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

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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32 Responses to “Weird Names: She’s Odd and She’s Proud”

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lyndsayjenness Says:

April 29th, 2010 at 2:11 am

Great blog. My son’s name is very popular on nameberry, but completely unheard of where I live. I’ve gotten a lot of negative responses, positive ones as well, but a lot of people think it’s weird. My grandma always saves news articles about “the negative effects of having an unusual name– especially for boys!”. At first I got annoyed, but meh, who cares? I love his name, and so do plenty of people! Someday it will be popular and THEN they’ll see!

Holly Says:

April 29th, 2010 at 2:29 am

i plan on having a son named either Absalom or Edmund, everyone hates all my naming choices they think theyre cruel, i think it gives the child character

www.legitbabenames.wordpress.com Says:

April 29th, 2010 at 8:03 am

Some people are just plain ignorant. Your children’s names are classic in other countries. I happen to love your kids names. Some of the most popular names started off weird at first. For instance, I remember when Aidan and Isabella were practically unheard of on a child, now they are considered mainstream. I never understood people who purposely look to the top 10 because they are so afraid of being casted…..shock…..a little different. I grew up with a fairly unusual name and always loved it. Yes, I was teased once in awhile, but all kids are, and it did not leave any social scars. If anything, I loved having a different name so much that I plan on using more unusual names for my children.

Loved your post 🙂

JNE Says:

April 29th, 2010 at 8:58 am

My daughter’s name, Imogen, is “unusual” in the US (not at all in other English-speaking countries) and most people I meet have no idea of its existence prior to our encounter. Many try to make it fit another name or word they might know (Imogene, imagine, imaging). One even corrected me on pronunciation… (“You mean Imogeeeeene”). But I have to say, no one has been quite as rude as those you’ve encountered! And many people are very positive about it.

I have no regrets using her name – my husband and I love her name – but sometimes I do wonder if she will love it after having to suffer through mispronunciations, spelling it over and over, and the odd less than complimentary comment. I think she will, but it does cross my mind that, in reality, she needs to live with the name, not me. (That said, my name and my husband’s name are both more unusual names, at least in the era we were named, and we both liked that about our own names- it’s part of the reason we looked for less-popular names for our kids.)

At 2, my daughter identifies most with her nn, but knows her full name (and middle) and she likes it fine. At least her name has a bunch of nns she can choose from if she doesn’t like the full name or feels more like a Mimi or Mo or Immy or Gen than Imogen. But I do agree, it’s important to find a name that fits your family and it doesn’t have to fit any other people’s criteria or expectations… would it be boring to have just a bunch of kids with the same top 50 or so names? Ho hum.

Linelei Says:

April 29th, 2010 at 10:44 am

Fabulous blog!

This is true in so many aspects of life: many people are uncomfortable with difference and try to force everyone else to fit the mold. But those people are way less fun, anyway, so I’d prefer it if my children didn’t “fit in” with intolerant people! And, after all, what business is it of theirs? Like you said, Sachiko, these are the people who are judging and trying to make someone uncomfortable because of their name (or religion, or skin-color, or orientation), and that is why we should never give in to the social pressure they exert. Be different! Be who you are! Live authentically, and to heck with anyone who doesn’t like that.

@JNE: I have a name that is difficult to spell, but it doesn’t really bother me. I just know that no one will get it right, and so I don’t care that much. If it becomes an issue and it HAS to be spelled correctly (for legal paperwork, etc), then I always enjoy the surprise when I spell it out. Invariably the person responds with, “Wow, what a beautiful way to spell that.” Which of course makes me feel good. 🙂 I’m thankful my mom was willing to be creative and unique!

WEIRD NAMES: She's Odd and She's Proud – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry | Baby Story Says:

April 29th, 2010 at 10:57 am

[…] the original here: WEIRD NAMES: She's Odd and She's Proud – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry Posted in Uncategorized, baby | Tags: apple, forcibly-rename, make-persuasive, parent-names, […]

gipro2003 Says:

April 29th, 2010 at 11:07 am

@JNE: I have an unusual name with a complicated spelling and a pronunciation that is always butchered. Yet, I LOVE it. I went through a small phase during elementary school where I wanted to go by a nickname because I felt it would be easier, but now I wouldn’t change my name for anything.

Great blog post!

Bella Says:

April 29th, 2010 at 12:50 pm

I can’t say I am a true fan of your names, but your message I love. I love a different brand of ‘unique’ than you do, but unique I do adore! I have no clue why names harp on so many peoples nervous systems, but I bet when some names that are big now began, they were frowned upon. I can hear it now-

“Rose?! ROSE!?? You named her after a FLOWER! *snear*”

Kudos for you!

MollyK Says:

April 29th, 2010 at 1:12 pm

A few weeks ago my husband and I were talking about unique baby names and how they are becoming more common. We were wondering if there is going to be a “turn-around” at some point where kids with “normal” names get picked on. If all the kids are names Ayden and Kylee then are John and Elizabeth going to be the ones getting picked on? I think it may happen, but it will take a while. Or hopefully there will be such diversity in names that everyone will stop being teased because of their name (in a perfect world right?).

Meredith Says:

April 29th, 2010 at 1:27 pm

I needed to read this, so thank you! I have been stressing over whether people will hate the twin names my husband and I have picked. I even made a comment on here about whether they matched and the very next comment was – no, they don’t go together. I think they sound great together, and you definitely reinspired me to just do what we want. I don’t have time to worry about other’s judginess.

Arlina Says:

April 29th, 2010 at 2:30 pm

As the very proud owner of an unusual name I have been trawling my memory to find all the traumatic events that were meant to have taken place (and that my grandparents told my mum would DEFINITELY happen and would scar me for life) and you know what, I cant think of any! And I am not from a very straight arrow kind of suburban community. And I know that next to the 4 Rachels, 5 Amys and 6 Sarahs I went to primary school with I absolutely stuck out. But what I remember is being proud and feeling special and, yeah, getting a little annoyed when it is always misspelled or mispronounced but ultimately I remember how positive people have been. It has taught me patience in dealing with curiousity and that it just takes some people a few seconds longer than others to get used to something they haven’t heard before. I can say for certain that I wouldn’t be the person I am if my parents had named me Sarah or Amy or been more worried about what people would think and now, when I introduce myself I feel as if I am conveying so much about myself (sure, nobody else realises!) and it reminds me constantly who I am and where I stand and what is important to me. I AM Arlina and I feel blessed to be…I Know I am lucky to have such a name!

BTW. Sachiko, your kids have some of the coolest names I have ever heard! Totally awesome!

Sachiko Says:

April 29th, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Meredith: awesome. I’m delighted to hear it.

Happylilcar Says:

April 29th, 2010 at 3:05 pm

As someone who has known Sachiko for the last 8 years, I for one have always waited with baited breath to see what the next lil’ bundle would be named. You are beautiful Sachiko, as are your uniquely named children.
Much love!

Raymond Takashi Swenson Says:

April 29th, 2010 at 3:37 pm

As a point of clarification, Sachiko did not start the “unusual name” tradition in the family. It began with her Japanese great-grandfather, who as a member of the Russian Orthodox Church gave all of his family members an additional Christian name at baptism. So while my Mom’s name is Fumie Paula (two very ordinary names for Japan and Russia, respectively), her siblings had names like Sadao Grigory, etc. My Mom gave all her kids Japanese middle names, and I passed it on to two of our three kids (including Sachiko, who is named after my aunt) and now they have done it with all of our 12 grandchildren. Our kids lived in Japan for 3 years when I was in the Air Force. Our son without the Japanese name is named Eric, and he could not resist the temptation to name his son Leif Ericson. Lei also got the middle name Ryu, meaning “Dragon”, but also a homonym for one pronunciation of my middle name when written in combination with other Chinese characters, as in the name of a famous 5th Century Buddhist shrine, the Horyuji. His twin brothers are Tora (“Tiger”) and Taka (“Hawk”, which refers to the emblem of our samurai ancestors, the Taka no Hane, diagonally crossed hawk feathers in a circle), and their sister is Hoshi (“Star”). So the Japanese names in our family, including Musashi (named for one of the greatest samurai, the author of the Book of Five Rings), while unusual to most Americans, have real significance in tying our grandchildren to their Japanese great-grandmother and her heritage.

Alicia Says:

April 29th, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Whether a name is ordinary or unique, there is something very special about using names that connect a child to their family and ancestry! Way to go Sachiko!

Pamela Says:

April 29th, 2010 at 10:32 pm

I feel insulted. My daughter’s name is Rachel. I don’t believe in saddling children with ‘unusual’ names that people can’t spell or pronounce. If you want to be ‘creative’, write a book, or get a pet and give it an ‘unusual’ name. Your child is the one that has to live with it, not you.

The Prudent Homemaker Says:

April 30th, 2010 at 12:50 am

Hey, Sachiko! Good to hear your voice!

Your mother sounds just like my mother. And the circa 1954 names about made me fall on the floor laughing because I was just given a bunch of those with baby #6 from my mother and grandmother.

So, if number 7 is a gril, I wonder if you’re going to use the name that you told me you liked so much? (that I used for #5.) I promise not to spill it on here in case you want to use it and not tell anyone!

Just the other day I was reading a favorite homeschool’s blog and she listed a ton of names for her next baby that were ones you and I have discussed. Very fun!

I will have to come visit your blog now! A group of us who’ve missed you will all have to come visit!

Brandy

Erin Says:

April 30th, 2010 at 1:10 am

Love your post! As mother of Liam, Antigone, Brian, Dmitri and Erik, I get a lot of questions about names, usually beginning with “So, how’d you come up with Brian and Erik, they’re so… so NORMAL!” Actually, Liam is the most common name of all of them currently. And ALL of the children’s names, I would note, are VERY popular somewhere and at some time, just not necessarily here or now.
When my daughter, Antigone, was born, I had plenty of trepidation about giving her that name. But my husband (whose name is Lashi [LAY-shee] and thus has far more authority than I on what kind of name a kid can survive with) was adamant. She is 7 now, and I firmly believe that no other name would hold her energy and charisma. She is an Antigone from head to toe. So HA! to the people who actually told me how they pitied the poor little child I “saddled with that horrible name”, and to my mother who refused to use her name and instead insisted on calling her “Annie” and “Sweet Pea” for the first two years of her life.

Sachiko Says:

April 30th, 2010 at 1:51 am

ANTIGONE! Love it.

The universe has justice, and to make up for that mean fabric store lady, I met a really nice one who loved my kids’ names–yeah, it’s easy to like people who like my kids’ names–and told me her grandson is named–

wait for it–

Cincinnatus.

*awe* some* very, very cool.

Pamela: Rachel is my husband’s favorite baby name and on our short list for the next girl. It’s a wonderful name, much beloved by many, and so far hasn’t fit any of my kids.

Nephele Says:

April 30th, 2010 at 8:07 am

Sachiko, I loved both your blog and the names you’ve chosen for your children!

I hope you don’t mind, but I had a compulsion to anagram your children’s names. (I do that a lot.) I’ve given them each a nature name anagram. Cheers!

Ismail Hawktail = William Takashi
Tyrrel Sealion = Reilly Sentaro
Nimue Fernbow = Bronwen Fumie
Mairia Hailshine = Hilani Hisamarie
Joaura Sunlake = Sakura LouJean
Hadius Sunmist = Musashi Dustin

— Nephele

a grandma Says:

April 30th, 2010 at 11:09 am

a joy to read!

Thank you!

I have never said anything to my son and daughter in law; I learn to love whatever names they choose.

I hope to be as supportively silent with my daughters!

I love your children’s names!

Mandi Says:

April 30th, 2010 at 12:01 pm

To whoever made the comment about checking the top 10 list – when I get around to naming kids, I’ll be looking at that list for sure. To know what names *not* to use.

Of course, the danger is always my best friend’s issue – she picked names she liked and between conception to naming, the names all shot up in popularity. Alexander, Taylor-Anne, Samuel. She nipped it in the bud with her second daughter – Theadocia – although the spelling is also unique because she didn’t know it’s usually spelled and just guessed.

Sachiko Says:

April 30th, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Thank you very much everyone. You’re all very generous.

Nephele, I so totally LOVE those nature-name anagrams! I’ll keep them and use them in a book or on pets or something. They’re too good not to use.

Oni Says:

April 30th, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Didn’t mention ya stole “Musashi” from yer poor Brother, slaving over his gray matter and “Jap lore” to find the perfect son’s name…

Just kiddin’ you, Sis. Loved this item. Keep it up. =)

bipolarclown Says:

April 30th, 2010 at 6:07 pm

While I overall agree with the point you are trying to convey in this blog, I must say that it irks me to some extent when people think that, just because someone dislikes a name because it happens to be unusual, the person immediately is considered small-minded and overly-orthodox. I love a lot of names that many people would consider to be ‘out there’ or ‘unusual’, but I do draw a line (though I admit I occasionally step over it; the naming world is full of gray areas) at a certain point, or there are certain brands of uniqueness that I do not necessarily appreciate.
Sorry, I dunno if you feel this way but I just notice this a lot and thought it wouldn’t be too off-topic to vent about this.

For the record, I do think I like your children’s names, though of course in the way I like someone else’s names; they’re not my choices, but they add flavor and diversity. I admit, life would be very dull if everyone went by pretty much the same style of names.

Primrose Says:

May 4th, 2010 at 4:34 pm

I love Bronwen! It’s a beautiful name!

My name is more unique. It’s Primrose and I go by Prim. I’ve gotten many different reactions to my name. I’ve had people ask me if my parents hate me, I’ve had them say that it’s nice, if I lived in a garden. But I’ve also have people that tell me that my name is amazingly beautiful. My friend, Andy’s cousin actually used it for her daughter because she loved it so much.

My grandparents hated all of my siblings names. Our names are Theodore Harris (Theo), Primrose Anabel (Prim), and Geneviva (Viva) Lisel.

I would say that having a unique name has definetly helped me in life so far because I’m a performer and casting directors are more likely to remember the girl named Prim than one of the 7 Emily’s that tried out for the same part.

Just my thoughts! 🙂

butterflyishida Says:

May 4th, 2010 at 4:50 pm

oh AMEN!!! You’ve said everything I’ve ever wanted to when it comes to the “strange” choices I want to give my children.

Also, I loooooooooooooooove the name Musashi. Love it love it love it. And Sakura. Oh hell, I just love Japanese names period.

amanda Says:

May 13th, 2010 at 9:20 pm

I always got flack from my family about two of my children’s names: Aunikah and Thessaly; I honestly had doubts because they were so mean about it. But my little Aunikah is proud of her name, and will happily spell it out and correct people when spelled or said wrong. My husband chose Thessaly, and she loves her name as well. It’s very feminine and beautiful. Now we are trying to find a name for a new baby girl due next month. I love beautiful and exotic sounding names.

Sunshinetina Says:

July 8th, 2010 at 12:49 am

I am so anti odd names. It’s one thing to give your child a name that reflects his/her ethnic background, it’s another to make something up.
There are tons of great older fashioned names and newer less popular names that will serve just as well. Topanga (from Boy meets world is a prime example) could have just as easily spent life as Theodora and the name could have still had the same effect on people.
Holly- love the name Edmund
JNE- so love the name Imogen and would use it if I could.

B.T’ Says:

December 4th, 2010 at 4:26 pm

The generations to come will call you blessed as they research the family names and come across the Musashis ,Aunikahs, Thessalys, Bronwens, Antigones, Nepheles,Jnes/Primroses. I research my family surnames and find myself hip deep in Johns, Marys and more often than not guess what John and mary name their little bundle of joy………..YES …… another little John or Mary jr. Thank goodness in the ocean of names you wade through in genealogy there are those creative spirits who go beyond the frontiers of johnandmarydom and into the wild blue yonder.

Sarah Says:

February 27th, 2011 at 7:27 pm

I am really fond of unusual names, btu i dont like them to be too weird. My faveourite name is Chione(chee-own-eee). I have a friend called Bronwyn. No one thinks there is anything unusual and yes it takes us a long time to learn to spell it but no on has ever said anything but “what a lovely name, is it irish”?

lizzy Says:

April 28th, 2011 at 7:19 am

i love different names, called my daughter Katja as a bit of a compromise (its really pretty common in eastern Europe, a version of Kate, but different enough here in South Africa). in SA there are lots of women born in the 1980s called Bronwen or Bronwyn, its pretty common. I guess that unless you actually make up your kids name, there will always be somewhere in the world where its seen as weird or different. Kids adapt and mould to their names.

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