Anna, Anna, bo-Banna

20 05 2012

Banana-fanna-fo Fanna, me-my-mo Manna, Anna!  Who doesn’t like the name game?

Just as a preface, disclaimer, whatever:  not all of these names are ones I’ve seen personally (and I won’t tell you which are).  It’s a HIPAA thing, because even though I’m not giving y’all any last names or other identifying info, some of the unique or nearly unique names might possibly be interpreted as toeing that line.

I started out just doing a blip on this subject, but because I am mildly obsessed with names, their origins, and the culture behind them, I decided to turn it into a full post.  I got a snapshot into the state of baby-naming in this day and age during Ob/Gyn, but apparently this was only seen the tip of the crazy iceberg.  I used to think that names like Asia, Neveah, or pretty much any name containing punctuation marks were strange.

Oh my goodness, the names on some of these children.  Let’s be honest, everybody has heard of at least one name a parent gives a child that toes the line between cruel and insane; La-a (pronounced ‘Ladasha’) is a popular example.  These are stereotypically names given to African-American children and/or kids from a low socioeconomic background—one of my African-American friends once commented on this issue to me, saying “my people are embarrassing.”

I have heard of names like Agony, Demon, and Ariyan Nation from my various residents and attendings in the past several weeks.  Also in the mix were less ominous names, like Princess, His Majesty, Desire (in all of it’s various spellings), and Milove/Mijoy.  Some names—like Lyrica—can possibly only be truly appreciated by those in the healthcare professions.  Again, most of these are names I’ve heard of and never seen, but those who have shared them swear up and down that they aren’t making them up.  Who knows?

These are just the names I’ve heard of (and occasionally seen) during my time in pediatrics.  I’ve also learned from my preceptors that, more often than not, and certainly regardless of the potential confidentiality violation, quite a few pediatricians “don’t” keep lists of the worst first names they’ve encountered.  More that I’ve heard of through family and friends include the following: Jessiejames, Nemesis, and Genocide.

Almost every one of these unusual names, have belonged to African American children.  Call it a stereotype, but there is truth to the generalization that African American mothers are much more likely to name their children something that is unique or nearly unique.  I looked into this a bit, and found out that, in the first half of the 20th century, there was a lot of overlap between the names of black and white children.  Around the time of the Black Power movement, names in America between blacks and whites started to deviate more, and African-American names became both more distinctive and more Islamic in origin.  I found this interesting.

They actually talk about the quest in some cultures for unique names—including the 228 spelling variations for kids actually named ‘Unique’—in the book Freakonomics (just for funsies, the 4 examples listed were Unique, Uneque, Uneek, and Uneqqee).  The author suggests that naming a child can be “the one, single, ominous decision that can most shape a child’s future.”  However, further research concluded that the names themselves aren’t a self-fulfilling prophecy of poor behavior or anything like that.  The issue isn’t that the kid’s name is Princess or His Majesty, it’s that they grow up in an environment where people give their kids such names.  Community, education, and home environment matter quite a lot more in actual life outcomes than the name of the child, according to Freakonomics.

The conclusion, really, is that names largely determine how children will be perceived.  Example: my cousin Monique (who is, in fact, white) has said that almost everyone she encounters thinks she is African-American prior to meeting her.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but the fact that the preconception is so pervasive is probably frustrating.  I can understand that.   So when you do something like name your kid Agony or Demon, there’s no guarantee he or she will have behavioral issues or won’t be successful in life.  They will, however, almost certainly be taunted, teased, and tormented to within an inch of their wits’ ends.

On the flip side of the coin, mainstream opinion shouldn’t necessarily stop a parent from naming their kid something that means a lot to them.  I had a young Yemeni couple in Ob/Gyn whom I befriended during their course in the hospital driven nearly to torment by the task of naming their child.  Their struggle was a cultural one—they had really wanted to name their child something traditional that meant a lot to them, but didn’t want to give him a name that would be too difficult for his American classmates to say.  They were even considering calling him Ali for the simplicity of it.

The issue of culture is a fine line to walk.

Something to consider: in one British study, 20% of parents said they wished they’d chosen a name that was easier to spell, and a whopping 10% said they thought their kid’s name was clever at the time, but that the novelty had worn off (a thought likely plaguing parents of Neveahs everywhere).

Thankfully, I’ve never heard of these names being attached to an actual child.  A classmate did tell me, however, that he met baby Braxton during his Ob rotation (named after Braxton-Hicks contractions).  I guess Hicks just doesn’t sound as cool.

Some baby naming books are suggesting these days that, to add some unique flare without getting your kid beat up on the playground, parents should slightly alter the spellings of common names.  To a certain extent, I have no problem with this.  My parents did this when they granted me an uncommon spelling of an extremely common name.

Take the name Lauren, for example. I like this name, I think it sounds quite pretty and in fact had several friends named Lauren growing up.  I remember seeing this name spelled Loren and Lauryn, but when I looked up variations, these are the spellings that I found:  Laren, Larren, Laryn, Larynn, Larrynn, Laurin, Lauron, Lauryn, Laurynn, Loren, Lorin, Loryn, Lorren, Lorrin, Lorron, Lorryn, Lorrynn, Lowrynn, L’Wren.  No, I didn’t make any of this up.

Naming a child, parents have to take into consideration both how the name sounds and how it is spelled—that is to say, how it looks on paper.  There are some names that I personally like the sound of, but don’t like any of the spellings (Like Michaela/McKayla/Makaila).  But whether parents spell their daughter’s name Katherine or Catherine or Kathryn or Catherin or Kahtherynne, the kid’s name will sound exactly the same, it may just be more difficult to spell or pronounce.  This gets frustrating by…let’s see…the time the kid starts school.  It’s discombobulating as a child, while you’re learning to read and write, when the teacher asks “are you sure that’s how you spell your name?”  I would know.  I gave up caring whether people misspell my first name unless it’s for something that actually matters, like my driver’s license or student loan paperwork.

In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have corrected the loan paperwork 😉

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4 responses

21 05 2012
Anonymous

note to future parents,
if you name your child “Livia” have the decency to not act surprised and outraged when a new teacher accidentally sends home a note with “Olivia” instead.

23 05 2012
Anna

I am a NICU nurse and bad names are my NUMBER ONE pet peeve. I’ve taken care of an Adonis, Cama’rhyah, Meleessia (pronounced Melissa…obviously?), and our unit has seen kids named Jurrnee (Journey?) and Damya (Dah-maya), and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Yeeeeeeah.

Also, my mom (a postpartum nurse for 34 years) still swears up and down (with confirmation from people she used to work with) that they had a kid named Claudius Canap Zap Thap Thenia.

30 05 2012
crunchym0m

I remember a girl in elementary school who’s name was iona popalutsky (Likely not the correct spelling as I’m just remembering how it sounded), being called “I wanna poop a lot see”

31 05 2012
Annette

My youngest’s middle name is spelled the way it is because the different spellings had different meanings (even though pronounced the same, they had different origins) – we chose the one that meant “Beloved”.

Re: the family trying to give their son a name his school mates could pronounce, my kids befriended a neighbor from a different ethnic background. It was well over a year, when I actually saw him write his name down, that we discovered that they had been calling him something completely wrong. He didn’t find it worth correcting them, actually arguing against it – and to this day, they call him the wrong name, and he happily answers. That bothers me some, because I feel names are important, part of our identity…but not worth fighting if the kid disagrees.

So, what do you think?

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