Baby Name Rules: Messiah, Seneca, and Milborough
Imagine that you were put in charge of names.
Effective immediately, you are the recorder of all given names, and no newborn’s birth certificate is official until it has received your stamp of approval.
After a giddy moment or two – think of all the names you’ll see! – reality sets in. Will you impose rules? What will the rules be? Would you establish an official list of approved names? Guidelines? Is there an appeals process?
In the US and much of the world, we tend to respect the parents’ right to choose a child’s name, even if that name raises a few eyebrows. Case in point: the baby briefly known as Martin McCullough has now been restored to his birth name, Messiah.
It’s not just about personal preference, either. Last week’s name news also included the story of Janice Lokelani Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele, a Hawaiian woman whose 35-character last name was too long to fit on her driver’s license. It’s not an invented name – it was her late husband’s unusual family name. After some hassle, the state of Hawaii has agreed to change their database to accommodate longer surnames.
Visit a baby name forum, though, and the story can be very different. Parents are admonished to “please spell it correctly,” to consider the child as a grown-up, to imagine how hard it will be to spell/pronounce/explain that particular name.
They’re just comments on forums, of course, at Nameberry and elsewhere. But what if you were actually in charge? Would you crack down on creative spellings? Limit gender-bending baby names? Ban names that weren’t in use a century ago?
This week’s baby name news was filled with unusual, even outlandish choices. But none of them are – as of this writing – prohibited by law.
Gracelynn – Who would have guessed that MTV’s Teen Mom franchise would be such a big influence in baby names? Season three mom Mackenzie Douthit and her new husband Josh are already parents to Gannon. They’re now expecting baby #2, a girl. Mackenzie sent out a tweet asking for G names for girls, and seemed to like a few – Giovanna, Gabriella, and Gracelynn. Or maybe Gracelyn. Both spellings have caught on fast in recent years. A reality television boost could make this name the next Addison.
Kalduram – We all know about Kal–El Cage, named after Superman’s birth name. How’s this for another otherworldly appellation? Kaldur’ahm is the birth name of Aqualad. He’s not Aquaman’s son, but he does share a very similar story. Kaldur’ahm was born in Atlantis, and now fights the good fight here on Earth. I spotted the slightly simplified Kalduram suggested on a message board. At first, it seemed outlandish, but then, I rather like the similar-sounding Calderon. No way of knowing if the parents will actually use the Aqualad-inspired name, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in a birth announcement.
Xula – In another baby name forum, a new mom vented her frustration. The reason? Her mother hated her granddaughter’s name – so much so that she refused to use it. Xula – it sounds like Lula with a z – is already here, and the ink is dry on the birth certificate. Does it seem like grandma is being unreasonably stubborn? Yes, yes, it does. And yet, the idea suggested by several posters: refuse to allow grandma and granddaughter to spend time together until grandma agrees to use Xula, and only Xula – seems unrealistic, too.
Porsche – Women who deliver in unusual places – airplanes, office buildings – usually make headlines. But when the mom who delivers in a grocery store names her daughter Porsche? And when Porsche is the youngest of four – sister Mercedes and brothers Alfa and Frank? No wonder Joy Lowther is enjoying fifteen minutes of fame. Should Porsche ever have a little brother, Joy is considering Bentley.
Ford – I find Porsche downright daffy, but Ford feels like a nice, solid name for a boy. (More proof that writing rules for baby naming would be an incredibly challenging project.) Old Country House blogger Lesli shared her three children’s names, plus her list of favorite names for a fourth. I love so many of her picks: Bonnie, June, Ruth, August … and yes, Ford.
Seneca – In yet another forum, a poster asked if Seneca seemed masculine or feminine. My favorite answer: “If it ends with ‘a’ it is feminine.” Oh good, a clear rule. Except … Ezra, Luca, and Asa would like to remind you that it doesn’t work – not even a little bit. Still, the rule-maker was insistent.
Milborough – Let’s look at some useful baby name advice. A reader asked Swistle if she thought Milborough would make a good baby name for a girl. Swistle has some excellent tests for parents considering an unusual name – does it sound like a name? Can it be worn by different types of people? (Shy, outgoing, serious, silly.) How would you feel if you saw it on a class list? Were introduced to a teacher, store clerk, or doctor by the name? Milborough wasn’t a hit with Swistle’s readers, but the post makes it clear that most of the tests are really about individual perception and preference.
Keion – Speaking of evaluating names, this post at the New York Times Motherlode blog made me think. Nikisia Drayton and her partner are considering naming their son Keion, after a family friend. But is it a mistake to a give an African-American child a “black” name? Should the couple respell it to the more neutral Kian? Some of our so-called name rules can be damaging, even racist.
Messiah – Let’s end on a high note, with the name that inspired this post. He has a great sound. (I’m a sucker for Elijah and Isaiah and even Nehemiah.) The heavy meaning makes this one a non-starter for me. Messiah is a lot to live up to, right? And yet, I was downright delighted that the court overturned magistrate Lu Ann Ballew’s initial ruling that Messiah would have to answer to some other name.
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on September 23rd, 2013 at 12:41 am
Ew. Those are some pretty horrible names. These seem more like lapses in judgment than names on a diploma, resume, or wedding invitation.
on September 23rd, 2013 at 1:02 am
My (imaginary) baby naming rules/system:
There would be a HUGE database of acceptable baby names/spellings. Any first name found on this list is automatically approved. (Middle names are rule-free!)
If you want to use a spelling that isn’t found in the database of acceptable spellings you must first submit it to a committee in your area (yep, I’m going to delegate – I want free time too!). This committee of at least three (more for more populated areas) must have at least one person (more for more populated areas, but still a minority and not majority needed for approval) who can intuitively pronounce the name with your spelling. If they can, you may use the name. If not, you can move on to the appeals process or simply choose a new name/spelling. (Note: if a new spelling is approved 20 times in one year, or 50 times in the past three years, that spelling will be added to the database.)
Appeals process for names outside of the database or spellings that were denied: You must write a written report. The report must include the following: Why the name is important to you. What impact the name will have on your child as the go from infant to toddler, from school to adult. Also, what, if any, history can you find about the name. If a parent can take the time to intelligently answer these questions, then they probably have a right to use the name (regardless of my own opinions of the validity of the name).
on September 23rd, 2013 at 1:14 am
Unless the names were essentially expletives or spelt- the full name in its’ enirity- something offensive or derogitory in reference to the child’s character, as a Baby Name Rule-Maker I think I’d be accomodating(?). Apologies to those who like the names Dick and Fannie/ Fanny, as they would be the first to go! Lol
When it comes down to it, I would find it hard to say no to people who have their heart set on a name they love, I’m sure.
As for Grandma who didn’t like the name Xula…in her position I would have attempted to teach my daughter to call her Grandma something that I know would really annoy her until she got the point :O
on September 23rd, 2013 at 1:17 am
@Nyx – Oh dear! I don’t envy the paperwork for the poor old parents of Saoirse! lol
on September 23rd, 2013 at 1:20 am
I should probably mention that in Australia, Fannie/ Fanny is one’s front bottom, not the rear :/
The Faraway Tree wouldn’t have been the same tho, in hindsight 😉
on September 23rd, 2013 at 1:29 am
@Aveline_Bellefleur – Saoirse would most definitely be included in the huge database of acceptable names. While I know that it’s not as common in the US (and other countries), it is a very popular name in Ireland. Any name commonly used in different counties would be included in the database 😉
on September 23rd, 2013 at 2:16 am
Well, Seneca is the name of a classical poet, and Ford Maddox Ford was a prominent British writer in the early 20th century; I think both of those names are perfectly established and acceptable, even if they are not very common.
I think the only names I would ban would be ridiculously spelled names, especially if there is already a legitimate spelling on the books. I especially hate names that are Kreatively respelled phonetically (Examples: Catherine/Katherine? Jane/Jayne? Elizabeth/Elisabeth? Haley/Hailey? Fine. Alycesaundra? Kristeena? Makaylah? No. Stop trying to make it happen and spell it correctly.) This rule is also in effect for totally random invented names that look like the alphabet vomited on paper.
There are a lot of names I don’t like and some I even hate. I hate flat, boring, lifeless names. I hate some really popular names and some Nameberry favorites, too. However…some people hate the names I love, so I can’t base my rules on preference.
on September 23rd, 2013 at 2:32 am
New Zealand bans ‘title’ names: Sir, King, Prince etc but also less obvious title names like Deacon and Messiah. I think that’s sensible, although the way the judge renamed the baby Messiah in the US was ridiculous – especially given the laws there are different!
NZ also bans offensive names, I know one baby named Violence had to be renamed. Again, I think that’s sensible, although I wish parents were more sensible so that these rules didn’t need to exist.
on September 23rd, 2013 at 5:08 am
Nyx, I nominate you for the job! 🙂
on September 23rd, 2013 at 5:27 am
Nyx, I will both poke fun and admit my admiration at the amount of time and energy it took to figure out that lovely list of very reasonable rules!
(Ha! I can totally see myself thinking out something similar!).
Big thumbs up!
on September 23rd, 2013 at 6:00 am
I’m quite fond of a-ending names on boys and some, like Joshua, are simultaneously extremely mainstream and very historic.
But I would ban Seneca for either gender unless you could show a heritage tie by at least one of the parents to the Seneca tribe. Same rule will be applied to Dakota or Sioux (sorry if you like the Banshees, y’all!) or Gypsy.
on September 23rd, 2013 at 7:03 am
I’ve always though Ezra sounded like a girl’s name even though I know it’s the name of a man in the Bible. I actually know of someone who named her little girl Ezra (but I thought it sounded feminine way before that).
Any name that sounds feminine I have a hard time thinking of it as being for either. For me, Seneca would be a girl’s name.
Keion…does it mean “black” or do you just mean the spelling looks like an African American name?
on September 23rd, 2013 at 7:04 am
What about Portia? I don’t care for it, but have heard of it.
on September 23rd, 2013 at 7:50 am
Only rule not offensive and not cuss names (jerk, whore, etc…). I like Nyx idea, just I think parent should pay a fine for unusual spelling. And then may use unusual spelling.
on September 23rd, 2013 at 8:03 am
A lot of countries have “rules”: I’m not familiar with all of them but in Germany you have to be able to prove that it’s a proper given name before it’s being allowed. They also have rules about not being able to give your child a name that is too different from their genetic heritage. So a child who is 100% German cannot be given a Chinese name as a fn (only as a second). Also they restrict the number of allowed mn’s (I don’t even know what it is, but a judge decided 20 was too many. lol). The rules are supposed to protect the children from having unduly difficult/absurd names to live with.
This doesn’t mean the names list is stagnant. If a famous person has a wacky name or gives one to their child, one can petition to use the same. Theory behind this practice is that someone who is in the news enough will make a strange name more understandable and recognizable to the overall public and thus the burden of carrying such a name for the average child diminishes. (It’s a little odd and convoluted but at least no child will ever be named Hashtag.)
However, because of it’s history and these rules, Germany does not currently keep a list of most popular baby names. So I tend to look up Austria’s lists to get a general feel – or ask my cousin who works at a day care.
on September 23rd, 2013 at 8:22 am
@LexieM – I didn’t know that about Germany. So Suri might not have been permitted ten years ago, but is likely allowed now? I think that reasoning makes sense. Much as I’d be surprised to meet a baby named Suri, I would recognize it immediately.
Interesting about the genetic heritage part. I wonder if the 100% German family be able to use something French or Italian?
Our (German) neighbor has an American friend who was living in Germany when her daughter was born. She petitioned and won the right to name her daughter Keiko, even though she isn’t Japanese. They had lived in Japan for ages, though, and thought they’d likely return. I’ll have to see if I can connect with her and find out more about the process of applying … I wonder if they passed it because there was a connection to Japan, or because she was foreign in the first place …
@dancingwithdad – Nikisia Drayton’s experience was that others viewed Keion in a negative light. She questions why stereotypically “black” names bring up mugshots on Google, instead of the very different images that Jennifer or Ryan bring up. I don’t have that reaction to the name – but then, Keion/Kian is very different than the names that I’ve ever personally considered. It’s worth reading her Motherlode article if you haven’t – lots to think about … http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/18/will-a-black-name-brand-my-son-with-mug-shots-before-hes-even-born/?_r=1
on September 23rd, 2013 at 11:04 am
As a enthusiastic reader of the hagiography of saints, I have come across the name Milborough in my research. Milborough is a version of a female saint’s name Milburga. She was the daughter of a King of Mercia, sister of Sts. Mildred and Mildgytha and a Benedictine abbess. She reportedly had the gift of levitation and power over birds. Although the name is now a place name (in Shropshire, England), due to its history I think it would be a unique choice for a girls name.
Seneca was the name of an ancient MALE Roman philosopher and writer. Unfortunately, The Seneca are a group of indigenous people native to North America and as anon-native, I wouldn’t feel comfortable using it as a name . For me, Dakota and Cheyenne would not be options either for the same reason but judging by the many parents who’ve picked them for their children, I may be in the minority. I don’t know if people use these names simply because they’re Native American names or place names. Seneca is also the name of a college where I live so that’s another reason I would avoid it.
The remaining names are either not my style (Gracelyn), are just plain weird (Kalduram) or I find offensive as a Christian (Messiah).
Bravo to Nyx on her reasonable naming system. My first thought is always the children who are saddled with some of these terrible names. If parents don’t have any common sense whatsoever, I think an offically sanctioned naming list is the way to go. Of course, the list would have to be HUGE and reasonable names (eg. those that wouldn’t cause embarrassment, shame, guilt or ridicule) could be added every year.
on September 23rd, 2013 at 11:29 am
Denmark has rules as well.
There is a list of approved names for girls and one for boys.
You are not allowed to use a boys name for a girl nor a girls name for a boy (though there a few unisex names).
If you want a name not on the list, you will have to seek for approval.
You are not allowed to use inappropriate names nor can you use a last name as a first name.
A child must be named before it is 6 months old.
on September 23rd, 2013 at 1:24 pm
Catherine – French variation, also a common English variant / Katherine – The original Greek form of the name <— Both have been commonly used (albeit, maybe more common in certain regions, maybe not) for centuries. Which form do you consider the misspelling?
Elizabeth – Biblical and English variation based upon the Greek form (Elisabet) which in turn is based upon the Hebrew name (Elisheva) / Elisabeth – German/Dutch variation of the name <— Would you deny one simply because you think the spelling isn't "legitimate"? If so, would the "legitimate" spelling be the original Elisheva or the most popular Elizabeth?
While truly creative misspelled names frustrate me (as do created names that are nothing more the sounds the parents found pleasing), the fact is our language and culture is always evolving. Change is good, stagnation would be bad – and a fluidity to all aspects of our culture tends to lead to more creativity and new ideas.
*tosses 2¢ on ground and steps off from soap box – waves to the next person that they can have a turn on the soap box*
on September 23rd, 2013 at 2:01 pm
I am the reader that request Milborough on Swistle. Obviously I am disappointed with the reaction to the name though I do agree with the checklist. @Mischa that is exactly where I discovered the name as well. Thoughts from Nameberry on Milborough or alternatives?
on September 23rd, 2013 at 2:40 pm
@AEMA – That’s where you found Milborough? Wow! I guess that it changes it completely for me. I wondered where the inspiration came from, and assumed it must be a family name. My vote was “I think it works, but I’m not sure.” The thing that kept wandering through my head was that I like Milborough more for a boy, with the nn Milo or Bo or Miles. Maguire is one that I like for a girl or a boy, with Maggie the nn for a girl. But I’m guessing that’s not the direction you’re leaning.
FWIW, I think there’s something to be said for forging ahead and using the name you love. Even if it is Rainbow or Zaphyn or Hortense or Milborough. If it is far outside of the mainstream, someone is going to actively dislike it and tell you so. Most others will just get used to it. And Milburga is the logical substitute – but that doesn’t really feel any more wearable.
Plus I do think a great back story helps, and explaining that Millie’s full name is Milborough, after the saint, is very different than, say “Milborough. We just liked the sound.”
on September 23rd, 2013 at 2:41 pm
@Mischa – The annual act of adding names to the list would be like a second Christmas … no, wait, second Christmas is when we get the name data from the SSA. This would be like a second Fourth of July, with fireworks and marching bands! It’s almost reason enough to have a list …
on September 23rd, 2013 at 3:48 pm
@Abby Yes, I should have made mention of that though I doubt it would have changed the reaction. I appreciate all the suggestions from the site. Also, I agree with your checklist and while I envision a nonsense, fierce even, grown woman could carry the full name, there is no guarantee that will be her personality. The hunt continues!
on September 23rd, 2013 at 4:19 pm
I’m glad to live in America, where our freedoms still include the freedom to give your child any name you choose. Any rules imposed on baby naming would be an infringement of a very personal right, though I’ve seen birth announcements that are enough to make me decide some parents don’t deserve that right.
If by some bizarre, fantastical set of circumstances baby naming rules were left up to me (and the thought does give me a momentary thrill!), I think I’d go with a list like Nyx’s. Highly sensible. I’d love to see the last of the Aydinns, M’kenzees and Haeleighs.
on September 23rd, 2013 at 4:51 pm
In Germany there is also the rule that you an only give your child a unisex name if it also has a middle name that clearly denotes whether the child is male or female!
BTW, @shellezbellez was saying that the variations on Catherine & Elizabeth are fine (I read over the ‘fine’ myself the first time)’ it’s spellings like “Alycesaundra? Kristeena? Makaylah?” she was taking offence at 🙂
on September 23rd, 2013 at 5:35 pm
@marypoppins – I think that’s a good guideline even if it isn’t a rule. Avery Reese gives me pause, but Avery Elisabeth or Avery James? Perfect.
on September 23rd, 2013 at 8:27 pm
I think there’s a lot of distance between “I don’t like that” and “it should be against the law”. I think sometimes we lose sight of that in our society.
on September 23rd, 2013 at 8:49 pm
Nicely said, jenagain!
on September 24th, 2013 at 2:05 am
I think I’d be far more open minded than I currently am about name were I actually put in charge of other people’s kids’ names. I’d require some sort of reason: is it historical? meaningful to the couple? have an important meaning? something other than, “i like the sound”? Then I would say yes. But I would ban stupid spellings, I have to say.
I also wanted to add that I think Seneca works on both sexes… it’s a great feminist name (Seneca Falls), and also a great ancient male name. There’s a football player (quarterback) named Seneca Wallace. It’s one of the few unisex names I like 😀
on September 24th, 2013 at 11:07 am
My rules would be that all girls would be called Jane and all boys would be called Jack (no spelling various allowed) and then everyone’s worst fear would come true: their child would most assuredly be one of 15 in his/her class and they’d all just have to find new ways to be unique……Muhahaha
*I should never be given absolute power, I am one of those it would completely corrupt.
on September 24th, 2013 at 3:23 pm
I’m with others I’d nominate Nyx for the job : )
on September 24th, 2013 at 8:11 pm
I’m German with 100% German ethnicity and have an Italian first name (Giulia), so I think the rule only applies to names that you would most definitely associate with a certain ethnicity, such as a Chinese name. My mom’s name is Corinna Olympia and my grandma wasn’t sure if Germany would allow Olympia as a first name even though that was her first choice. Instead of potentially having to go through a lengthy process of having the name approved, she went with the more familiar Corinna and put Olympia in the middle.
on September 25th, 2013 at 1:10 am
Nyx, I don’t consider those names misspelled at all. I was heading off any comments about there being acceptable differentiations in many names such as those (and others like Ann/Anne, Aimee/Amy, Emilia/Amelia, Madeline/ Madeleine, Caitlin/Katelyn, etc.) I despise names that are are trying to hard to be different via spelling.
Spelling a name phonetically, in particular, is a pet peeve of mine. I think it’s a terrible trend and definitely not a change for the better. I am so sick and tired of Addysin, Attasin, Adisen, Addason, Aiden, Aden, Aidyn, Adin, Aaden, Aidenn, Maddyson, Mattyson, Matisen, Mattaline, Madalynne, Maddylin, Katelinne, Kaitlynne….I mean COME ON. The names aren’t changing and it doesn’t mean they aren’t one of five Aidens or Madison or whatever already in the class. To me it’s the most uncreative way to go about naming a child. like the parents think they are being sneaky and that no one notices it’s the exact same name as the one spelled properly or more conventionally.
on September 25th, 2013 at 9:05 pm
Had to chuckle when I saw Keion up there! I have a friend who’s brother is named Kian (the more neutral as was put). Down here, the name is always read Key-on, perhaps a more African pronunciation (not too sure), but it’s happened so frequently that Kian will now say “Key-in, like I’m Irish!” He’s five and too funny!
All of the siblings in my friends family have Irish/Celtic driven names (for privacy won’t list), and red hair to pair with 🙂
on September 25th, 2013 at 11:21 pm
I can’t believe that this is an actual conversion in America.
on September 28th, 2013 at 12:30 am
I have to agree that when it’s Caitlin vs. Qatelynne, I’m all for the Caitlin (or otherwise “normal” spelling!). However, I have a hard time with a set-in-stone sort of policy that doesn’t allow for spelling changes.
When my sister found out that she was having a daughter, she decided that she loved the name Dana. However, she didn’t like the spelling of the name, the fact that there were two different (but equally correct) pronunciations of the name: DAY-na and DAN-ah, or the fact that it was a unisex name. Her solution was to name her daughter Daina (DAY-na). While many people have tried to call my niece Diana (die-ANN-ah), or to respell her name so that it’s “correct”, neither my sister nor my niece (now in her 20’s) has ever not loved the name and spelling.
Along the same lines, I have a great-niece named Cheyna (pronounced SHAY-na). Her mom chose the spelling, that while not typical, was what she felt right.
I’ve heard mothers say that they want to spell their daughter’s name a certain way so that part of their grandfather’s name is embedded in the name. I’ve heard parents reverse a name (Sara to Aras) to honor a dying best-friend. It’s knowing stories like these, and many others, that has me keeping an open mind about spelling.
on November 8th, 2013 at 2:45 am
I’d try to have few rules but a few would probably have to be made….no title names! Like Queen, King, Messiah, Princess, Prince that is ridiculous to name anyone and have them try to live up to it! I’ve seen some other names people tried to name their child, smelly head is one I remember off the top of my head, someone tried to name their child smelly head…that i’d consider abusive. “Yo smelly head!” but I would limit it to only a few serious issue ones. I know i’d still have a ton of names that would make me cringe but i’d mostly let people choose what they want to choose. As for the title things I have no problem with Kingsley or the like, I still don’t like them but it’s better than just plain King and softens it a bit, I know the nickname King would still be there.
on February 11th, 2014 at 9:58 pm
1. No title names
2. No numbers, nonstandard characters, or text art
3. The name must be pronounceable.
4. No single characters (e.g. A, R, L,)
5. Variants must resemble the original name.
6. NO commercial product names, curse word names, cultural icon names, or names considered to be abusive or outrageous
These are my name rules.
on June 3rd, 2014 at 9:49 pm
I think the only name rules I would have would be:
No royal title names (Prince, Princess, King, Queen(ie), Lord, Lady, Duke, Duchess, Count, Countess, Emperor, Empress, Sir)
No horrid misspellings (Alycesaundra (Alessandra), Kristeena (Christina/Kristina), Sydny (Sydney/Sidney), Eyesayeuh (Isaiah), Annuhstayezhuh (Anastasia), Jahshoeah (Joshua), Wylliyum (William), Ryein (Ryan), Zacurry (Zachary))
The names I like from the list in the article are:
Porsche (a friend from middle school was named Porsche, but she pronounced it as Portia)
on February 24th, 2015 at 10:14 pm
I love obscure medieval names with a history, that kind of sound like they jumped out of Lord of the Rings, so I wouldn’t like a list of names. I think what ought to be regulated would be made-up names that have very strange sounds, and younyieck spellings. I’m fine with made up names if they sound like names (there’s a little baby on my street named Bria, which her parents chose by stringing sounds together), but some names seem ridiculous to me. I know a girl named Kateleen (pronounced like Kate-len/Caitlin) and she’s just given up on telling people how to pronounce her name. I called her Kay-te-leen for six months after I met her because she never corrects anyone. She’s also heard Kathleen, Cat-len, Cat-a-leen, and a bunch of other names. I think her parents should have just stuck to Caitlin or Kaitlin.
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