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What's in a name?

25th January 2018 | News

As you can imagine, producing name labels for kids means I see a lot of different names – from traditional to quirky. But when I saw a BBC report on a New Zealand girl called “Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii” I was dumbfounded. What were her parents thinking?!

The matter ended up in court where the judge ruled the name a “social disability and a handicap” and allowed the nine year old to make the legal name change she so desperately wanted.

Most jurisdictions in Australia and New Zealand have laws prohibiting the registration of names that would cause offence or are too long. In New Zealand, names that have been prohibited include Yeah Detroit, Sex Fruit and Cinderella Beauty Blossom. But names that have been allowed include Violence, Number 16 Bus Shelter and Midnight Chardonnay!

I've never seen anything like it on any of the name labels we have printed, but it started me thinking about why we choose the names we do for our children...

The power of names

Some parents decide on a name as soon as they hear they are pregnant, and others will not commit until they've held their new baby. Whatever the case, most feel the significance of naming a baby.

Our name is, after all, intertwined with our identity. It is forever a part of the first impression we make – whether it's an introduction in-person, printed across the top of a job application, or signed at the bottom of a letter. It is the first word we learn to write and the one word we are certain to hear across a crowded room.

So, with all this responsibility, how, as parents, do we decide? I've noticed at least two different approaches to choosing baby names.

Approach #1: Named for family tradition

It may be a family name, passed down from generation to generation, or perhaps a name of some other special significance – a place or person connected to the baby. Often, it's a story shared around the family table again and again. Sarah learns she was named after her great-grandmother or Chester discovers that he was named after the place where his parents fell in love.

The creation of stories, of meaningful narratives, is a driving force for humans. Where there is no personal story, one is created through the heritage of the name itself. Ann-Marie is reminded she is named for “grace” and Andrew for “manly warrior”.

Approach #2: Named for the impression

Some believe there are widely accepted stereotypes associated with certain names, that when we hear Bertha, Jacob, Anastasia or Rodney we conjure an immediate impression of the person's attractiveness, intelligence, temperament and even age without ever having met them.

Then again, it seems the image we associate with a name is often based on the people we have met with that name, an image which can, of course, be changed in an instant when we meet a different kind of Bertha or Jacob.

And then there are parents who strive to create unique names or spellings of names so that there can be no previous associations nor pretenders with the same moniker. Perhaps it's this desire for distinctiveness that drove the New Zealand parents to Number 16 Bus Shelter, or is it just where they fell in love?

And how often do we hear of parents who have named a child without considering the disastrous consequences of a shortened version?

As to how the kids feel about it... well, some seem to resent the attention brought upon them by unusual names, while others revel in it!

How did you choose names for your children?