Baby names – seldom easy, sometimes controversial

Word Cloud showing the top 100 baby names for boys and girls in England and Wales in 2011. Graphic: UK Office for National Statistics

Word Cloud showing the top 100 baby names for boys and girls in England and Wales in 2011. Graphic: UK Office for National Statistics

Most parents put serious thought into what to name their new baby. But best intensions are no guarantee there won’t be problems or regrets.

As a girl I found “Lucy” old-fashioned and annoying. I was named for a much-loved relative. But the inevitable cultural associations thrust my way were Lucille Ball from “I Love Lucy”, Lucy van Pelt from “Peanuts” and the Beatles hit “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. Ouch, groan and sigh!

I hated “I Love Lucy”. I thought she was an idiot. Of course, Lucille Ball was a comedic genius and a trailblazer for women in television. But I am not a fan of slapstick, so that was lost on me. Thanks to her, I was constantly told – not asked but told – that my full name must be Lucille, because Lucy was just a nickname.

I also got asked if  I spell my name like LBJ’s daughter, with an “i” instead of a “y”? As for the cast of Peanuts, Lucy van Pelt was plain nasty. And the song? Sure, the tune was great, but I did not endorse the use of LSD or appreciate that association.

There were a few happier examples. Lucy pretty much provided the moral center in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, and appears as an upstanding character in some of the other Narnia titles. (Finally! Someone to make the name reputable!)

Perhaps because of the movie revival of Narnia books, that name is on a minor upswing, according to a U.S. Social Security chart, Lucy is #62 for girls in 2012. (You can try looking up your name too, and see what names are popular now, or in past years.)

Meanwhile I saw the name “Flanders” on a mail box recently and felt a rush of pity for those who have heard nothing but “Ned Flanders” since the Simpsons hit pop culture.

This week a news item is making the rounds. According to WBIR-TV in Newport, Tenn., Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew changed the name of a 7-month-old boy to Martin because the baby’s given name, “Messiah” could cause offense. Considering the judge had not been asked to weigh in on the first name, and considering the flaws in her reasoning you can imagine the ensuing ridicule. (She reportedly reasoned it’s a title only earned by Jesus Christ. By that fuzzy logic, countless people named Jesus and Mohammed would have the change their names too.) The baby’s mother reportedly plans to appeal that decision.

Of course, there are plenty of countries with rules about names. This BBC article looked at the topic this past January, when a 15-year-old in Iceland won the right to keep her non-standard name, as detailed in “Who, What, why: Why do some countries regulate baby names?

I can think of other examples of names and spellings that caused confusion or heartache – some of them are pretty funny – but they aren’t all my stories to tell.

I’ve made peace with “Lucy”. Sometimes I even like it. But – with apologies to the wonderful holders of that name – I still cringe at the name “Lucille”.

Do you like your name? Did you think long and hard about picking a name that would escape mockery for your own child/children?

Of course, kids are brilliant at teasing. There may be no name that gets off scott free.

And, speaking of babies, the NCPR family continues to expand as Nora Flaherty expects a bundle of joy later this month.

How nice!

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1 Comment on “Baby names – seldom easy, sometimes controversial”

  1. Ah Tales from the Saudi judiciary… I mean, Tennessean…

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