Unfortunate Name

November 01, 2004

With kids in daycare we are very aware of the current crop of new baby names. In addition to the usual shifts and changes - Jane is out, Samantha is in - there has been a rise in titular names, names derived from an old English profession. So there are lots of Hunters, a few Coopers, lots of Taylors (different spelling, and a girl's name, but still), some Fletchers, and so on. If it were not for the racial connotations that have attached themselves to workers in iron or in tin we would surely see a mess of Blacksmiths and Whitesmiths. I doubt that we will see many Butchers, Bakers, or Candlers, but who knows where name trends will go next.

In many ways these names seem to be a variation on the old hortatory names, where you named a child after a quality that you hoped they would acquire. There are still a few Hopes and Faiths, not so many Chastities or Preserveds, while good 16th century names like Praisegod are pretty much defunct. The problem with hortatory names is that, in addition to marking a parent as potentially overprotective, they can lead to either embarassment or irony if the child grows up to act in a manner completly unlike the name - an Atheist named Faith, a sexual adventurer named Chastity, and so on.

Many of the new titular names appear to be secular equivalents of a hortatory name - you name the child after a quality or image you hope they will grow into, but that quality or image is tied to body image, or machismo. It does not always work.

I was reminded of this because I noticed a kid at the park Sunday afternoon. He was perhaps 10 years old, although it was hard to tell. Not only do I have trouble judging kids' ages, I have more trouble judging fat kids ages, and this was a fat kid. He could walk, but he looked to be 30 to 50 pounds overweight and about 4 feet tall, perhaps a little taller.

I was playing with the kids on the swings (the infant loves the swings, the toddler is afraid of them. Go figure) and this boy was sitting on a swing nearby making an odd hooting moaning noise. I looked over to see what the noise was, I looked again and a third time to try to figure out how a kid that young got so fat - it looked like body by HFCS soda had gotten him, but who knows. Mom was upset that her kid was making a fool of himself and sent him to the benches for a time out. As he was waddling over I compared the mental image that goes along with his titular name, a name that I associate with lean, active, wiry people.

He was a Hunter, and it looked like he was the sort of a hunter who would need a power assist to get into his tree stand.

Still, it could have been worse. They could have named the fat kid Runner.


I like traditional kid names - three out of the four names (first and middle) for our two boys are Biblical, three out of the four are common 20th century names - and one reason why I like them is the lack of conflict between the connotations of a titular or hortatory name and the unknown aspects of a child's growth. Also, a bit of truth in ranting, the toddler's middle name was chosen because it was a family name, because I thought it was a cool name, and because I like the hortatory implications of naming a child after someone who spoke truth to power. So when I rant about hortatory names or titular names it is because the parent has not done a good enough job of raising the child to the expectations inherent in their name.

Posted by Red Ted at November 1, 2004 09:06 AM | TrackBack