Saturday, April 11, 2009

What's in a name?

Okay, far-out trends in baby-naming have been around for a while: unique spelling of standard names, unexpected pronunciation of names which at first appear ordinary, odd nouns and adjectives serving as names, and the like. I always enjoy Bridget's posts about intriguing (or hilarious) name discoveries, such as this recent one where she cited a like-minded blogger's response to the list of babies born at a certain hospital in Idaho last year. A report like this always give me a hearty laugh (or several building in succession), but it also hurts my tender heart a bit considering the future of these unfortunate souls, given atrocious names without their consent, is not a joke. And it hurts my brain to ponder the mental capacity and selfish motives from which such names were spawned. Come to think of it, my eyes probably hurt the most, though, from attempting to phonetically sound out names like Taicyr, Kenideigh, and Adicyne.

The divergent trend I predict for the future is probably already occuring. There will continue to be parents who insist on standing out, eventually forced to mutilate the sacred gift of a name even further until the only remaining prospects resemble un-pronouncable groupings of letters drawn from a hat. "Hello, uh, Ialeuskj?" "No no no. It's pronounced Jack." Riiiiight.

We're already seeing the influx of "vintage" names returning, the likes of Rose, Pearl, Henry, and Afton (yep, even my own grandmother's name). After a while, parents who want to make a real statement about their baby's individuality will start choosing names from Generation X: the ones so overused they all but disappeared from new birth records, a phenomenon which will eventually allow them to be "cool" again one day. When I'm fifty there will probably be lots of new little Jessicas, Madisons, and Taylors. Of course, the question remains whether agreeably old-fashioned names like Mavis, Gerard, and Myrtle will make a comeback one day.

My daughter's name is Madelyn. Does the Y in her name place me among the ranks of baby-namers to be ridiculed? First, consider the facts: My husband and I both had an affinity toward the name Madeline, (pronounced as it rhymes with "inn" not "ine") long before we were expecting a child. We met with a financial advisor once, and I was struck with the name on her business card: Madelyn Stasko. I had never seen that spelling of an already favorite name, and loved how it assured correct pronunciation of the easily mistakable--although more typical--spelling. This woman was probably in her fifties, so was not a product of a recent naming fad. Throughout my pregnancy several years after meeting Ms. Stasko, the name Madelyn remained on our short list until the very end (obviously), but I did a lot of searching for the right name. My primary concern with Madelyn was that it had recently spiked in popularity, and I didn't wish the fate of ever-present last initial on my daughter as I had growing up. But it came down to a gut feeling about what was right. We did not intentionally name our daughter after the random financial advisor with whom we haven't spoken in years, it was simply the first time I had ever encountered that phonetically correct spelling. Since my father, Bryce, is also a financial advisor, perhaps our Madelyn Bryce will grow up being a wise investor.

My own name is very standard. I've always felt it was too boring, in fact. As a Barbie-doll playing child, my favorite part of the whole make-believe experience was selecting my Barbie's name-of-the-day. A favorite, which I gleaned from some sci-fi book, was Tanda. Awesome. But even a totally normal name like Kristen gets misspelled and mispronounced all the time. Kristin is of course the most common spelling error, but I also get these variations on spelling and pronunciation: Christen, Kirsten, Christin, Christine, Kierstin, Christian, Kristan, and more.

Now, having only heard my name spoken aloud, one is left to venture a guess at the spelling. I have had to spell my name over the phone and to receptionists all my life, and it isn't even a weird name. There are multiple acceptable spellings of even the most seemingly basic of names, like Sara(h), or Bridget(te). Of course you start going down the Saeruh and Bryjit routes and I'm no longer on board. But truly, I've never felt that the need to spell my name for people was any huge burden, and I hope that my daughter will agree. A little twist on an old favorite is nothing I get too worked up about.

What I do find slightly disrespectful is when people can see my name written clearly, and still misspell it. My email signature is clearly embedded in every message. My Facebook profile makes no mistake of the name by which I am known. Yet people reply directly to my messages with 'Hey Kristin.' Being intimately familiar with this little irritation, I make a concerted effort to get people's names right. I feel that if the letters are right there in front of you, the courteous thing to do is take an extra moment to ensure accuracy.

I feel more strongly that names ought to easily be pronounced correctly by sight-reading than that they ought to conform to some specific spelling rules. I met a new friend the other day whose name is Alyssa. Her parents specifically named her after the Alyssum flower, but for a reason which evades me insist that her name is pronounced Uh-LEE-suh. I would typically spell that Elisa or Alisa. Any first crack at Alyssa will be pronounced Uh-LISS-uh. Am I right? At least she could laugh about it.

As a general rule (which always have exceptions), names should include only necessary letters. Huntter and Tyhler are not appropriate exceptions. Maybe a helpful hint for parents-to-be is to imagine your child's name typed in Copperplate Gothic across the top of a fine linen-paper resume.
See? It really works to weed out the names that will never have a chance of being taken seriously. Those examples come straight from The List (actually Rowdy was from the 2007 list, but 2008's Tyken Raylee has a twin sister named Tylenn Braylee. I'm sobbing for them as I type this). I'm also sobbing for little Xoie (yep, that's like Zoey for all us lame people). Do your eyes hurt yet?

In summary, I like unique names, and don't even mind unique spellings within limits. But babies grow into children with insensitive peers, and children grow into adults who may want to command respect. Names like Brinley Sue and Chasitie aren't going to help. One conjures image of a redneck, the other a prostitute. And I just don't know what people will think of when they meet Taggart and Zaylee. Just go read the whole post so I can quit listing examples. There are too many great ones, I can't help it!

1 comment:

Bridget said...

Ah, so much to say. The twins' names Tylenn Braylee and whatever were so ugly to me. SO UGLY.

I agree with you about having to spell your name out loud or people misspelling it even when it's right there in front of them. I get emails all the time that say "Bridgett."

When I worked at a translation company a while ago, our Polish translator in Warsaw was named Magdalena. Like you, we didn't name our daughter after her, but it was what got the name on the radar in the first place.

I'm so glad to have a right-thinking friend like you.


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