Saturday, May 24, 2014

What is it with people and what other people name their kids?

I'm late to the game blogging about the bullshit kerfuffle surrounding the recent popularity of naming girls Khaleesi, after the title Daenerys Targaryen gains and holds on the television program Game of Thrones, as well as A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the program is based.

If you haven't caught wind of this, go check out Game Of Thrones’ Khaleesi is now a more popular baby name than Betsy by Katie Rife.

Now, I answered the question Is it a bad idea to name your child after a fictional character? over on Quora, because naming your child after a popular fantasy character is something I have some expertise on. Every once in a while I get an upvote, which reminds me of my annoyance regarding the subject.

The first way you can tell this whole "controversy" is bullshit is the fact that they chose Betsy as the name that's fallen, which is goofy on a number of levels. Betsy?! I think I've only known one Betsy in my whole life. I suspect there are a lot of goofy names more popular than Betsy! Especially when compared to people with "Betsy" on their birth certificate.

The choice of Betsy cripples the logic of the whole thing, because Betsy is traditionally a nickname. Do I know if the Betsy I knew was named Betsy or Elizabeth shortened to Betsy? Nope. No idea. Do they know how many of the people named Elizabeth in 2012 will be called Betsy? Of course not. I bet not even all of those parents know whether they, or their daughters, will at some point take a liking - or disliking - to the nickname Betsy.

The other choice given in the article, but not as fussed about, was Nadine, which is traditionally given as a name in itself, so at least we can make some sense of how many of those Nadines will be Nadine forever.

Again, to my recollection, a lifetime of meeting people has put me in contact with a grand total of 1 Nadine. My high school bus driver.

I think I'd notice, too, because it is also the name of one of the most finely crafted rock & roll songs in history.

So, the whole thing is framed around names that are just familiar enough to seem like it means something, but uncommon enough to render the whole thing utterly meaningless.

The thing I wonder about is, though, is why the fuck do we care?

Yeah, I used to be one of those people who grumped one thing or another about how people named their kids. That me would have complained about the "properness" of those people who named their kids Betsy rather than Elizabeth in that discussion above.

 Something happened to me, though, in the fuss over naming my son Conan. My in-laws got annoyed by it and there was a lot of back and forth over that, mostly involving passive-aggressive suggesting of more "normal" names, not one of which did we even consider... and, of course, would have dismissed on principle even if they had been names we might have otherwise considered.

So far, since his birth, we've had no real issues. Most people seem genuinely pleased when they get it. Now, sometimes people have trouble getting it.

We get "Connor?" a lot when we give his name, but that's hardly an issue in the long run. We also have some troubles with Pronouncing Conan, but again nothing that causes a fuss worth mentioning, at least outside this context.

Supposedly, the concern is "What about the children?" Right?

I'm sure everyone who is reading this an shaking their head is thinking this.

I think I'm in a pretty good position to speak to this.

I was born in 1971. My name is Neil. Neil was not and is not a terribly common name, but it is familiar to most people.

It's probably somewhere around Betsy and Nadine in being well-known but not common, although I'd guess, without looking it up, that it's a bit more common than those.

Growing up, Neils Armstrong, Diamond, Sedaka and Young were well known. I wasn't named after any of these. I was named much more traditionally after my father before me and his father before him.

But other kids would tease me about my name.

Why? Because it worked.

I was a sensitive kid, for whatever reason, and people made up silly rhymes about my name and it hurt my feelings and made me angry, so they kept it up.

Am I upset because of my name? Of course not. It's part of who I am. I like it.

Being the '70s, in liberal Seattle and going to a lot of experimental(ish) private schools, I knew a fair number of kids with odd names that they were given to them by their hippie parents, and you know what? Most of them were fine. Happy with their names. Why? Some probably got some flack, but most not. I suspect most of them just lucked into being less sensitive generally.

 I also knew a metric ton of Jennifers. The majority of them were named by parents who thought they were naming them something kind of interesting and unusual.

 I don't know if anyone has every made a study of it, but I suspect it has something to do with this -

I knew more Jennifers who were frustrated about the relative commonness of their name than people with unusual names who were frustrated by their unusual name.

To the extent there's a real judgment of kids names based on their rarity, it's all about parents not kids.

Remember, for most of childhood, most of the names you hear are new to you. So kids are in the habit of being introduced to people with a name they've never heard before and accepting that as the name of the person. They don't learn about names being out of the naming conventions is from their asshole parents and the bullshit judgments they offer.

You, name judging assholes, create the problem entirely.

If you introduce a kid to someone as Screwdriver, they'll just go along and call them Screwdriver, because they have no basis to judge that as unusual, until quite a ways into growing up. Not because they can't be jerks, as I said before they can and will, but because they don't have the context to specifically realize the oddness of that yet. The only way they get that is from adults in their life teaching them that.  By the time they know enough on their own to draw that conclusion on their own, they'd already most likely just know this Screwdriver and judge them and tease them based on whatever factors they really judge and tease other kids by, which has absolutely nothing to do with their names.

In the end, I'm done. I was an asshole to make dumb judgments about what people name their kids and you're an asshole if you're still doing it.
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