April 9 is “National Name Yourself Day,” when Frank Zappa’s daughter can opt-out of being Diva Thin Muffin, and boys with more traditional names can call themselves Batman Robot Gerbil, or whatever they want for 24 hours.
It’s also the day parents have the opportunity to find out how their kids think they performed one of the biggest parenting tasks – that of naming the baby.
This morning, I asked parents on Facebook what went into choosing their children’s names.
Ginger Graham-White of Norfolk, Va., answered in a chat that the main influence was a lifetime of being called “Gingersnap.”
“What rhymed with it or 'went' with it,” she says, was her first concern when naming her daughter. “I was Ginger snap Graham cracker for many, many years. Reality is Hayley [her daughter] will NEVER have her name spelled right.”
Theresa Parker, also of Norfolk, had the exact same naming guideline as Ms. Graham-White: “What does it rhyme with” for potential taunting purposes.
Ms. Parker’s maiden name is Carey, so she was “Terry Carey.”
“When choosing names for my kids, I wanted to be sure they didn't rhyme, weren't cutesy alliterative (Peter Parker), etc.” she explains in a Facebook comment. “I also wanted them to have names that weren't too diminutive or wacky and would serve them well in adulthood and in any life or professional circumstance. It was my first lasting gift to them, I suppose, so I took it seriously.”
Rest assured, even if names appear frivolous to some, naming a child is very serious business.
Some online forums I’ve found actually have open discussions running on “the most hated baby names.”
I still marvel at the fact that my husband never worried when naming our kids or over their middle names (or lack thereof).
Our boys are Zoltan (no middle name), Ian Tucker, Avery Danger, and Quinten Coltrane Suhay.
Because my husband felt stripped of individuality by being named after his father, he vowed his sons would have the power of unique names.
Perhaps my greatest worry was that they would need the power of Kung Fu to survive elementary school.
Zoltan was named for Zoltán Kodály, a Hungarian composer, linguist, and philosopher.
Our Zoltan has no middle name because when my mother-in-law learned what we named her first grandchild, she flatly replied, “I will never call him by that name! I’ll call him by his middle name.”
Zoltan, 20, tells me he loves his name.
“Because nobody else is me,” he explains. “A name says who you are, makes you an individual, but you’re not very individual if you share the same name as a billion other people.”
Ian, 18, was named for our friend, scientist, and world traveler Ian Jones.
His middle name “Tucker” comes from a small island which appears off the coast of Long Beach Island in New Jersey. The island was in view when he was born.
“I’m good with Ian,” he says. "Nothing else defines me."
Avery, 15, was named because I was either delusional, or experiencing a spiritual visitation after delivery.
I heard a man’s voice tell me, “His name is Avery.” Everyone in the delivery room swears no such words were ever uttered.
Danger is his middle name because, as boy number three, we felt he needed a little extra oomph.
While Avery loves his middle name, I have gotten a call from every teacher he has ever had on the first day of school saying something along the lines of, “Your son claims Danger is his middle name!”
“And so it is,” I reply each and every year to a stunned educator.
We chose Quinten after the song “Mighty Quinn” by Manfred Mann. Coltrane was a compromise between my love of the sound of the nearby Norfolk Southern Railway coal yard and my husband’s liking of musician John Coltrane.
I’m surprised Zoltan, Ian, and Avery wouldn’t opt to change their names, even for a day, because I come from a line of re-namers.
Naming a child was considered a matter of life and death to my ancestors in Poland, who actually renamed my great-grandfather on my dad’s side after he nearly died in infancy.
When Moshe Jacob Alter “cheated death,” his parents harkened to an ancient Eastern European tradition of changing his name, “So that Death could not find him,” according to his biography.
Therefore, as an adult in New York, my great-grandfather was Morris Rosenfeld, the Yiddish poet of the Jewish ghetto.
My mother changed her name from “Gladys” to “Glen” and made up the last name “Kristi” instead of her maiden name “Kapinos” when she moved from Passaic, N.J., to New York City to become a fashion designer.
“I suffered an entire childhood being called ‘Happy Bottom’ because kids said Gladys sounded like Glad-something-else,” my mom tells me. “Nobody should name their child something that can lead to teasing.”
This from the woman who nearly named me Rima after the Jungle Girl comic book series.
I was saved from decades of taunting by the fact that the new edition of the comic came out days before my birth in 1965 and Rima died in a burning tree as she battled poachers.
Rima comes back in the next issue, but the die was cast and I was named Lisa, a variant of my cousin’s name, Alisa.
The only child I have who has never asked about his name is Quin.
“Well, I’m thinking something like Mage Archer,” said Quin when told that today is National Name Yourself Day. “I’ll be that until tomorrow. OK?”
When it comes to the name game, the power or problem may ultimately lie in how the child, not the world, views the name.