Bad Manners and Bad Names

My old friend Randy has mentioned, in a post called Aaden. Adan, Aden etc. that he recently got some unwanted, unfriendly comments on a blog entry he posted over two years ago, Bad Baby Names. Randy was caught commenting on people who bestow unique and precious names on their unborn offspring.

He might have expected that someone who likes those names, and whose ideas about civil discourse are shaped by the modern media might come back with the usual combination of irrelevant arguments (why don’t you write about something different, trash-talking comments (come here and tell me Ocean is a stupid name) and outright insults (kiss my fat pregnant ass). It Springer on the Internet
Randy has a point about the repercussions of names that attract attention to the child – the attention is not going to be positive. The child may be punished for parental pretension, or just for the hell of it. Children are shamelessly conventional and tribal. Children are not interested in the aesthetic aspirations of mom and dad, and an odd name is going to be the occasion of teasing and emotional grief, along with many other things. Any immigrant or immigrant’s child can tell stories about that. However modern parents will be oblivious to their part in this, or the sheer cruelty of children, and will undoubtedly blame some other parents for raising a bully.
A child’s name is arbitrary. The older cultural convention of giving the child a common name, usually one that is shared with prior generations and the community, is an arbitary but direct practice – this is my kid and I have to give it a name, and hope the kid has a good life. There is no pretense that the kid is going to be a celebrity or needs a name to distinguish herself. The newer practices reflect a certain amount of mimicry of the publicized antics of the celebrity class, and the adoption of assumptions about personal identity and personality. Parents who chose these special names think they are being unique and creative, but they are limited by their ideas of taste and beauty. Their taste runs into other people’s tastes, and then people get mad when they realize someone is laughing at them or calling them banal, vulgar or pretentious. Pretentious, moi, well …
Perhaps the greatest pretense is that giving the child a unique name reflects a desire that the child will become a strong and unique person. It seems to me to be an exercise in vanity and control by parents who celebrating the experience of parenthood more than the birth of a new person.
It might be wise to qualify Randy’s comments a little. People do their best, and there are many cultural influences that support modern naming practices. Randy’s arguments will frankly surprize and hurt a lot of people, who love and mean well for their kids, and who have a degree of confidence in their own knowledge and taste. How many people think about the power of culture and the media in shaping our ideas of truth and beauty? There are no rules for this, and I don’t think that people who chose these names are really different from other parents except that their ideas of taste and creativity seem to be shaped by different influences.


One response to “Bad Manners and Bad Names”

  1. Tony: Thanks for following up with an entry inspired by my post. One point in my defense: I was not surprised in the least that I received a some nasty responses, and in fact did expect to receive a few. Your additional observations and comments are worthwhile and valuable.
    – Randy

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