The Selfless Gift of a Simple Name

“Anne Shirley,” reluctantly faltered forth the owner of that name, “but, oh, please do call me Cordelia……. Anne is such an unromantic name.”

“Unromantic fiddlesticks!” said the unsympathetic Marilla. “Anne is a real good plain sensible name. You’ve no need to be ashamed of it.” –L.M. Montgomery Anne of Green Gables

Words can make you laugh and they can make you cry. They can stroke your ego and make you feel puffed up. Or they can smack you around.  They can reach out across the open space- of a single moment- like fists against a bare body.  A few choice words can suck all of the fun out of a perfectly sunshine-y day.  They can shatter your easy contentment- and bring the mood in a room full of happy people right on down to the ground.  Words can dissect you, pick you apart, define you and then put you in a neat little box.

And what is a name– but a word?  Our first name is usually a single word that almost everyone we meet will use to address us. Certainly, reflecting on the power of words can add some pressure to the question-how and what do we name our children?

“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Michael Jackson had two sons.  They both have formal names but casually he called one Prince and the other one Blanket. You heard me- Blanket. I can imagine the boy named Blanket thinking, to himself, as a teen:  “My brother is called Prince and I….I am a…..a…… ‘blanket’….are you f-ing kidding me…”

I can also imagine Blanket several years farther down the road- perhaps he goes to college in Colorado where marijuana is legal.  He inhales a little puff and then leans back and pulls his soft blanket up over himself.  Suddenly he realizes: “blankets are AH-MAY-ZING.  They are the most amazing thing EVER. They are warm and soft and cozy.  They make you feel snuggled up, secure and happy.  Almost everyone I know from almost every background has enjoyed the simple pleasure of a blanket but what has a Prince ever done for me?  Nothing. What is a royal name but a pretentious nod to a bygone era?  Being called Blanket is SO MUCH BETTER than being called Prince.”

Okay. I jest.  While I am a fan of simple and straightforward names- I am not advocating that anyone name their kid blanket.  Even as a nickname.  That is just- not okay.  But- neither is Prince.  Unless, you are the truly and completely awesome pop legend that is The Artist Formerly Known as Prince and you anoint yourself as such.  Otherwise, Prince is just too weighted- too defining.

Even as I sing the praises of the simple name, I really do think all sorts of names are great.  And there are plenty of very unique names or hard to say names that I think are wonderful.  I am not an old school traditionalist about names.

The names that I think get tricky and problematic are the names that define the child in too specific terms and/or that don’t allow for growth.  A person has to carry their name through all stages of life and what if the name you give them is in direct contrast with who they actually are or how they feel inside.

A friend of a friend, who lives in Europe, named her daughter Bella.  It is a nice sounding name. It is easy to say. Translating it to English from Italian- it is the same as naming your daughter “Pretty.” I can imagine Bella’s parents with their hands on the mother’s full belly thinking about their soon to be born, perfect, sweet, pretty little girl.  I am sure they meant well.  Here is the problem- while their girl is wonderful in many ways she is not, in fact, pretty.

Unfortunately, other children- many of whom are multilingual (this is Europe after all) and whose cruelty knows no bounds- started calling her Fea, meaning ugly in Spanish.   Now she gets addressed as Ugly- every day.  Might she be teased if her name was Anne instead of Pretty? Absolutely.  Would she be teased in such a constant and searing way? I doubt it.

That is what I call an accidental but epic parenting fail. Welcome to parenthood!  Congratulations! You messed up right out of the gate!

When you are deciding on a name for your child I think you should ask yourself a couple of questions.  One of which is- why?  Why THIS name? Is the name you have chosen a reflection of YOUR personal wish fulfillment? As in- I want my little girl to be pretty. Are you trying to craft your new little person’s persona before they have even given you the first glimpse of their itty bitty little bodies?

Basically, is the name you have chosen a reflection of your own ego or pride?   If after being brutally honest you conclude that your love for a particular name is not about all about YOU but about THEM- then go for it.  But if you realize, “actually, it is ALL ABOUT ME.” Then maybe you should reconsider.

And if you are reconsidering- I would like to suggest something simple and straight forward.  It doesn’t have to be ubiquitous.  There are a lot of simple straight forward names that won’t be taken by every kid in your child’s class.   A name that doesn’t predefine or “image craft” gives a child freedom. They can be anything. Do anything. The possibilities are limitless.

“There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Some may think parents of sensibly or simply names children are uninventive or lazy, and on occasion that may be true- but I think most parents of simply named kids are acting selflessly in honor of their child.  The name they choose is not about them.  It is about their baby.  That little person whose personality- THEY DO NOT YET KNOW.  As far as they are concerned, “nobody puts baby in a corner.”

But if you call me Anne please call me Anne spelled with an E.”

“What difference does it make how it’s spelled?” asked Marilla with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot.

“Oh, it makes SUCH a difference. It LOOKS so much nicer. When you hear a name pronounced can’t you always see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can; and A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished. If you’ll only call me Anne spelled with an E I shall try to reconcile myself to not being called Cordelia.” -L.M. Montgomery Anne of Green Gables

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