificate to be a diminutive. Let it be the full-size version and let the person shorten it later if they wish to do so! By the way, Minette, as in Minette Walters, is a traditional kiddies' name for a female pussycat.

What about Ruby Wax, who gave her three children names beginning with the same letter? Must make finding your school stuff in the morning easy, mustn’t it? Does she have a fetish for a certain letter of the alphabet, or what? I find it moronic.
Same thing with punning names, like the BBC's Jo King. And if your surname is Shakespeare, please don't call your son William.

Tonight I feel like slapping selfish and ultimately cruel parents, whose children will be mercilessly bullied because of their lack of foresight. Slap!


  1. Small Person would have been "Tallulah" if i'd had my way. As it is, the name she ended up with is beautiful even if everyone assumes it's either a) a cat's name or b) because of Bewitched*

    *the sixties TV show not the talentless and frankly sinister irish girl "group"

  2. You can go too far in the opposite direction. My name is about as simple and as boring as it gets. It rhymes with and frequently has been rhymed with 'plain' and men still make Tarzan noises around me, although less so now I'm middle aged and therefore invisible. I hate it with a passion but unfortunately I can't think of anything else that fits. I'd quite like to be Tallulah though - perhaps SG would consider adopting me.

  3. how about this for parental torture? chevron

    yes, really

    a child at my friend's son's school is called chevron

    and i thought it was a road marking...



  4. ROTFL at Chevron! I remember the story of someone who told my friend proudly that she had called her son Gooey. 'What!' my friend asked, appalled. 'You know,' said the woman. 'G-U-Y. Gooey.'

    I wanted to change my boring sixties-fashionable and definitely not posh name when I got past teens. Kept missing opportunities (starting college, starting work) because other names never felt like me, and because my mum cried with rejection when I suggested it. Even though I wanted to take my grandma's name (Jessie - I have a Scottish surname so it would have fitted) instead.

    I think little Apple and Lourdes, and Romeo Beckham - there's a name made for teasing - will be OK because they will always be famous-ish. (And Lourdes is nicknamed Lola, isn't she?) Peaches Geldof was already much in evidence publicly at the Live8 concert. It's when ordinary people do it, to bring a little glamour into their lives, that it might backfire.

  5. chevron?!

    small person has a "uneeq" in her class. how, um, unique.

    and gse? it's chili night at mine tonight. does that suit? in fact, you're all invited (there's nothing on the telly)

  6. SG: I'm sure your Small Person suits her name very well, but, all in all, I really think too much imagination/eccentricity/modernity is a bad thing when it comes to naming kids. Force of personality should make the child stand out from the crowd not its name. Some names are very difficult to live up to.

    GSE: for the life of me, I cannot think what your real name might be. LOL! Perhaps you could swap with Lulu.

    UC: Chevron is wonderful. I automatically see a Citroën car (it's those Vs on the front, among other things). That's exactly what I mean: silly parents!

    L: I loooove Gooey! (That reminds me, every time I see the perfume name Chergui I hear "Dear Guy" in my head.) Jessie is so cute. What a shame!

    Those famous people's kids may or may not work in the media later and if they don't... Imagine this item of news, "Fifi Trixiebelle Geldof QC, 55, was today at the Old Bailey defending her client ...." How ridiculous is that?

    Off to get ready to go to Surly Girl's later. Shall I bring a DVD to watch? Anyone else coming?

  7. Two words for you - Brooklyn and Romeo...

    I would love to have de Valois as my surname *sigh*

  8. Indeed!

    Dame Ninette (blech!)'s real name was Edris Stannus (she was half Irish and not even a little bit French). I'm sure your name is much nicer than "de Valois", which should have disappeared with the French Revolution. I can't stand those names à particule: very often they allow the people that go with them to have a misplaced sense of their own importance in a thoroughly Republican country. Some of them are even waiting for the restoration of the monarchy in France. Luckily, there isn't a chance in hell!

  9. Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa seem to be doing fine, though. I suspect it helps to be young, fashionable, and famous.

    I always wanted a more dramatic and harmonious name when I was a child. I thought my name was so—clashing. Russian diminutive first name, Chinese middle name that makes me sound like a relative of Fu Manchu, Spanish last name, and none of my family members has ever spoken Spanish, ever. But it grew on me. I like it now.

    Come to think of it, I knew a Joan Jones. She married into the last name, but she didn't have to take it. I think she did just because she was the jolly type and thought it was funny.

    Oh, and let's not forget George Foreman, who named all five of his sons George.

  10. Bela, I'm laughing now at your "de Valois" comment above. What do you think of Bunny von Brooklyn as a pen name, eh? I think I'll start using it immediately.

  11. small person is a tabitha and it suits her beautifully - has done since the very moment she was born.

    and yup - bring a dvd. i'll do extra tortillas if someone else will bring some salsa....

  12. As an editor I once had to get some wine information checked by Bery Bros and Rudd (very very posh London wine merchant). My contact's name was Nicola-Alexandra Archedekyne-Butler (pronounced Archdeacon). I love both the combination of Nicola and Alexandra (Russian tsars, anyone?) and then the combination of archdeacon and then BUTLER.

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  14. I deleted my last comment because I seemed to have written it with a narcoleptic fit in the middle of the sentence.

    What I meant to say was this:

    "Archdeacon-Butler" reminds me of the fellow in Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie who is both Monsignor and the gardener.

  15. Agree with all but have to take the side of the parents anyway. It is really awful the things people say when you tell them what you're planning to name your child -- "Not xxx! I knew an xxx and I just hated him" or "Oh, I just hate that name". If I had to do it again I would keep the name a secret until it was already on the birth certificate.

  16. When I was younger i hated my real name, and would only answer to the most beautiful name in the world-Meringue. Can you imagine? Meringue MacLeod!
    Just as well Istayed with Carole, although it is not a favorite of mine. At least I have the e on the end.

  17. Tania, you have a lovely name, you share it with my mum and my daughter :-)

    Since we are discussing our name-surname related pet peeves, mine are Russian surnames that instead of ending with the letter V end with FF...Smirnoff, Davidoff etc. I find it so ...affected I guess.
    (Apologies to anyone who may actually have a name like that, this is just my little weird pet peeve)

  18. I'm with you Bela. It's a mistake to name a kid a weird name. Most people grow up to be ordinary. So they need a name that doesn't shout: weird!

    I know someone who named one of her boys Chiron. Most people don't know how to pronounce it.
    In mythology Chiron was a Centaur.
    I never thought of a centaur as a good thing.

    Chiron is also the name of an asteroid. Anyway, to me, it's too unusual a name to give an innocent child. She named the other kid Orion. *sigh*

  19. That's the thing! TLP has hit it on the head. 'Most people grow up to be ordinary.' But all parents think their children are exceptional - and to them of course they are. But they mistake that for thinking the children will be exceptional to the world as well - and they give them a name to suit the expectation!

  20. Thank you for all those examples of parental madness! Some of them are truly hilarious.

    T, I think Bunny von Brooklyn would suit you very well… if you were a lap dancer, I think. LOL!

    Tabitha is such a cute name, SG, and it’s perfectly wearable even if one isn’t a pussycat or a baby witch (I had guessed, btw).

    R, I’ve never had a child, but I don’t think I would care what other people thought of the name I’d chosen for him/her. Still, I expect it’s quite difficult to ignore other family members’ views. Keeping it secret would be best.

    Meringue MacLeod definitely has a ring to it, Anonymous. It’s a delicious name, in fact. LOL!

    Colombina: I believe that the spelling of Russian surnames with ‘off’ instead of ‘ov’ is a desire to go back to the way they were spelt before the advent of Communism. It’s so-called White Russians wishing to reclaim their heritage. I won’t say what I think of that (I want my blog to be free of swear words if possible) since I can’t even bring myself to call Leningrad St Petersburg! Communism was hateful, but Tsarist Russia is hardly something to feel nostalgic about.

    TLP: as usual, you’ve put your finger on it. Too much erudition was a bad thing as far as that mother is concerned. Let’s hope her kid turn out to be a “star” in his chosen field, eh? Can’t tell about the centaur. LOL!

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  22. hontapocasgreen22/10/2005, 16:02

    LOL! Oh this has been a sore spot for me for years-- names parents curse their children without knowing what the long term affects will be. My husband feels the very same way. Here in the States in the African-American community, we've gotten very creative over the years and it's put a new spin on a lot of things. Personally, I didn't name my kids. My daughter's name is a combination of one of my mother's middle names and my paternal grandmother's middle name ( a family name). Both are very easy to spell and pronounce. My son is a junior--again, he has a name that's easy to pronounce & spell.

    For generations on my paternal grandmother's side of the family,at least one female child had Rose/Rosa as part of their name. My generation totally missed. Actually, my father wanted to name me Ramona & my mother refused it because it was the name of his old high school sweetheart. My mother said she wanted to name me Heather (as it was a popular name to give in the early 70's), but she decided to give up on it because with her Filipino accent, it sounded most uncomplimentary. My dad's mom gave me my 1st name-Shawn. I don't why as it is a very androgynous name & not even a family name. I'm fine with it now, but when I was a child wanted to change it because everybody used to say "That's a boy's name." Now, as cust. svc. rep, when I say my first & last name (my married name), baseball fans think I am making a joke.

  23. I'd like to apologize to Carole for calling her "Anonymous", when her name was staring me in the face. Sorry. I don't know what I was thinking.

    Androgynous names can be a bit of a problem, can't they, Shawn? More for men than women, though, I would have thought. A man called Hilary is in a worse position and a perfect target for bullies. I bet it can be an advantage for women, when they're applying for jobs, for instance. I used to know a Black woman called Ingrid. Whenever she applied for a job, her prospective employers expected a Swedish blonde; they were then so taken aback and embarrassed by their own prejudices that they usually hired her.

  24. We're dealing with this whole issue now, as Little Girl Fetus will need a name in 3 1/2 months.

    G's last name and heritage are Czech, so we've decided to go with one of the female Czech name day names. (For the uninitiated: each day is associated with a name, and kids get to celebrate their birthday AND name day. Double the fun! And until 1989, it was illegal in Czechoslovakia to name your kid anything BUT one of those names. After the law was repealed people went a little nuts, but now supposedly they're returning to tradition.)

    Anyway, my beef is with names that sound like "normal American names" but are spelled differently. (I realize most of these names aren't American at all, hence the quotes.) My own name is like that. Kristen is the Germanic spelling of Christine and all its variants, but I hate my first name because nobody, not even my MIL (who's known me for 10 years), spells it correctly. And I am a stickler for spelling. :-)

    So G and I have been looking at these Czech names, and some of them are very nice and wouldn't sound weird to American kids, but would be immediately interpreted as irreverent misspellings of common "American" names. Veronika, for instance.

    Long story short: We'll end up going with one of the name-day names that doesn't appear to be a deliberate misspelling of an "American" name. But it can't be so bizarre that it brands my kid a social leper (e.g., no Vlatislava), and it must contain vowels. For Czech names, this is something of a tall order. :-)

    p.s. My mom knew a woman named Dimple Pistol. Her parents might as well have made her walk around with a bell and a sandwich board reading "Please don't take me seriously."

  25. p.s. Bela is the name-day name for January 21st. It's one of the few we both like. :-)

  26. I had a letter from a client recently who was called James James. How unimaginative was his parents?

    Depending on which parent you ask, I was either named after the ex-Arsenal footballer Eddie Kelly, or Kelly's pie and mash shop in Bow, as my mum had cravings for liquor sauce during her pregnancy.

    I don't like the fact that my forename places me squarely as having been brought up in Essex, but I am strangely proud of the fact that Ronnie Barker once used my surname in a sketch involving ridiculous surnames.

    I do know someone who has called their daughters Milan and Rimini under the delusion that they are "sophisticated" in the same way that Frogmella and Spudulika are "exotic".

  27. By the way SG - any chilli left?

  28. K, I agree about eccentrically spelt ordinary names: it's so pretentious, isn't it?

    There are name-day names in France too, since it's essentially a Catholic country. Florists like the idea very much. :-)

    Bela was my mother's name. She was Polish. The diminutive is Bielka. The name is short; easy on the ear. Some people will want to spell it Bella, though. In Hungary, it's a man's name: Bela Bartok... Lugosi... I'd be very flattered if you called your baby girl Bela, even though it wouldn't be after me, LOL!

    Those names that are strongly associated with places or class are a problem too, aren't they, Kellycat. Thanks for sharing. :-)

  29. And what about names that sound normal but have strange apostrophes in them? Like Mick Jagger's girlfriend L'Wren Scott. I have always wondered why southern American women did that - where the fashion started.

    WW - I knew a Dimple too; she was Indian. It's the name of one of the most adored and beautiful Bollywood actresses, and she was named after her.

  30. I am not sure I am allowed to post here, since my real first name is as odd as my nom de blog, and my kids' names aren't common, either. But they are all real names and they are all pronounceable. I have the Potter Stewart approach to when a name is too absurd; I know it when I see it.

  31. The test is whether the name is "bully-able" or not, isn't it? I'm sure your kids will love their names when they're old enough to care about such things. :-)


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