Sunday, July 10, 2011

What's In A Name?

That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.  So says Juliet in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  In those two sentences, Juliet sums up the major struggle of the play.  But think about it, what really is in a name?  
Names are definitely important and some amount of thought is required when deciding on one..  Take Chevrolet, for example.  Widely considered a successful car company, the Chevy Nova stands out as one of the biggest flops in Latin American countries.  Why? Simple., it’s all in the name.  N-O-V-A, or in Spanish, “no va,” which translates to “it doesn’t go.”  Not exactly a stellar name for a car.
Those of us who have children will attest to the fact that picking a name for a baby can be a very daunting process.  There are all sorts of associations with names, positive and negative, that one must take into consideration.  If, like me, you are a teacher, there are only a limited number of names that you will not associate with a student, which can be both a blessing and a curse.  The usual process of naming a baby involves looking through lists of names (either in a book or on the internet) and making lists of the one’s that strike your fancy, including any family names, and then narrowing them down from there.  Or, I THOUGHT this was the normal process.....

Back in May, I blogged about the premiere episode of Pregnant in Heels, in which a young Manhattan couple came to terms with the arrival of their “life force sucking parasite,” later to be called Fox.  The second couple in that episode was even more ridiculous to me.  This couple, Samantha and Mitch, needed Rosie’s help in deciding on a name for their baby boy.  It turns out that Samantha is none other than Samantha Ettus, an author and personal branding expert who constantly referred to her baby’s name as “his brand.”  Since branding is sooooo important, she and Mitch did not want to take any chances in choosing the wrong name.
This was a new concept for me.  I’d never thought about a personal name as a “brand.”  Perhaps Cher, Sting, or Prince should come to mind, In all of those cases, though, the celebs themselves picked the name when they were older.  Then I picked up the 6/18/11 Wall Street Journal and read an article by Sameer Reddy entitled, “Branding the Baby.”  In this article, Reddy discusses the implications of high end adult designers producing lines of clothing made for children.  Burberry, Gucci, Fendi, and Lanvin have all launched children’s lines.  This December Donatella Versace will launch Young Versace.  Reddy states that “the temptation to see one’s child as an extension of one’s self is natural.....” (see my last blog post: Are You THAT Parent?)  Perhaps this is why Samantha was so concerned about naming her little guy. Maybe she was more concerned about what her baby’s name/brand meant for her than it did for him.
In fact, she was so concerned that she and hubby choose the right name for the baby that she had Rosie Pope convene a “dream team” of experts:  a baby name blogger, a linguistics expert, a poet, a Sr. Editor of “A Small World” network, and a Sr. Director of Landor (a branding company).  The purpose of this “think tank” was to come up with a list of names from which Samantha and Mitch would choose.  In addition, once the list of names was created, a focus group was convened to get people’s reactions to the list of favorites.  

A focus group??? Seriously??? Is this what people who have ridiculous amounts of money spend it on? And what kind of message does using a “think tank” and focus group send to a child?  I thought the message we are supposed to send our kids is “you are special because you are YOU.” Instead, Samantha and Mitch seem to be telling their son, “Hey, we aren’t too sure about you and your abilities, so we’re gonna try to give you a really great name to (possibly) cover up any flaws or deficiencies you might have.”  
What happens when this little boy asks how he got his name?  I can just imagine how that conversation might go:
Little Boy: Mom, how did you and Daddy decide on my name?
Samantha: Well, it was a name that the linguistics expert and
               poet both said would be strong and the focus group really
               responded well to it.
How touching! Am I crying yet?
I’m all for traditions when it comes to naming a baby.  In Jewish families, babies are often named after relatives who have passed on, and then they only use the first initial of the deceased relative.  So if Uncle Richard has passed on, a grandson might be named Reed in his honor.  Italian families (like mine) name after both living and deceased relatives.  It is considered a great honor to have a child (especially a grandchild) named for you.  
Coming up with a name for my little girl was one of the many joys associated with my last pregnancy.  My two older girls were old enough to participate in the process.  So the only “think tank” and focus group I employed were my children and husband.  Ultimately my daughter was named after my paternal grandmother, who is no longer with us.  The pride that I saw in my father’s eyes when we announced that his newest granddaughter would bear his mother’s name was priceless.
Ultimately Samantha and Mitch named their son Bowen.  It’s interesting to note that this name was one that they themselves came up with (not from the “think tank” and focus group) and that most everyone in the “think tank” and everyone in the focus group DISLIKED it.  Which begs the question, why did they even bother to go through the process (and waste the maternity concierge’s time) if they were going to go with their own idea anyway???
And if they really wanted to “brand” their baby, why not go with an established name with a solid history: Target and Fendi come to mind.  At least with a name like that they might be able to wangle some money for corporate sponsorship.


fedsped said...

I think it's nice to follow ethnic/cultural/religious tradition in naming children. Our oldest is named for my husband, but uses his middle name which is Irish (Like me) and our younger son is named for the many Thomases in our family (my grandpa, 2 uncles, my husband's great-grandfather) also for St. Thomas Aquinas(patron of scholars) and "Saint Sir Thomas" More (as my husband calls him), the patron of lawyers. the middle name we chose for Thomas is the name of Allen's recently-deceased uncle who had no children of his own, and he was very touched that we chose to honor him in this way. each his or her own...I know others are not as "traditional" as we are.

Anonymous said...

For most of my childhood, I really rather disliked my own name. In fact, as a kid, were you to ask me what I would have preferred: it might have even been Reed Richards. At least that sounded heroic to me. I really liked comic books (and still do).

But no. Any which way you'd slice it--whether as Frank, or Frankie, Fran, or Franny--my name still always seemed so much more of a burden on me than anything else. I was made Francis Jerome (Wolfgang) Ziegler--the IV, as a matter of fact! And I still sometimes wish, that I had as much money as I know that probably makes me sound.

"Reggie Van Gleason the 3rd (he's a bird)," has got nothing on me or my name! :)

But what is even less desirable than mere derivative? The sheer sound of my first name (especially when pronounced sarcastically): "Fraaaaaaaaaanciiiiiiiiiis!" To practically everyone I'd gone to school with: "Francis" somehow couldn't seem any more androgynous or confusing (nor could my 7th grade classmates, be any less forgiving about it).

Come to think of it: in your own life, have you EVER met a person named Francis, that is really enthralled with it? I haven't. And why? Because: in movies (just as in real life) the very name "Francis," has either been mentioned as the subject of a neurotic joke; or has, in more recent time, become even synonymous with villainy. Pee Wee's Big Adventure immediately comes to mind; as does Bill Murray's classic comedy Stripes. :)

Still that is, in all honesty, nothing compared to the troubles my last name had given me as a child. As a boy growing up with a German surname, post WWII, I can tell you plainly: I've paid for a lot of sins that were not my own.

But on a brighter note: nowadays, I'm not nearly as panicked or embarrassed by either moniker; and really, I have an order of religious sisters to thank for that (the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, to be precise).

In my senior year of high school: 3 of these sisters were designated my instructors (for Chemistry, Piano, and Physics). Still they also became great mentors for me personally, and for far longer (all through college in fact); until eventually, I was fortunate enough to begin working amongst them, as a teacher myself.

So, indeed, and in nearly all ways that I can think of now: I know that my name has shaped the very course of my life, for better or worse. Still it truly was these women (the FSGM) that made me who I am; and gave me and my name, for the first time, any real sense of dignity. For only by the age of 18--having known them--could I ever say with certitude, that I actually liked the name Francis, or Ziegler, or both in tandem.

Really I guess I grew to like it, just because it sounded somehow heroic to them.

Andreana said...

@Fedsped - I also like traditions in naming children. I agree "to each their own." However, the idea of a "think tank" and focus group to come up with a baby name is BEYOND preposterous to me :)

@Francis - I feel your pain! Growing up with the name "Andreana" was a curse more than a blessing as a kid. I really HATED it when people mispronounced it. As a kid, I found this (somehow) an embarrassment. I did grow to love my name, but it definitely took a while. They say naming is destiny. I was with my kids in Disney, when I found myself yelling at Samantha when another woman came up to me and said, "It's always a Samantha! I have one, too." LOL

Shicky said...

Reed Richards would have been fine. But if you name your child Richard Reed he will grow up to be a Shoe Bomber!

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