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What’s In A Name?

July 29, 2011

It’s my favourite time of year! 

Every year about this time, the NZ Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages publishes a list of baby names that parents have proposed naming their children but which the Registry considers too weird. 

It all started a few years ago when it was learned that some loving parents had named their child “Talula Does The Hula in Hawaii.”  Apparently the poor girl was so traumatised that at age nine she applied (successfully) to the courts to have it legally changed.

The official line is that such names are deemed “too creative,” but you really have to wonder if something other than creativity is driving some of these parents’ decisions.

You’re probably wondering what sorts of names get rejected.  Well, this year Lucifer got rejected not once, but three times.  There was no mention of Satan or Beelzebub.  But Messiah was also given the thumbs down.  Nice try.

Punctuation marks are also out.  Someone wanted to name their kid *.  I don’t know if they planned to call him “Star” or “Asterisk” or what his nickname would have been in that case, but they wanted the symbol.  If I were those parents, my second choice would have been The Child Formerly Known As *.

Speaking of which, you can’t name your kid with a title.  So Prince is out along with King, Knight and Bishop.  But there was no mention of Pawn.  Usually names made of single letters are rejected, such as C, D, I and T.  But Q and J were deemed OK.

Some of the all-time favourites on the list of rejected names include Fish and Chips, proposed for twin boys, Sex Fruit and Stallion.

I decided to do some research to find out why people give their kids bizarre names.  My first thought was that people might be trying to emulate celebrities and not getting it quite right.  As bad as Harper Seven, Sage Moonblood or Moon Unit might sound, they are a lot better than Sex Fruit.

Unfortunately, the evidence points to an even more disturbing reason.  Apparently the main reason for giving kids unusual names is that parents think that run of the mill names like Mary and John are boring and insufficiently representative of the special uniqueness of the fruit of their loins.  The truly scary corollary to that line of thinking is that people think that a unique name makes the person unique.  One extravagantly named teenage was quoted as saying “If my name was Jane, I’d be plain like everyone else.”

Instead, she is unique just like everyone else. 

There are even web sites where prospective parents can search for “Unique Baby Names.”  I checked a few out.  They don’t say whether they guarantee that your child will be unique if you give them one of those names, but a quick look at the list makes one wonder whether a kid with one of those names would be in for some unique treatment on the playground.  For example, the offerings for boys include Ham, Innocent, Serius and Yorick.  Girls are equally at risk:  Flick, Lettice, Ralphina and Yaffa.

 In Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton says, “according to one influential wing of modern secular society, there are few more disreputable fates than to end up being ‘like everyone else’; for ‘everyone else’ is a category that comprises the mediocre and the conformist, the boring and the suburban.  The goal of all right thinking people should be to mark themselves off from the crowd and ‘stand out’ in whatever way their talents allow.”

It’s a scary thought if uniqueness is measured by the ability of one’s parents to pick a funny name from a web site.  We might as well all run out and get tattoos to differentiate ourselves.


30 Comments leave one →
  1. Gail Robertson permalink
    July 29, 2011 6:44 pm

    Tom, I often asked my Dad why I only had one name – Gail and his reply was always the same – “made up of the initials of my girlfriends – Grace, Aloyicius, Isobel and Lillian,” In my innocence I believed him for years, but in thoses days we always believed what our parents told us. Plain old Gail.

  2. July 29, 2011 7:15 pm

    I think my name is boring too. But a weird name is only good for a conversation starter, after that you’re on your own—to be exceptional, average, or a crashing bore. But parents can do some damage by not changing a horrible last name, I tell ya.

  3. July 29, 2011 10:20 pm

    Have you heard Eddie Izzard’s riff on Englebert Humperdinck?

  4. July 30, 2011 1:44 am

    Your line “unique like everyone else” is hilarious.

    I’ll blame this trend on the 60’s generation (of which I am a member). We began self-absorption (disguised in volunteerism) and have genetically passed entitlement down several generations.

    Those who name their kids weird names are only thinking of themselves.

    Although…come to think of it…my Texan mother used to tell me the story of the Texas governor’s kids Ima and Ura Hogg.

    • July 30, 2011 10:31 am

      I saw an article a few years ago about people with strange last names who gave their kids first names to match. I forget the details but none were as bad as Ima Hogg.

  5. July 30, 2011 2:52 am


  6. July 30, 2011 3:02 am

    The most unique name I ever bumped into was when I was working at a bible camp as the bookkeeper. One evening I was working late when a bus full of inter city kids arrived at camp. There was a knock on my office door and two little girls around 10 years old grabbed my hands and pulled me from my office to come with them. I asked what the problem was and they said to come to their cabin because “ShackaBoBo be throwing up and throwing up”. Apparently the little girl was car sick after the two hour ride on the bus or homesick. The sickness didn’t remain but the odd name did!
    Thanks for sharing, Jeanne

  7. jacquelincangro permalink
    July 30, 2011 4:39 am

    Some of those names were so funny (not for the poor kids, but for us, the general public).
    It’s also pretty funny that the government has a person whose job it is to reject the names. I imagine someone sitting in the registry office, saying, “Messiah? Nope. No way.”

  8. July 30, 2011 7:54 am

    I had a friend who worked at a welfare office where, she swore to me, a woman appeared to apply for assistance and gave her child’s name as Toyota Corolla, saying she had seen it in an ad and thought it sounded pretty.

    Clearly the US is less exacting than NZ.

  9. July 30, 2011 9:25 am

    Because my older sister’s name was Maeve (and no one could spell or pronounce it unless they lived in Ireland), my father named me Mary to avert any future explanations.

    Equally annoyin to me is when standard spellings are changed: as in my grandaughter and grandson, Ryder and Jordyn.

  10. July 30, 2011 10:42 am

    How do you pronounce Maeve?

  11. July 30, 2011 2:08 pm

    “Mah-eeve” (in my experience, quickly, almost as one syllable, as it is cognate with Mab, as in Queen Mab). Though Mary’s answer should of course prevail.

    One of my classmates in grade-school bore that name and no one was at all bothered by it. She married the younger son of some friends of my parents. In square old Northern Virginia, USA. But then of course our Tidewater teems with Scots Irish.

  12. July 30, 2011 2:50 pm

    Unique like everyone else. Well said.

    The harder these parents try, the more severely they mark their children.

  13. Len Skuta permalink
    July 31, 2011 2:32 am

    It’s true, there is a woman in the Cleveland area withe the name of “Fanny Piles’.

  14. July 31, 2011 12:43 pm

    It always amuses me when people try to be non-conformist in a very conformist way. Take the mohawk. Now you see it on little kids and babies but “rebels” still wear it. Whatever rebelious message it once had is lost. Same with tatoos in foreign langauges and Misfits t-shirts. There is also the fact that study after study show that people with bizarre names have more trouble getting jobs and find it harder to be just plain taken seriously. Giving a kid a strange name is more a cemmentary on the odd outlook of the parents than anything else.

  15. August 1, 2011 12:52 am

    I love this. Sweden does the same thing although sometimes the names they reject are not that bad (Mackenzi was rejected some years ago, and children are not allowed to hyphenated last names). Adolf was rejected last year.

    While I think a off beat name can have a positive effect on a kid, the opposite is also true. The thing about the overly creative complicated names that bugs me is that it seems to act as some sort of ego boost for the parents. The actual child seems to bd secondary to it’s unique name.

  16. August 1, 2011 2:46 am

    Parents should be free to name their children what ever they want to. Children should also have the right to revoke that name and change it to something more to their liking.

  17. August 2, 2011 7:01 pm

    When I lived in London The Guardian used to publish these lists too. One day on the front page I saw my own name, second in a list of unbelievable baby names, and just behind the English equivalent of Moon Unit. How they would have laughed back home.

    Also, I once stayed in a resort on an Indonesian island and the man who brought the room service had the first name of “Hitler”.

  18. August 3, 2011 1:26 pm

    I feel like it would be a crime to let this post go by without mentioning the name Yahoo Serious, since he is just a little north of you. And his birth name, Greg Pead, somehow seems even goofier than the one he gave himself.

    • August 9, 2011 5:41 pm

      Thank you for that! Reminds me of Eric Boucher better known as Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys.

  19. August 8, 2011 4:55 am

    I think that parents who give their children outrageous names should start saving for the child’s therapy later on…being a kid is hard enough!


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