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Living with an ostentatious baby name

Published on -10/2/2013, 10:03 AM

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What's in a name? Way too much these days where babies are concerned.

According to the Wall Street Journal, parents are obsessing over what to name their kids. They're hiring consultants, applying mathematical formulas and software programs and even bringing in nutty spiritualist types.

One couple hired a pair of consultants to draw up a list of suggestions based on "phonetic elements, popularity and ethnic and linguistic origins."

One woman paid a "nameologist" $350 for three half-hour phone calls and a personalized manual describing each name's history and personality traits.

Another spent $475 on a numerologist to see if her favorite name had positive associations, whatever the heck that means.

Why the obsession over children's names? One baby-naming expert says that we live in a market-oriented society. That by giving your kid the right name -- the right branding, if you will -- he or she will have a head start in life.

Oh, brother.

Look, I know these parents mean well. I know they're trying to do what is best for their kids. I know they think a special name will help the rest of the world know how special their kid is.

But they're doing more harm than good.

Take one couple. Mom and Dad went to great lengths to come up with this name: Beckett. The name sounds reliable and stable, says the proud dad. The "C-K" sound is very well regarded in corporate circles, he says. The hard stop forces one to accentuate the syllable, which draws attention to it, he continues.

But he overlooked a very important consideration: Beckett is going to be getting wedgies well into his 40s.

I'm no expert on child rearing, but it seems to me if you want to give your kid a leg up in life, it's better to give him a simple, traditional name, not one that stands out.

I'm 51, at the tail end of the baby boom, and here are the names of my high school friends: Tom, John, Jeff, Bill, Bob, Rich and Tim. We had one Clint and he has a brother named Reid, but that was as daring as things got in those days. Any of these are good names for boys.

As for girls, why not use my sisters' names: Kathy, Krissy, Lisa, Mary and Jennifer. How about Lauren, Linda, Elizabeth or Sandy? Or, if you want to get bold, go back a few generations to the early 1900s: Gertrude, Helen, Ruth, Margaret and Beatrice (my grandmother).

The reason is simple. If you really want your kid to be special, a name is not going to do it. Your kid is going to have to earn it. She is going to have to work hard and sacrifice. She'll have to try and fail and eventually find her place -- find whatever she's good at -- and then work harder to develop her talents.

It will be easier to do that if she is humble. And it will be easier for her to be humble if she doesn't have a name that makes her think she's precious and special and God's gift to the universe (such as Nevaeh, which is heaven spelled backward).

It's nobody's fault that we're screwing up kids' names -- we're screwing up a lot of things. We're doing it because we're able to. We're able to because the American experiment has produced untold wealth -- which shifted our focus from trying to subsist, as our parents did, to fretting over what to name our kids.

We have to knock it off, though.

I was lucky my parents named me Tom. That is my dad's name, too. I knew early on I had to live up to it. With such a name, I never took myself too seriously -- I knew I wasn't the center of anybody's universe. I turned out half decent as a result. And I never did get a wedgie.

I doubt things would have turned out that well if my name was Michelle or Gilad.

Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons. purcell@caglecartoons.com

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