What’s in a name?
By Karen Ann Monsy
Friday, July 13, 2012

From the startling to the curious to the plain inspiring, our monikers are what identify us from the world’s Joes and Janes

It’s the one thing you’ll probably have to live with for the rest of your life — your name. (Well, okay, that and maybe annoying relatives as well.) But admit it: while some names make you smile, others make you want to reach for a child abuse hotline instead. So without awakening the Shakespearean dead, what is it about names and their variations? And does it really matter what our folks were thinking of when they finally signed on the dotted line to register our names?

A name has long been considered as the first mark of a person’s identity. But choosing one cannot be done on a whim. Rather, it requires careful consideration, says Bruce Lansky, publisher at Meadowbrook Press and #1 bestselling author of baby name books in North America. His observations of naming trends over the last few decades have made one thing clear: “People are messing up really well where names are concerned and what they are increasingly ending up with is communications confusion and spelling and pronunciation problems.”

The 71-year-old author, who has sold over 11 million copies of name books to date, lists several factors that deserve consideration when it comes down to decision time. Image matters, for one. “Names have stereotypes that trigger off associations,” explains Bruce. “Take Britney Spears, for instance. When she started off, she was really cute and so a lot of parents named their daughters Britney, picturing her in their minds.”

Khaleej TimesBut that was before Britney — the pop star, not the daughter — got involved in some outrageous public behaviour. The result, according to Bruce, was that that name — together with its 30 or 40 variations — pretty much went down the tube because “nobody wanted their kids to be associated with Spears” anymore. “I’ve noticed the same thing has been happening with Miley Cyrus over the last year too — but it’s not just associations with celebrities,” he quips. “Try naming a kid ‘Adolf’ here in America.” (Yes, we’re thinking short statures and funny mustachioed tyrants too.) The kid would probably get bullied right out of school.

Perhaps it’s because names are so potentially life-binding that some parents go out of their way to bestow ‘handles’ that are so left field, shunting traditional choices for ones no one may have even heard of before. Sharjah-based engineer Sheril Sam, 23, recalls a college friend whose name was Ralceme — pronounced Ral-se-mee and coined from the words ‘railway’ (where the dad worked) and ‘cement’ 
(the mum worked at Travancore Cements) — and whose sister was named Kelshiba, taken from (electronics corporation) Keltron and (Japanese electronics giant) Toshiba. Stranger stories exist, no doubt, 
but Sheril remembers the girls were “perfectly at ease” with their “unique” monikers, despite their unusual origins.

On the flip side, what do you do if every Tom, Dick and Harry is christened the same name at birth where you come from? Dubai-based Maria Cristina Panghulan Dela Cueva, 30, says she never uses her first name if she has a choice. Born in the Philippines to religious parents, she believes she may have been named after the famous Maria Cristina Falls — but more likely after custom. “There is a penchant among Filipino Christians to affix the name Maria (for the Virgin Mary) to almost every girl’s name. I don’t have siblings but if I did have more sisters, my mum says she would’ve affixed the name Maria to all of them. I always ask people to call me Cris or Cristina though,” she explains. “Every other girl back home is called Maria so why use it and suffer the consequences of such a common name?”

Cristina has just one request to new parents everywhere: “Do your kids a favour and don’t use outrageous spellings in their names,” she begs. “It gets pretty confusing, especially when it comes to legal documents. Life’s complicated enough as it is without having an extra alphabet in your name!”

Among other trends, Bruce Lansky says he’s also noticed a hike in the number of “gender-neutral” names. “I like the idea of clear gender identity,” he says, before pointing out that while it can be a positive for a woman’s name to sound like a boy’s, it doesn’t necessarily work vice versa. “That’s because boys are more likely to be teased about feminine names but girls with seemingly male names may create the impression that they’re stronger in character and can’t be pushed around so easily.”

Khaleej TimesNamed after her grandmother, Russian-born Evgenia Arushanova usually goes by the shorter name Jenia now but can relate to growing up with what was commonly viewed as a boy’s name in her country. “As a child, a lot of people thought I was a boy because I also had short hair,” says Evgenia. “It always used to tick me off.” Still, the Dubai-based project consultant insists she wouldn’t change her name now given the chance because it’s become her “identity”. She has, however, grown her hair out longer than necessary — just for good measure.

Twenty seven-year-old Beasley Idicula didn’t have it so easy though — and breathed a sigh of relief only once he’d completed the paperwork to officially change his name to Gladwin in 1995. “Beasley is a name commonly given to girls in India,” he explains. “As I grew up, I thought it might be better to change my name officially. So I did. There was no opposition from friends or family — they supported me completely.”

Be resourceful when it comes to picking names, urges Bruce Lansky, whose own name when he was younger was Samuel (Bruce was his middle name). “You could name your child after seasons, months, food or just pick a name out of a world atlas, such as a country, river or group of mountains. Use your imagination.”

Australian training manager India Smith, 29, has her mother to thank for her name — and no, it wasn’t in honour of the world’s largest democracy. Recalling the story behind her name, she says, “My mother was reading about the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana and noticed a pretty little flower girl called India Hicks. She fell in love with the name and said to my father: ‘Our first child will be called India.’ And, well, I was that child.”

Though her name has nothing to do with the country, India points out the original India Hicks’ did. “Her grandfather was Lord Mountbatten [the last Viceroy of India], in whose honour she was named. For me though, neither of my parents had even gone out of Australia at the time.”

It was only fitting, therefore, that she visit her country namesake — something she did during the Delhi Commonwealth Games last year, though not without raising a few eyebrows. “The comments and looks started right from Immigration,” she remembers, with a laugh. “The officials would look from my passport to my face and back again, before asking incredulously, ‘Really?’ That used to set my husband off into a right giggle.”

For Aji and Jinsy Abraham, the inspiration for their four-year-old daughter’s name — Faith — came from their circumstances. “In the initial years of our marriage, we weren’t really serious about having a kid,” says Jinsy. “But then later, doctors told us there was only a very rare chance that we might have a child… I’d been going through a lot of medication for a previous problem, so this was another nightmare for me. We prayed hard and I, especially, was very stubborn in my prayers in asking for a child — one without treatment.” Doctors, therefore, were amazed when the couple found out in 2007 — after five years of marriage — that they were indeed expecting. To everyone who heard it, especially the docs, it was nothing short of a “miracle”.

“Having faith means 
being sure of something you can only hope for and certain of what you can’t see,” puts in Aji. “That’s how we decided from the beginning that if the baby were a girl, Faith would be her name.” Is he not worried about the possibility she may not ‘live up’ to the name someday? “Nope,” he returns, confidently. “I have faith she’s going to be okay.”

Naming children involves decisions that have much riding on it — which is perhaps why so many people make it their business to offer expectant parents free ‘advice’ as to what they ought to name their child — and family members may well be the biggest perpetrators of this form of parental pressure. The best route? Keep mum. Be open to suggestions but let your decision be your own and name your child what you believe best for him/her.

Of course, you may still have people like Barnaby Marmaduke, who set a Guinness world record last year for officially changing his name to (cue deep breath, people) Barnaby Marmaduke Aloysius Benjy Cobweb Dartagnan Egbert Felix Gaspar Humbert Ignatius Jayden Kasper Leroy Maximilian Neddy Obiajulu Pepin Quilliam Rosencrantz Sexton Teddy Upwood Vivatma Wayland Xylon Yardley Zachary Usansky — simply because he “loved words and old traditional names”. Apart from owning a passport that would be most interesting to see, he’s a living reminder that the rules of the name game can always be subject to change.

The idea — unless you want the child to hold his/her apparently unforgivable name against you forever — is to choose wisely and carefully in the end. It’s what you have nine months for.

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