How Not to Name Children

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Car Talk's Credits
A lesser man might have wavered that day in the hospital corridor, a weaker man might have compromised on such excellent substitutes as Drum Major, Minor Major, Sergeant Major, or C. Sharp Major, but Major Major's father had waited fourteen years for just such an opportunity, and he was not a person to waste it.

- Joseph Heller, American Author

Some parents, like the father of poor Major Major Major above, seem to see choosing names for their children as a sort of game. Because of this, the world ends up with people like Armand Hammer, Crystal Shanda Lear, Matt R. Horn, Paige Turner, and Woody DeWitt1.

Parents think of these names as clever and will laugh like hyenas as friends realise the pun and roll their eyes. Unfortunately the people living with these names, while getting some extra attention, can undergo years of torment as children. Some simple guidelines are needed.

Things to Realise

  1. Names like the above phrases are fine as long as there's some way to hide it. Don't come right out and name the kid Cy Kosis; it's cruel. Instead try the name Charles Young Kosis2 and save him the trouble of listening to 'Hey, what about that crazy guy, Cy Kosis?!' for the rest of his life. You can always call him Cy at home.
  2. If your need to be devastatingly clever is very overpowering, try to keep it to the middle name. The middle name would, for example, be almost perfect for applying Curly to Larry Moes. Middle names can always disappear as initials3.
  3. Beware of initials. A name like Allison Sophia Smith seems innocuous enough until the other kids learn her middle name and what the resulting initials reveal. Even names like Gerald Ogden Darcy will get old after a while. Be sure to further avoid initial/name combinations as in Bernard Head and Emmit Zacharias Rider.
  4. Roll call is another thing to watch out for. Make sure it's not worse putting the last name before the first. Ted Farr probably won't be happy for long, neither will Lester Moll or Nick L. Pumper. However, this will probably keep them out of the armed services.
  5. Try to avoid names that rhyme with any word you'd hate to be associated with. Names like Pat will inevitably be targeted with 'Fatty Patty, two-by-four can't fit through the bathroom door.' This rule is probably what caused baseball player Enos Slaughter to take the nickname 'Country.'
  6. If you have serious dreams about your child becoming an international pop-star or an ambassador, watch what the name means in other languages. Besides the ubiquitous Herr Ball joke4, a Harry Covair, for example, might be less than thrilled to find out that his name means greenbean in French. One researcher notes:

    My school-teacher sister tells an amusing story about a very strait-laced Catholic priest who had to explain to an Asian parent, newly arrived in the country and not exactly fluent in English, why it was desirable for his son, Phuk, to adopt an anglicised name for use at school.

  7. If you must name the child after someone famous, make sure that person actually is famous. A daughter named after Gertrude Ederle might seem like a fine idea, but, seriously, not many people know who she is5. Also try to make sure the person won't become infamous. Few things would as be embarrassing as a child named after Mike Tyson, for example.
  8. So saying, naming children after many people can backfire as well. Names like Matthew, Jacob, and Jenny may all seem like perfectly normal and acceptable names. They may, however, prove to be too normal when the child enters school and finds he has six or seven classmates sharing the same name. It's almost a guarantee that the child will be known by last name alone or, worse still, by first name and initial. The best advice here is to not pick the name all your friends chose for their kids.
  9. Also, though, avoid gushy, poetic names that are too odd to mesh with the surrounding culture. It's not the 60's anymore. Remember Frank Zappa's children Moon Unit, Diva, Ahmet Rodan, and Dweezil? Where have their strange names gotten them? A basic guideline for this rule: if it sounds like a name for an alternative rock band, don't force it on a child.
  10. If you absolutely have to be poetic, do it right. One woman thought it would be a good idea to name her child "Debonnaire." She did not, however, think it would be a good idea to check a dictionary beforehand and went on to fill out the birth certificate with "Deboner." One could say either way, she named it after the father.
  11. Moreover, try not to force kids into names they have to work to live up - or down - to. A name like Leonardo Jones or Michael Jordan Levison could be too much for a kid to handle. While you may think that, like in the song of the same name, a boy named Sue will grow up to be tough, but you may be very wrong as well.
  12. Any name that looks as though it should be written on the door of a porn star is probably not a good idea either. This pretty much includes any name stressing physical traits and some of the poetic names from rule nine. A girl named Foxxy or Starlee is in for trouble, as is almost any boy named Buck. A last name such as Cummings is just bad luck
  13. Unless it falls under rule fourteen, avoid repetitive names. A William Williams Keen or a Tom Thomson or even a John Johanson becomes a little cumbersome when the child must keep explaining why his parents liked a name so much they had to use it twice.
  14. Family names, however bad, can always be forgiven. Make sure the child knows something important about their relative namesakes, however. It's nice to be able to back up a Benton Alistair Fensikker Hundley VI with the fact that Benton Alistair Fensikker II led a victorious charge at the First Battle of Demberts Left Leg.

The best advice perhaps is to remember your own childhood and all the taunts and jeers you heard. Then put your child's mental-health and self-esteem first. You may think it clever to bestow the name A. Blinkin or Eric Schon or Shirly U. Jest on a defenseless living creature, but think how you would feel. Give your child a regular name and save him or her a lot of trouble in the future.

1No offense is meant by the use of these real names.2Which is still pretty bad. See rule number three.3Again, though, see rule three first.4Herr means, essentially, mister in German, so anyone with the last name Ball would become Herr Ball.5Gertie was, in 1926, the first woman to swim the English Channel.

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