Literary Baby Names: If you name your baby Rudyard….

By Sara

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same….

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

——-Rudyard Kipling

I like to think that if Rudyard Kipling had provided some baby-naming insight from beyond the grave, he would have added a stanza to his poem “If” saying something like, “If you can name your baby Rudyard, you’re going to get asked a lot of questions.”

“Are you a Kipling fan?” Sort of.

“Wasn’t Kipling an imperialist?” I guess so.

“Wasn’t he a Nazi sympathizer?” Definitely not.

Do you call him Rudy?” No.

“Are you going to call him Rudy?” No.

“What if his friends start calling him Rudy?” That’s cool.

Do you like The Jungle Book?” I do.

“Is Rudyard a family name?” Nope.

In fact, from what I can tell, Rudyard isn’t really anyone’s family name. In the US, at least, there have been fewer than five (but probably zero) Rudyards born here each year since 1880, when the Social Security Administration begins its name records. Gmail underlines my kid’s name as a typo, and for the first few weeks of his life, my phone autocorrected his name to “Rutgers.”

In a recent presentation on parental name choices, Berkeley professor Josh Goldstein called names “precious” when they had many letters, marking a move from the short, ubiquitous names (the Johns and Marys) of previous decades and larger households. Along the lines of “precious,” I think “endeared” may be a good word to describe those names that parents give to reference a star (Gwen), a character (Eloise), or a historical figure (Kennedy). Dr. Eric Oliver from the University of Chicago, however, describes this naming technique less kindly. In an interview with Freakonomics radio, he said that some mothers reference literary figures and characters in their name choices to signal “for lack of a better word… their sense of cultural superiority.”

Cultural superiority? Can’t a mom just think a name sounds nice?

When my husband and I chose the name, our fond feelings toward Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories” (How did that leopard get his spots?) came second. We pretty much thought “Rudyard” sounded really nice. The nicest! RUDD-yerd, rolling smoothly off the tongue, like Clifford or Richard. But, we seem to have inadvertently chosen a name that is unpronounceable by the general public, meaning that most people get so tongue-tied, the name fails to roll out of their mouths at all.

Whereas Clifford is clearly pronounced CLI-ferd, and Richard is obviously pronounced RI-cherd, people get thrown off by the pesky “y” in the middle of our son’s name, seeing it as vowel rather than consonant. People awkwardly call him “roo-dee-ard,” or, in one particularly bad case, “roo-dee-ar-dee.” Hearing his two-syllable name pronounced with four syllables by a maternity ward nurse marked a real low point for me as the recent namer of my son. Roo-dee-ar-dee? What had we done to our baby?!

With most “endeared” names, parents have an easy way to explain unfamiliar names during introductions. “It’s Channing, like Tatum.” “It’s Marshawn, like Lynch.” Even a decades-old reference (“It’s Rhett, like Butler”) can be useful if the star or character is recognizable enough. But when I say that we named him, “Rudyard, like Kipling,” we often wind up no better off than where we started. The cultural example method only works if people are already comfortable pronouncing the cultural example’s name.

What’s worse, 100% of our son’s doctors have gotten his name right on the first try. I feel terribly uncomfortable about how uncomfortable non-surgeons, non-Rhodes Scholars, and non-rocket scientists get when trying to say the kid’s name. Even though we made the same kind of Jungle-Book related naming reference as Ashlee Simpson (who middle named her son “Mowgli”), I doubt her name choice forms such an educational divide. After all, most of us are familiar with the red-diapered cutie from the Disney movie, even if we don’t know how to pronounce the unusual name of the long-dead author who told the tale.

After a few months of experimenting, our son’s name is now, for all intents and purposes, Rudd. I feel great about having given him a lovely formal name that lends itself to the easy-to-pronounce “Rudd” and the very cute associated nickname of “Ruddy.” Our neighbors’ adorable son, Jamison, recently told his mom that every time he forgets Rudyard’s name, he thinks of a redwood tree to help him remember. Heck, I figure out here in the west, even “Redwood” makes a pretty nice name for a kid.

Our Ruddy is only four months old, so we’ve yet to find out whether people get more comfortable with his name as he grows. I think that “Rudyard” will be the name on the roster on his first day of school, but he’ll tell his teacher to, “Call me Rudd.” I picture him being “Ruddy” when he’s on a date and “Rudyard” for his wedding vows. “Rudyard” on the job application and “Rudd” in the interview. And “which is more” (to use Kipling’s words), whatever form of the name comes to suit him, it’s fun to imagine our lovely little babbling baby growing up into any name at all.

Guest blogger Sara is a new mom who likes to crochet, walk the family dogs, and think about the numerical trends in how we name our kids.


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14 Responses to “Literary Baby Names: If you name your baby Rudyard….”

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ScarlettsMom Says:

June 25th, 2014 at 8:24 am

Rudyard, wow! I’m no doctor or Rhodes scholar, but I know how to pronounce it. I can see how it would feel awkward saying it out loud, though. I can’t think when I’ve ever talked about Rudyard Kipling outside of my high school AP English class.

I love the nicknames Rudd and Ruddy – they help reinforce the correct pronunciation of Rudyard without being so intimidating. 😉

Andrea40925 Says:

June 25th, 2014 at 11:32 am

Rudd like Paul Rudd!

raevynstar Says:

June 25th, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Cool! I like the name Rudyard, and I might add it to my list. 🙂

clairels Says:

June 25th, 2014 at 4:22 pm

I hope the author realizes that after she coolly dismisses the idea that she used this name out of some sense of “cultural superiority,” she immediately contradicts herself by complaining about what a trial it is that none of the unwashed commoners (who name THEIR children after actors and athletes) understand her son’s name and that it’s only her fellow intellectuals and literati that appreciate her truly sophisticated choice. Ick.

gwensmom Says:

June 25th, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Actually, I think she was concerned that she chose a name that seems accessible only to intellectuals. I don’t think she was complaining about “unwashed commoners”.

Although Rudyard never crossed my mind, I do quite like Mercer with Mercer Mayer being my first (and only) association with the name.

MissTrash Says:

June 25th, 2014 at 6:37 pm

My father was meant to be named Rudyard. But his spanish father spelt it wrong on the birth certificate.

He goes by Rud or Rudy.

I like the name Rudyard. I could possibly use it as a middle to honor my father.

orphanedhanyou Says:

June 25th, 2014 at 7:21 pm

How is anyone surprised that Rudyard is not the easiest name off the tongue and that people wouldn’t get it?

taliesin Says:

June 25th, 2014 at 9:47 pm

love the name Rudyard. teachers should already know how to pronounce it and others can learn. I like the name Kipling also. Both have nice nn.
side note – there is a local stage actor where I live whose first name is Rutherford, and who uses the nn Ruddy. Whether he was named after a President is irrelevant.

peacebird10 Says:

June 26th, 2014 at 12:04 am

I’m really surprised that this seems to be such a difficult name to pronounce…?
The thing that bothers me is the association with Rudyard Kipling, who, I am sorry to be a downer, was an apologist for imperialism. The author seems to completely dismiss that tidbit. I don’t think it would matter if it was such a common name, but my opinion is that parents should really consider the person behind one-person names (like Elvis or Hemingway). I appreciate that some people just like the way something sounds–to each his own–but she shouldn’t be surprised to get a few raised eyebrows.

WaltzingMoreThanMatilda Says:

June 26th, 2014 at 1:53 am

Ruddy will be awkward if he travels – it’s a mild (euphemistic) swear word in the Commonwealth, like “fricking”. Rudyard is nice though. One of those surprising yet familiar names, and it’s fun to say.

Bungo Says:

June 26th, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Having grown up with Just So Stories and the Disney Jungle Book film, I was familiar with the Rudyard name (it has come up on my spellcheck writing this!) so always knew how to say it but looking at it now, I can see why people might think it’s “Rudy – ard”, it is a very uncommon name.
I really like Rudd as a nickname but concur with the “Ruddy” comment above. It’s not that big a deal though, there are lots of Americans called Randy!

daisy451 Says:

June 26th, 2014 at 9:00 pm

This is my concern with literary names- I love the sounds of names like Salinger, Djuna, Tennyson, and Keats, but I worry that people may think they’re pretentious. They are highly unusual names, and it’s virtually impossible to avoid the association. And while the association may not be bad, it’s very strong, and could be perceived as elitist. The struggles of naming!

tfzolghadr Says:

October 5th, 2014 at 3:01 am

I hardly find Rudyard to be pretentious. I mean, who isn’t familiar with Rudyard Kipling’s stories? I do find it interesting, though, that there is an intellectual gap. Perhaps that’s a sad commentary on our society when tv celebs and pop singers are well known, but writers such as Rudyard Kipling are considered obscure. I’ve also found, though, that many people have trouble with any name that is unexpected. Emilia is popular, but we’ve had so many people act like Emiliana is the most difficult, off-the-wall name in the world… there’s just an extra -na. Likewise, we’ve found that my young, educated friends in the US have no problem… also, my Italian, Brazilian, Argentinian, Spanish, etc. friends… It’s just the other (often older) segment of the population. So I’d recommend to keep saying “Rudyard, as in Kipling… the author”, and if they don’t know him, recommend that they read his stories.

Jungle Book Baby Names – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry Says:

July 7th, 2016 at 10:43 pm

[…] Would you consider naming a child after Rudyard Kipling himself? Kipling leads to the cheerful nickname Kip, and in the UK it has a bonus tasty association with the Mr Kipling cake brand. Actress Kim Raver gave it as a middle name to her son Leo. Rudyard – the author’s middle name, after the lake where his parents met – has a down-to-earth vibe and good nickname potential but also its fair share of issues. […]

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