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Weird Names: She’s Odd and She’s Proud

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Guest blogger Sachiko has a penchant for unusual names, and a talent for deflecting the criticism of strangers.

“You named that poor boy WHAT? That’s a terrible name! Shame on you!”

With those words, a nice old man in the hospital lobby turned into a mean old geezer, looking down on me and my newborn son, Musashi, where we were sitting in the mandatory wheelchair, waiting for my husband to pull the car around. I hugged my baby to my chest and scowled at the mean geezer until he went away.

Oh, wait, how about this one: The lady in the fabric store who whipped around and denounced me as an abusive mom for saddling my daughter with a monstrosity like — gasp! — Bronwen.

“She’ll never be able to write it!” Fabric Store Lady said. “And her teachers won’t be able to pronounce it.”

“Have you ever named a baby?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, proudly. “I have a son named Jody.”

I admit, “Jody” is a pretty easy name for a boy to pronounce and spell. Almost as easy for a boy as “Sue”.

This is what we’re afraid of, isn’t it, when we consider choosing out-of-the-ordinary names? That an unusual name will socially injure our babies. That the Baby Name Police will arrest us, and we’ll be defenestrated by the crusading extremists of the Orthodox Baby Name Church.

How scary this is depends on you. Me, I’ve never done well at culturally orthodox, even when I’ve tried. But I have friends, parents, and a husband who care deeply about that old moving target, Fitting In.

My mother is a High Priestess in the Orthodox Baby Name Church. This is a conversation I had with her when I was pregnant with Baby #4, Daughter #2:

Mom: “What names are you thinking of for this one?”

Me: “Ooh, that’s a fun one. I love Idony, but there’s also Halcyon and Sunniva.”

Mom: “Idony? Sunniva? Halcyon? Wait, I know that one….isn’t that a drug? It’s a drug!”

Me: “So’s Brandy, but that hasn’t stopped anybody. Anyway, there’s also Mairead and Seraphina—“

Mom: “Sweetie, Mairead sounds like something you drink when it’s hot outside. Listen. I know JUST the name. It’s beautiful, feminine, and almost nobody uses it.”

Me: “Oh?”

Mom, grandly: “…RACHEL!” (pause) “Well, what do you think? Won’t you please use it? Please?”

And that right there was the best and most productive baby naming conversation I’ve ever had with an Orthodox Baby Name Church member.
My mom hates my naming sins, but at least she still has to love me, the baby naming sinner. Mean geezers and nosy fabric store ladies don’t.

I’ve tried to get to the bottom of this fear and loathing of unusual baby names. Why do my baby name choices distress complete strangers to the degree they do?

Not all members of the Orthodox Baby Name Church are like this. Some are perfectly nice folks, content to live and let live. They’ve got their Henrys and Margarets and Aidens and Caitlyns and ignore or tolerate wackadoo people like me. No problems there.

The problem is the cranky vocal minority of the OBNC extremists, the ones who find social violence acceptable and even necessary.

The ones who seek out celebrity baby name stories on the Web so they can make persuasive comments like “No self-respecting parent names a kid (Shiloh, Apple, Honor, Ptolemy, etc.)

The ones who would likely love to forcibly rename my children and expose me to baby name reprogramming, via a circa-1954 baby-naming book, or endlessly repeated exposure to the SSA’s Top Ten lists, 1985-2009. Guess what, OBNC extremists, it won’t work. Repeated exposure to the Top Ten is exactly what’s gotten me where I am today, naming my children from out in left field.

The real irony here is OBNC-extremists excuse their social violence with “I’m trying to protect the child from bad social situations.” Except….the only ones causing said bad social situation is them. If they’re so worried about people picking on kids with weird names, then maybe they should, here’s an idea, quit picking on them. There. Problem solved.

Okay, so, at this point, you’re probably wondering, Why does Sachiko still use weird names? Is it worth the trouble? Does she just enjoy being obnoxious or something?

Because I want to; yes, it’s worth it, and yes, I try to. Here’s why:

The baby name I’ve gotten the most flak about, beginning with Mr. Mean Hospital Lobby Man, and including my parents, and a few people at church, what you might conclude would be considered a real dog of a name, a total mistake—

–is also, by far, the most popular baby name I’ve ever picked.

The bam-zing-pow of all of our baby names. The one that gets complete strangers who overhear it to walk up to us and say, “Your kid’s name like totally rocks.” Really. It’s happened.

It’s unique enough that our family doctor’s staff greets us all by name, because we’re related to Musashi. Most of the people at church and in my small town tell me they really like it.

A couple months ago I brought Musashi with me to my older kids’ judo class and introduced him to another judo parent. He paid me the highest compliment yet when he facepalmed and said, “Oh, man! Musashi! Now why didn’t I think of that?”

My parents initially hated it, but people’s positive reactions softened their opinion and they converted to a more peaceful Orthodox Baby Name Church branch. Many Orthodox Baby Name members soften, if you give them time.

The same thing’s happened with my other kids’ names. That fabric store lady who doesn’t like Bronwen is overwhelmingly outnumbered by people who do. The few negative social interactions because of my kids’ names are overwhelmingly outnumbered by the positive ones.

When I named all my kids, my goal wasn’t to impress people. Each time, I just used searched until I found something that I loved, and that seemed to fit the individual. But if my goal had been to get approval, these weird names seem to work.

If you’ve got something weird at the top of your baby name list, just remember that there’s always someone who will criticize. Would you let these complainers pick out a couch or buy you pants? Probably not. Why let their opinion influence this much more lasting decision?

Ignore the complainers. You can’t please them even if you tried. No matter how much some cranky people may think their opinion matters, they’re not there for 3 am feedings or high fevers or first steps. You are.

Naming your baby is the privilege you earn for 18+ years, so focus on finding the name that you love. In my experience, if you do what you love, the approval will follow.

Sachiko has named six children — William Takashi, Reilly Sentaro, Bronwen Fumie, Hilani Hisamarie, Sakura LouJean and Musashi Dustin — and is eagerly waiting to name her seventh. She’s a Mormon homeschooler and lives in Washington state with her husband, children, two dogs and six cats. Her blog is Sachiko Says.

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