Something came to a head recently that’s been bugging me for a long time: we (Westerners, especially those in the United States) need to get a lot more creative with our names.
Recently one of my employees pointed out the ridiculousness of creepy old men who demand to be on a first name basis with the people who work the front counter. In terms of accountability or identification, a first name means next to nothing. At my company alone, if you were helped by “Jessica” that could be Jessica in Cargo, Jessica in Fuels, Jessica in Accounting, or Jessica in Parts & Acquisitions.
This is a problem.
I definitely don’t recommend demanding to know the name of the person helping you. It’s creepy, and it brands you as someone who’ll probably try to look the employee up outside of work and harass them. But the fact remains that we need to stop recycling the same names over and over. It’s gotten truly ridiculous.
So, back to my work example. Say you spoke to Chris. Was that Chris in Accounts Payable, Chris in IT, Chris in Cargo, or Chris the part-time fuel truck driver? Or perhaps it was one of several delivery people named Chris who deliver parts to our location?
We also have two Andrews in Cargo, one in Fuels, one who’s a pilot, and one in Accounting. And we have a similar problem with Richards, Matts, Susans, and Johns.
When I was in school, it was commonplace to append kids’ last initial to their first name. Was that Sarah H or Sarah M? Did you hear about Luke W? He and Jennifer B both got suspended! Crazy, right? And there were so many Amandas, they could have formed their own club.
What do people have against giving their kids names that won’t get lost in the crowd? (And no, I don’t mean names that are sure to be the object of ridicule.)
Taking a common name and misspelling it is not the right way to tackle the issue. You’ve just condemned poor Jacen or Kaytlin to a lifetime of having their name misspelled by well-intentioned people. Who’s going to expect those names not to be spelled the way they sound?
In the same vein, don’t take a pre-existing name and assign it a new pronunciation unless you want to ensure your offspring’s name will always be mispronounced. Case in point: the woman who named her son Rowan. It’s a good name, it isn’t common, and it’s pronounced exactly the way it’s spelled. “It’s RO-han!!” she shouted, spittle flying.
If you wanted that pronunciation, why didn’t you just spell it Rohan? Did you want your kid to suffer? Because he’s going to have explain that pronunciation over and over and over for the rest of his life.
I have a friend named Rhiannon. It’s a beautiful, unique name with some excellent history. She’s named after a Welsh/Celtic goddess who gathered up souls and carried them off to the next life. She could speak to birds, and was commonly attended by several ravens.
Rhiannon’s also an original, in that she’s never met or heard of anyone her age or older with her name. There are quite a few younger ones; she refers to them as the knockoffs. We suspect that as the name got picked up by fantasy authors, parents started swiping it for their kids.
A surprising number of people ask if she’s named after Rihanna the pop star– which is an endless source of entertainment, as it’s not spelled the same or pronounced the same, and Rihanna the singer is about a decade and a half younger. Time travel, anyone?
Why does everyone assume a unique name must have been stolen from somewhere, rather than being a part of someone’s heritage? (Rhiannon’s ancestors came from Ireland and Wales, so the name and its history are important to her and her mother.) Why do we swipe other people’s names, instead of coming up with unique ones of our own?
I wasn’t joking about people swiping popular fantasy names either. There’s been a veritable flood of little Eowyns lately; once they reach school age they can all be identified by their last initial just like the Christophers, Jasons, Stacys and Amandas I grew up with. Katniss was trending while The Hunger Games movies were big– because absolutely nothing could possibly go wrong with a name that conveniently rhymes with ‘cat piss.’
Names matter. They’re with us from birth to death, and they influence our self-image as well as the way others see us. Why make your child just another one of many, or tie them to a dated pop culture reference? And why do most attempts to be unique –Apple, Northwest, Shithede and Oranjello, Norbert Knodel– all seem to be in the vein of “dad was drunk and thought this was funny, and then someone let him fill out the birth certificate while mom was sleeping”?
Consider this a plea from future generations: stop condemning your children to a lifetime of obscurity or ridicule. Think outside the box. The world needs more good original names, and fewer that are just #1,272,584 of 1,875,902.
Sincerely, someone who is sick of seeing the same several hundred names endlessly recycled among millions of people.