Friday, April 18, 2014

Owning Your Baby

This post is actually about names: what to name the baby, what to name your characters when you write fiction. We all know the rules about naming fictional characters, how the character's age will influence the character's name, how you can look up the Social Security name frequency charts to match a name with the decade when your character was born. As I was wandering through Facebook this morning I was horrified to come upon a site that claimed to list twenty girls' names that were so drearily out of date that they were dead. Stone dead. No one of interest would ever bear these names* again, said the snarky knowing ones.

Some of the names they list come down to us from renaissance times. Barbara? Barbara is a dead name? Instead of that, you should name your daughter Meliffany, I suppose. To my way of thinking, current fashion should not drive what you name an actual baby. It's all very well for fictional characters, but your flesh-and-blood daughter's name should be a name that rings down the ages, not the nom du jour.

The thing is, naming the baby is how you begin to claim this child as your own. If you let the knowing ones of the internet select a name for your baby, even me, you have taken the first step in handing the poor little thing over to the evils of Modern Culture. Drugs. Videogames. Texting while driving. When I was a bookkeeper for the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, shepherds of the delinquent and abandoned, I couldn't help noticing that three-quarters of the children on the DYFS rolls had funny names. Let that be a lesson to you.

When I was a little girl, and that was quite a while ago, our dolls came to us nameless. We worked out our name-whimsey on the dolls, so that by the time we had real babies we had better sense about naming them. Not like modern women, whose dolls were all pre-named by the people at Mattel.

If you want your child to grow to be a dignified and respectable human being you have a very limited range of choices when it comes to names. Don't let anyone tell you different. You can name the baby after a relative, a beloved friend, or an admired public figure. (Not Adolph Hitler.) If you're Jewish, you can name the baby after a relative who is dead. If you're Christian, you can name the baby after a saint. If your people came from the old country—Poland, Ireland, Kenya—you can name the baby something aggressively nationalistic, but you run the risk that no one here will be able to spell or pronounce it. If you're Southern, you can name the baby, male or female, with the last name of someone in the family. That's it. Those are your choices.

You may not name your little boy Sue.

© 2014 Kate Gallison

*Blanche, Myrtle, Ethel, Barbara, Mildred, Agatha, Phyllis, Beatrice, Marge, Ruth, Gretchen, Gertrude, Martha, Opal, Rose, Eleanor, Marlene, Gladys, Josephine, Ilene

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