Saturday, October 29, 2005

What's in a name?

If you've ever sat down with me in a bar, odds are at some point I will have started ranting about children's names. This is a significant pet peeve of mine - what parents decide to call their kids.

I'm pretty certain it started while I was working with The Packet. For a relatively small community newspaper (circulation aprox. 6,800) it gets an insane number of Letters to Santa. Easily 600 or more, which might not sound like a lot, but it is. Far more than any other community newspaper in Newfoundland, even papers with bigger circulations.

And it was while typing in some of the letters (What? You think journalism is all the thrill of the hunt and getting bad politicians? Guess again) that I noticed some of these kids had truly horrific names.

"Oh Craig. You're being so mean to those kids," you might say.

Not as mean as the parents who thought Shadoe Lake was a good name. How about Thaylor Pike (Say the name like he's a supporting character in Conan the Barbarian)? Or the two boys, Blade and Swade? Those last two? Not twins. So the mom had Blade and someone thought it was a good idea to let her call the second boy Swade. I understand there are more children with equally bizarre names.

And those are the one whose names I can remember. There were others, nearly as bad. We used to have competitions in the bars to see who could think of the worst kids name. Between Blade and Swade along with Justin Case (kid of one of my father's former co-workers) I tended to win.

I always thought these kids were doomed...that their terrible name would subject them to a life of ridicule that would be difficult to recover from. I swear, the pic of little 7-year-old Shadoe already showed a boy whose eyes looked dead. That even in the 2nd Grade, he knew what the next decade of his life was going to be like.

It was getting to the point where I was advocating that Newfoundland should have a board similar to B.C. and Quebec - where the province could challenge a parent's name for their child. That has pros and cons, of course. BC stopped parents from naming their son God. Quebec bizarrely interferred with parents wanting to call their daughter Ivory. And at what point is the government interferring too much?

Then I read Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.

Economics books are not normally my cup of tea, but it's still a fascinating read. And controversal. One of Levitt's arguments is that a major contributing factor to decreasing crime rates in the United States in the mid-90s was the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. That those most likely to get abortions were women who didn't want children or who were poor. Unwanted children or those in difficult economic circumstances are more likely to become criminals. The fact that not as many unwanted children were coming into the world meant when that generation of criminals were coming into their "prime", about 20 years after Roe v. Wade, there were much fewer of them.

Controversal to be sure. Both the left and right and blasted Levitt's arguments. But as he likes to say "If morality represents an ideal world, then economics represents the actual world."

I also enjoyed his take on names. He was wondering if names (especially obviously black names) would be a detriment to the economic fortunes. Instead, he found that names were more likely to be indicators of economic status. And that a name's popularity tends to work its way down the economic ladder.

For example, in the 90s the five most common "high-end" white girls names were, in order: Alexandra, Lauren, Katherine, Madison and Rachel.

The five most common "low-end" white giirl names were: Amber, Heather, Kayla, Stephanie, Alyssa.

In 1980, Heather and Amber were amongst the most popular "high end" names. Poorer people seeing that successful people pick a certain name for thier children and then choose it for their own kids, hoping that it gives their kid a better chance at success.

Poorer, less educated people are also more likely to pick odd names because they misunderstand things: Levitt sites two examples: Temptress (the mother misunderstood the name of Cobsy Show actress Tempestt Bledsoe) and Amcher, which the parents got once reaching the hospital: Albany Medical Center Hospital Emergency Room.

This is all fascinating stuff to me and I really recommend the book. It helps that it's not all dry stats and dull writing. Levitt and Dubner have an engaging, accessible writing style. It's easy to understand the points they are trying to make.

But this is all a lot of lead-up to my absolutely favourite new worst name of all time. It's in the section where they talk about the radical changes taking place in the naming of black children. Including the rise in invented names. They site a woman who called a radio show upset over the name of her new niece. It was pronounced shuh-TEED.

It was spelt Shithead.

Kind of makes Blade seem quaint in comparison.

Last five on iPod
1. Can't help falling in love - U2 (Live bootleg)
2. Red light - U2 (War)
3. Right between the eyes - Garbage (Bleed Like Me)'
4. Loretta - Neko Case (The Tigers Have Spoken)
5. Tell me why - The Beatles (A Hard Day's Night)

1 comment:

Scotty said...

I have a couple of bad names to add to your list.

A young girl named Abcde (pronounced Ab-cid-dee).

Or the trio of brothers named Rainey, Stormie and Cloudy.

Or even better, Chanda Leer.