Tim Bray writes about the found poetry of his kid’s kindergarten class list:
The names in my kid’s kindergarten class: Brennan, Edinah-Rose, Fionnuala, Gabriella, Isaiah, Isaiah, Jacob, Joseph, Hennessy, Michaela, Nicolas, Noah, Patrick, Ronan, Sam, Sean, Sophie, Sophie. That’s poetry of a kind, written in the language of parents’ dreams. Sitting down together to start the day, still unsmudged for a few quiet minutes, words can’t describe their beauty. Think you might be able to match ethnic groups with names? Forget it.
This is a delightful list, though surprisngly Anglo-Saxon and biblical for a class of Vancouver kids. Tim’s comment on ethnic groups reminded me of a pet peeve.
I am, in any number of ways, a relatively-conservative curmudgeon. One of those ways is the naming of children. I have no children, and have never meaningfully contributed to the naming of another child. Nonetheless, I have devised a few simple rules for safely naming your kids:
- Do not draw on an ethnic tradition that is not your own. This to me smacks of cultural imperialism and a kind of yearning for deeper roots. As a Canadian of many generations, I can sympathize with your lame, vanilla, Anglo-Saxon background. Tough luck.
- Do not devise a creative spelling for your child’s otherwise-ordinary name. All you’re doing is making yourself look flaky and cursing the kid with a lifetime of saying, “uh, no, with two i’s”.
- As a kind of corollary to #2, don’t use a normal-looking name but insist on an abnormal pronounciation. Unfortuntaly, the kid may do this on their own when they get to college.
- Do not manufacture a name. People have been naming children for thousands of years. All of human history has done a better job inventing names than you will. Buy a baby name book and pick one you like.
As I understand it, there are many, many occasions to be creative in the raising of your children. The naming of those children is not one of them. Tim’s list seems to adhere to all my rules. Fionnuala’s parents better have some Irish blood in them, though. You’d think I’d object to Hennessy (an Irish family name by origin, and a cognac), but it sounds to me like a last-name-as-first-name deal. I generally don’t object to these (they were a real trend in the nineties), as they tend to sound genuine and dignified. See also Mackenzie, Harrison, Stewart, etc.
I can feel the warmth of the flames of the world’s Brendi’s and Laquishita’s even now.