Naming/How to name a child/Cautions
Certain practices are not categorically frowned upon, but can be problematic and warrant care: they create strong associations, which is often the intention, and inevitably the effect.
- Repeating the father’s name
- This (chiefly American) practice may smack of dynastic pretensions, and can be impersonal: the child is strongly identified with their family and father, not so much as an individual. Two techniques are to repeat the first name but change the middle name or names, as in Richard J. Daley (father) and Richard M. Daley (son), or to repeat the name exactly, and append “Junior” or “III, IV”.
- Naming a child “Mickey” (Mouse) or “Elvis” (Presley) evokes a number of spurious associations with their name.
- Holy names
- The most prominent form of naming a child after someone is naming them after a god, technically called “theophory”; similar is naming after prominent holy figures. In some societies this is very common: naming sons after the prophet Muhammad is very common in Muslim societies, while “Jesus” is not uncommon in Spanish-speaking Catholic countries. By contrast, “Jesus” is rarely used as a name in English-speaking societies, and “Mary” was not used until about 1300. Naming after a god or religious figure can be seen as the height of respect, or the height of arrogance, and people with theophoric (or otherwise respected) names often go by a different name.
- Name of a friend or a friend’s family member
- Using the name of a friend or a member of a friend’s family (a child, or an older relative) can be taken as flattering, or can cause offense, due to the proprietary feelings people have for their names. It is nonetheless generally acceptable, and unlikely to cause confusion–if both are present together, one is likely to be called “Big X” and the other “Little X”. Intentionally naming a child the same as a friend’s child of the same age (if both are expected at similar times) is more likely to cause friction and confusion, and should be considered carefully–other than any offense, similar considerations apply as to common names, and if the two children are frequently together, they will likely go by last names or nicknames.
- Names in English generally do not have transparent meanings. Thus the meaning of a name is effectively secret, and is not the social effect. For instance, “Apurva” means “unprecedented”, “unique”, but the social effect among English-speakers is that it is an Indian name. One should not presume that the meaning will come across, and should not place undue weight on it.
- Word names
- Conversely, because names that are a normal word are unusual in English, they attract attention, and create strong associations. These are largely flower names or virtue names for women: Rose, Lily, or Grace, Joy.
- Very common
- If one has a very common first name, one will likely be called by one’s family name or middle name, or some nickname, and downplays distinctiveness. This practice (and resulting effects) is less the case today than in the past: in early 19th century England and Wales, over 20% of babies were given the most common first name (John for men, Mary for women), while in the US today just over 1% of babies are given the most common first name.
- Unusual or unique
- If one has a name that others have never seen or heard before, whether because it is made up or is simply not common in a given society, it sticks out and will likely need to be spelled, or its pronunciation explained. This causes some hassle and emphasizes individuality or distinctiveness.
Examine the Initials
When selecting a name, pay attention to what the child’s initials will be, and make sure that if it spells something, it is innocuous. “Anna Serena Smith” will have obvious problems with her name throughout her life, as every “clever” cad she meets will tell her what her initials spell. She will know exactly what her initials spell early in life. Meanwhile, “Karen Irene Thornton” will suffer no such abuse, for even though her name spells a word, it is an innocuous one.
Similarly, one may consider future usernames, which for First M. Last are often of the form:
They may also be truncated, as in:
These are less obvious than initials, and less used by other people, but occasionally they form recognizable words, and in some contexts others may use one’s username, such as to address email or as a screen name. If one wishes to be cautious, one may check what a child’s usernames would be; if one wishes to include a hidden word, this is a subtler place to put one than initials.
- Michelle Tsai. "When Can Muslims Use the Name Mohammed?". http://www.slate.com/id/2179082/. Retrieved 2008-06-08.
- Emily Yoffe. "Dear Knocked Up and Bent Out of Shape". http://www.slate.com/id/2191846/. Retrieved 2008-06-08.
- Long-Term Trends in Personal Given Name Frequencies in England and Wales, by Douglas A. Galbi