Quite a few young couples in our church and community have been having babies lately, and that's got me thinking about the pressures parents face when it comes to naming a child. It's also got me thinking other things, such as "better you than me," but that's another column.
The truth is, nothing brings two sides of a family together like a child -- and nothing can drive a deeper wedge between them. Competition for the affection of the child, and attempts by the parents to appease both sides, can begin even before the infant is born, as parents are inundated with naming "suggestions."
After all, Great Aunt Gertrude was your mother-in-law's favorite relative, so why shouldn't you name your little girl after her? And your father may never forgive you if you decline to pass his name on to the third generation. What's wrong with Francis, anyway? It's a perfectly good, strong, masculine name (which explains why he goes by "Frank.")
Then again, your father still hasn't forgiven you for deciding to go by your middle name, Sean, which was your mother's brother's name. And so it goes.
In the end, all these suggestions, together with no small amount of pressure and the fact that the young parents may be genuinely confused, can lead to some rather unfortunate naming decisions.
For example, there are what I call "combination names," made by taking the names of two family members -- usually one from each side -- and putting them together to form the child's first and middle names. Too often, this is done without consideration for rhythm, alliteration, or ethnic origin.
Thus there are people who go through life -- or at least until marriage -- with names like "Jimmy Christopher Woo" or "Leigh Svetlana Morgenstern" or "Bill Runs-With-Wild-Horses Smith."
Even worse are the "trans-gender" names. Sometimes parents choose a name -- say the name of the paternal grandfather, or of the mother's sister -- and stubbornly stick to their choice even when the baby turns out to be of the opposite sex. Thus we have girls with names like Charles and Michael and boys named Shirley and Gail. Sometimes, with little girls, parents simply feminize the desired masculine name, creating such unwieldy monikers as "Stanletta," "Roscoline," and "Bobette."
Finally, and worst of all, are the "hybrid names," formed by putting parts of two names together. No doubt Uncle Barney and Cousin Doreen are two of the finest people who ever lived, but do you really think that will be any consolation to your daughter, Barndora?
The best policy is for the happy couple to please themselves, whether in the naming of their children or anything else. You're never going to make everyone happy anyway, so why ruin your child's life trying?
Besides, you should never do anything just because of a little pressure from the family.
Hold out for cash, instead.
Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and college professor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.