A short guide to baby names


The importance of being anonymous

By Rajneesh Narula

(another in my occasional essay series)


One of the great constants of life seems to be sex. My friends seem to reside at the extremes: Either too much or none at all. I do not intend to say much about the latter category.  I have no desire to procrastinate over the causes of celibacy, except to comment on its overwhelming success as a method of birth control.


And here, for once, I have managed to get to the main point in less than 50 words. Verily, today my pen darts to the heart of the matter in the merest blink of a literary eye. For it seems to be an annoying tendency for those who have too much sex to give birth to screaming tots at some point or another (and thereafter to join the second group, but that’s another story). My razor-sharp mind somehow jumps to the hasty conclusion that insomniac babies, little squeezy toys underfoot, early dinners, nappy changes, endless drooling and lots of pointless cooing all indicate a tendency to rabbit-like copulatory habits.


I should of course highlight that I do not begrudge my compadres their masochistic rituals. If they desire 18 years of thankless toiling to preserve their genetic code, so be it. I shall be as a pillar of strength, providing words of consolation and opportunities to vent their spleen of parental anguish when occasion demands. I experience no discomfort as I watch them squander their energy towards their goal, and even partake in sporadic coo-ing and provide baby-sitting services. There are considerable advantages of being the eccentric uncle.


My Samson-like qualities aside, My Solomon-esque perception has also picked up on the fact that I am invariably drawn into conversations about appropriate labels for their offspring. So here is a guide for expecting proud parents.


Oscar Wilde wrote a whole play (‘The importance of being earnest’ for the philistines amongst you) on the crucial significance of having been appropriately named. But I have my doubts. Bear with me dear reader, as I explain. The one tried and true system is to recycle names. Although its common among the hoi polloi, especially in the west, these names are so generic it doesn’t matter. How many Bob’s and John’s can you fit into a Volkswagen? Of course, it’s a different matter in the case of the rich and the royal, as long as you remember to use numbers– Bill Gates III, Henry VIII, John Paul II. Tried and true, reliable oldies, they set up the child – and people around – for a specific hereditary job. The number says, ‘this child shares the famous ancestor’s genes, and will probably be equally rich and powerful’.


Of course, not everyone has the advantage of inherited wealth and power. Without the cash and the status, it reflects a singular lack of imagination. What’s the point of being John Smith XII? By far the worst offenders are parents who foist their frustrated dreams on their offspring. These are the people who go around picking excruciatingly pretentious names for their children. I am saddled with a name that translates into ‘emperor of emperors’, a matter of great personal woe. Its very hard to pretend to be a socialist so designated. Other names are temporarily really quite cool– there is a wealth of Italian girls born in the late 1960s named Roberta, after a popular song at the time. I went to school with a boy named Ian Fleming, but that doesn’t ring any bells anymore.  I have been reliably informed of a Scottish child named Pocohantas. But that’s OK, it satisfied the romantic whims of the parents. The problem with famous names is that their original owners sometimes tend to become infamous. Am I the only one to notice a rapid Post-War decline in the use of Adolf and Benito as first names? 


Indeed, the unreasonable expectations of parents and can be a huge handicap. I know of someone who named his daughter ‘Curie’. Good intentions aside, imagine the poor child’s formative years being referred to as a popular Indian dish. Kids at school can be so cruel.  I do not know hat happened to Curie, but I can see the monicker being something of a handicap even if she did make it into chemistry. More would be expected of her than if she were called Priya.


I think the Native American tendency of pragmatic names is a pretty good idea. ‘Dances-with-Wolves’ – accurate, descriptive and succinct. However, I once came across a woman named ‘Too-Plump-To-Run’. Although she is in fact gorgeous (not to mention a intelligent ad funny), imagine how many men would refuse a blind date with her just because of her name.


The point here is that picking a suitable name for a child when it’s a screaming whiny little creature consisting of multiple limbs and uncontrollable orifices has considerable constraints. There is no telling what the child will look like, what’s going to be out of fashion, what he or she will do for a living.


So first recommendation. Pick a name that’s easy to remember and generic. May I recommend the days of the week (Friday, Sunday, Monday)? What about months (Augusta, May, Julie)? Botany – Petunia (groan), Rose, Willow, Jasmine? Places,- York, Brooklyn, Africa, India? However, unless your child is genetically predisposed to being a born-again Christian, may I suggest laying off names such as Prudence, Chastity, Mercy, Ignatius, Benedict? Or simply have a good laugh? Why cant parents have a little fun? Like the urban legend about the twins named by their uncle – Denise and DeNephew? There is supposedly a Cart family which plumped for Orson as a suitable forename for the apple of their eye. I am acquainted with at least one person named ‘Pink Sunset’. However, Its not so important to pick the right name, as to not pick the wrong name. Look at poor Alice Cooper. Its his parents’ fault that he ended up playing heavy metal.


Remember parents, that children grow up. Punjabi’s have a lot to answer for. Girls are often named ‘Pinky’, ‘Baby’. ‘Dimpy’, ‘Money’, ‘Honey’ (these are all actual names of my cousins, most of whom are no longer, cute, small and attractive).


Parents, may I also recommend you do a little research. Different names have different meanings in different places. I went to school with a number of boys who were named Shittu, a particularly unfortunate experience if they ever moved to the US. Likewise Saddam. A name that provokes hoots of laughter in Northern Nigeria is Nash, an indelicate word used for a person’s posterior. I do not see Wolfgang or Mohammed making it big in Israel.


And Please, Please, Please, think of the consequences. If you happen to be named Scrumptious, avoid naming your daughter Truly. Your ancestral calling card reads Bond? Give James a miss. If you are already saddled with Butts as a last name, steer away from Seymore. I knew a kid way back when who was named Maigret, a perfectly acceptable name in certain parts, but the infant in question was rather puny and slightly effeminate, so he had to live with being called Margaret. I understand he eventually took holy orders and now lives in a monastery.


So my advice is to have some fun and call your child Og. Easy to remember, utterly unforgettable. Its Unisex too, in case the kid turns out to be a transvestite and wishes to seek surgical change later in life. And no one will ever ask “how do you pronounce that?” Or better still, pick a couple of initials, let the kid pick its own name when it turns 18.


The point here is that Great Names are like Great Expectations. They set you up to expect a person that fits the name. This is why singers, actors and performers change their name to suit their new persona. I mean, take ‘Rock Hudson’. Perfect name for the man. Can you see anyone else but Madonna as Madonna? The Artist Formerly Known As Prince? Do you really think I can pull of being called Ben Hur Maximus?