26 June 2007

What's in a name?

That which we call a rose
Naming kids is not an easy job. Most parents think long and hard about the handle their kid will have for the rest of their life. Rightly so.

Way back in kindergarten, I remember our grade school counselor talking to our class. I don't remember the topic, but I do recall him saying that he and his wife reflected on their son's name, before settling on Aaron, because it isn't an easy name to nickname or tease. I just stood there and looked at him and thought, Huh?

Then I had kids of my own.

Fortunately, my husband and I had an easy time picking names. We had our children's names picked out before we were married. Oddly enough, we both liked the same names. They were family names. My family's. I never insisted on the names; it just came naturally. Honest.

My husband is a "Junior," too. I thought this would be a problem with his family, especially since our first-born was a son. However, my husband was having no part in naming his son after him with all the problems he had distinguishing himself from his father. Not in a "Now I'm a man and need a separate identity" sense, but in the "Gee, the credit report is all screwed up with your father's credit, now what do we do" sense. Problems still persist, related to them having the same name. We get many AARP fliers and senior citizen literature addressed to my husband. Fortunately, my parents-in-law didn't want to see their grandson carry on the name. Amen. At least we agree on something.

A very distant relation on my husband's side, who I correspond with because of my genealogy interests, just had a great-grandson. The kid's name was akin to Quiet Justice Smith. Seriously. How far we have come from picking kid's names to make their lives easier, or remind them that they are part of a family with a long history, and got on the track of picking names that will make their life hell, just to satisfy the parents' need for attention or individualism or the right to be a whackadoo?

I don't see many people petitioning the court to change their name to things like Apple, Moon Unit, Low Carbon Footprint, etc., but I'd bet the courts are going to see an increase of people wanting to get rid of these nasty things. Maybe the parents should have to set up an account to cover the future costs of therapy and legal expenses if they are going to do crazy things like this.

May the road rise up to meet you
My mother's Irish family followed naming customs for generations. The first son was named after the father's father. Second son after one of the father's brothers (or in some cases the mother's father) and the third son was named after the father. It didn't really matter for girls. They were free to have pretty much whatever name you wanted, as long as it was a family name and/or a saint's name.

On the other side of my mother's family, the Swiss branch, every boy, literally for centuries, was named Johan, Christian, Joseph, Lorenz or Philip, with the middle name being one of the other names not previously chosen as the first name. The girls had the choice of Maria (to honor the Blessed Mother) or Catherina as a first name, with Ursula, Magdalena, Barbara or Ana as a middle name. Maybe not very original by today's standards, but there was an overriding sense of family back then that is completely foreign in today's world. It was an honor to be named after Grandpa Joe.

When I was a kid, everyone had a "Christian" name. I didn't know too many Dweezils. Catholics named their children after saints. Or, if they were really trendy, would name their kid something of that generation's sensibilities and then, for the middle name, gave the kid the awful family name like Gertrude or Theodore. My dad's family is full of Theodores. And Hermans. My dad wanted to name my brother Wolfgang, but thank goodness mom won that argument.

I think I'm the last one in my family to loosely carry on the naming custom. My son is named after my grandfather and my father, which happen to be great saints' names and names of many other family members. My daughter is named after my mother and oodles of family. Good, strong saints' names. Oddly, no one in the family bats an eye at Quiet Justice's name, but I got some weird comments on my choices of names. Just not too original in my thinking or something.

Before we had childen, my sister-in-law gave me a list of names I couldn't use because they were names she might one day name her kids. Other than this being hugely presumptuous, it was unnecessary. I wasn't choosing from the era's most popular names, like Madison, or Kaitlyn and it's many spellings. The names my husband and I considered were merely the boring names no one else wanted.

The nearby parish printed a list of all the children baptized during the year. In this large Catholic parish, there were no other Marks and only a few Catherines. We could never hope to keep up with the Joneses. To each his own though.

An older post on Dappled Things had this to say:
The traditional imposition of the name takes place at a child's baptism (and so we have our English phrase "to christen," which means not just "to baptize" but also "to name"). The first thought in a Catholic parent's mind ought to be, "I want this child to have a Christian name." (And, recall, too, that "Christian name" used to be synonymous with "given name.") One's culture is really the only thing that limits the number of names a child can receive (some European royals and aristocrats have close to a dozen), although in this country we generally stick to two (the "first" and "middle" names).

What is a Christian name? It is most frequently a name that calls certain Saints to mind as the child's principal patrons. Some families choose at least one of the names based upon the Saint's day on which a child is born. Other families have certain Saints who are especially honored in their families, and they choose one of these. I've known some people who give the name based upon a private vow, ("St Anthony, if you let my baby be born safe and sound, I'll name him after you.") Or, one can use the patrons of some relative (which goes together with naming the baby after someone). It's also acceptable to use a Saint's surname as a given name: I've known people named Mayela (for St Gerardo Mayela), Vianney (for St Jean-Marie Vianney), and so forth.

When my children were baptized, their names were important since they were included in part of the ceremony. Those particular saints were entrusted with keeping an eye out for my kids. There is no Saint Raspberry Crisp to petition. Although, with the way kids are being named, there one day may be.

With a bad name you are already partly hanged.
A proverb


:o) said...

Amen!! I just hate to hear about kids being called 'Hunter' or 'Tanner' but their dog's name is Annie or Maggie. The world is so upside down.

swissmiss said...

I had to laugh! My cousin just had a baby and named it a "dog name."

Ma Beck said...

So, so true.
"Precious, come in here this instant! You need to put some water in Elizabeth's bowl!"

Great post.
When Mary was born, you would not BELIEVE the number of people who, when they asked her name, either rudely said, "Oh, that's so old-fashioned" or just, "Oh, huh."
It got to where I immediately started retorting, "I know, I know. I should have named her Destinee Britnee Precious LaToya."

swissmiss said...

ma beck:
Which of those names would your darlin' daugher go by? I like Precious, myself. My daughter's name is Catherine and we use her full name. Everyone was asking us what nickname we were going to use. What's wrong with Catherine? My son would call her "arn," because he couldn't say her whole name until just recently.

Ray from MN said...

My Mom wanted me named after my Dad, but he didn't want a "junior." His Dad was a "junior" and I think there were some problems with that (as I have learned from being a genealogist also).

So I am Raymond Edward and my Dad was Raymond Francis. But they called me "Rory" at home (named after a character in a romantic Irish novel) to keep the two of us from being confused.

My youngest brother is named Brian Patrick Marshall. Only after my Mom saw the birth certificate she was absolutely horrified because his initials were "B.M".

Now why should that be a problem, you may ask? Well, in those days "B.M." was the abbreviation for "bowel movement" and Mom was terrified that Brian would be saddled with that for a nickname.

But by the time he got to grade school, not one of his classmates ever made that connection.

Great post, SwissMiss!

swissmiss said...

Those days ain't so far gone. A BM still means what it means!

On one side of my big family, my grandparents ran out of names. My uncle just has an initial, J, as his middle name, although he considers his middle name to be Joseph.