The Agony of Choosing A Name
by Paul Ratner
As my wife and I are counting down to the birth of our son, we are happy, eager, completely discomforted (well, that’s mostly my heroic wife) and stuck in agonizing limbo over choosing a name for our upcoming guy. It seemed like a simple enough thing to do. There are a million names out there to pick from. But immediately, we realized that choosing a name for this very new person is a tremendous responsibility. He’ll have to go through his whole life with it, responding dozens of times a day to the combination of sounds we pick out for him. And each such word carries the whole gamut of human experience in its letters.
Every name conjures up associations. Cultural, racial, historical, deeply personal. Every prejudice you ever came across is invoked with every name you recite. To deal with this, I got seven baby name apps on my phone. I also have a couple of encyclopedias with tens of thousands of choices. We also perused every single web list out there. Thanks and no thanks to nameberry, babycenter, momswhothink, whattoexpect, sheknows, god knows, and Internet as a whole. Maybe it’s all the choices that are the problem. I doubt parents a hundred years ago had access to 100,000 names at their fingertips. You named kids after your parents, royals or religious heroes. But the sheer amount of currently available information makes any choice almost paralyzing.
So, should we go for one of the “aiden” names that have been all the rage? Aiden, Haiden, Kaiden, Jaiden, Brayden and all the spelling permutations thereof. It feels like a fad that’s sure to not date well. Or the cool baby jock names like Ace, Rogue or Hunter, toughening him up straight from the womb. Hopefully he won’t try to gain respect as a scientist. Or go for celebrity-like brand names like Orange, Apricot, SouthEast or WestOfNorth. At least that sounds useful. The son will be forced to eat nutritiously or know his way without a compass. Or maybe some conqueror name like Alexander or Atilla or Napoleon? Seems like a lot to live up to.
Or maybe go for some name from the Bible, joining the millions of Johns, Pauls and Matthews that came before. Feels like just another verse of someone else’s song. Or maybe something more ethnic? My wife likes all the Celtic names than end in “n” — Flynn, Finn, Finnegan, Killian and the like. Just seems why if we are not Irish? Or what about some beautiful Native American-sounding name like “He Who Runs In the Wind”? That would be pretty, but kind of a mouthful to tweet. And we’d probably be looked at as cultural usurpers. Which I suppose we are, living in this American supermarket.
And now there are all these studies that confirm what seems pretty obvious: Folks make judgements about you based on your name before they even see you. People working in human resources make snap decisions about candidates in just a few seconds. Will our boy’s name ensure his riches or doom him to a lifetime of discrimination? Or maybe get him stuck in a particular industry just because that’s where he seems to belong? Apparently, Bobs end up as car salesmen, but Bobbies become pro golfers. All because of one extra syllable!
So what if we just make it up, to avoid all the burdensome associations? How does Jenobaxius Gargalumiel Skymachoo Ratner sound? Pretty good actually. Maybe we’ll go with that.
Paul Ratner is a writer, film director and proud father of a 5-year-old Minecraft fanatic, with another boy on the way. Paul makes films about history, fringe philosophers and writes fairy tales for grown-ups. Find out more about his work at http://filmsbygiants.com .
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on June 21st, 2015 at 11:33 pm
It certainly is true about forming images of a person based on his/her name before meeting them. I’ve taught school for years and each year I eagerly await my class rosters to check out my future students’ names.
My only advice based on this is:
1. Spell right.
2. Don’t go nuts with gender bending (I know no girl who fancies herself as a Norman or Roscoe).
3. Choose a name you would truly love to be called yourself.
on June 22nd, 2015 at 7:07 pm
Hilarious advice and commentary for those of us enduring endless name searches. Thanks for putting a smile on my face.
on June 23rd, 2015 at 12:07 pm
So true! Searching for our daughter’s name was arduous and confusing and taxing and exhausting. But it was also laced with just enough fun to keep me coming back for more after she was born! However, I’m sure we found the perfect name. It fits her to a T and it unique but not unheard of and easy to spell and pronounce (Nova). Let’s see if we can duplicate the result for baby #2 and so on (we want a big family so the name search will continue for a long time).
Good luck on the name search!
on July 12th, 2015 at 11:18 pm
You hit the nail right on the head – paralyzed by too many choices. If you’ve ever stood at the shampoo section of the grocery store, facing a massive wall of variety, each one slightly different than the next, you know the feeling. We’ve reached saturation on the number of choices we have to make each day. And the issue of naming your child seems to fall right into that equation. Reading peoples questions, concerns and issues on this site shows that the process of naming a child has become a major hurdle for many. Too many choices is paralyzing.
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