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What's in a name?

Babybrand
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NAME GAME: Choosing baby's name has become far more complicated in recent times.

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It is only natural for excited parents expecting a baby to ponder, debate and possibly even argue about what to call the newest addition to the family, but it would seem that the quest for finding the "most unique" name has sparked the trend of finding the most obscure and bizarre names possible.

While paging through a baby name book and earmarking possibilities is the way most expectant parents do it, some couples take it to the extreme, like this couple - who paid a pregnancy concierge to hire a "think tank" for their baby's "brand".

Why do we have them?

It seems strange that people would go to such extreme lengths to find a name for their child, given the historic purpose names served.

Traditionally, names would be picked from a pool of family names. This makes sense if one looks at history when names were used to identify where a group of people came from and reflected the culture a child belonged to.

According to historians, early in prehistory some descriptive names began to be used again and again until they formed a name pool for that particular culture. Parents would choose names from the pool of existing names rather than invent new ones for their children.

With the rise of Christianity, certain trends in naming practices manifested. Christians were encouraged to name their children after saints and martyrs of the church.

Hereditary surnames are believed to have been adopted in Britain in the 13th and 14th centuries, initially by high classes and then by everyone.

Why are we trying so hard to be "unique"?

In popular culture, it may be because many people follow celebrities' leads and believe they should have different spellings for their child's names because that is the trend.

But before you decide to change the spelling of Jackson to Jaxon just to be cooler than the other parents, think it through carefully.

Writer K Burns Darling cites some interesting research in her article Unusual and Unique Baby Names, Possible Side Effects That May Affect Lives When We Do; that shows some parents later regret the weird and wonderful names they give their kids.

A study revealed that one in five of the 3000 British parents polled, regrets either the name or the unusual spelling of the name that they chose for their offspring, and even the parents who didn't explicitly regret the name, wished they had done some more research or chosen differently.

The Department of Internal Affairs in New Zealand does challenge the weird and wonderful names Kiwi parents might want to foist on their children.

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The department has challenged baby names including G, Eminence, and Queen Victoria.

Of the 285 names rejected between July 2001 and September last year, "Justice" was by far the most refused baby name.

Sixty people, or 63 if you include Juztice and Justus (2), have tried and failed to name their babies as if they were a High Court judge.

Eleven of these were in the past 18 months.

Also topping the list are other names easily confused with titles, such as 29 Kings, 27 Princesses, 26 Princes, nine Majors, nine Dukes, and eight Bishops.

Internal Affairs births, deaths and marriages registrar-general Ross McPherson said no names were specifically banned.

But the law said names could be no more than 100 letters long, none could be offensive to a reasonable person, and each name had to abide by the dictionary definition of a name - that it was a word or a group of words.

Names that could be mistaken for a title, such as Justice or King, would be accepted only if the parents could justify it. But even a father named King, before a 1995 legislation change, would now not necessarily be able to name his son after himself.

"Sometimes it is pretty simple. 'Anal', for example, for most people, is quite offensive."

One of the more peculiar names parents failed to register was the letter J, which had six attempts, as well as E, T, and I with two attempts apiece. The letters C, G, D and M were also declined.

The names 2nd, 3rd, and 5th were turned down but mysteriously, 1st and 4th were not attempted in the past decade.

A simple full stop (.) and a forward stroke (/) were also turned down.

Mr McPherson said he was aware of instances where people tried to register names with more than 100 letters, but then reduced them to fit in with legislation, meaning there were some New Zealanders with 99-letter names.

Being refused on the official register did not stop parents from unofficially naming their child, for example, Justice.

Been there, named that

Speaking as someone who did have a fairly unique name growing up (I have only ever met one other Melody) I asked my mum why, if my brothers had "ordinary" names (Michael and Gareth) - I had a more "hippy" sounding name.

She said she liked the name Melody because it sounded happy (I reckon she wasn't too far off there, I laugh a lot).

While I wasn't teased at school because of my name, I do have to repeat myself when I am called "Melanie" or "Melissa" over and over again (sometimes I just ignore it and accept what ever new name I am temporarily given- depending on the situation).

And I just laugh and nod when people exclaim "Oh, like a song". I use the same explanation when giving my name to someone over the phone (this does come in handy when speaking to someone in a noisy call centre).

I am really glad I wasn't called Kal- El Coppola (Nicholas Cage's child) or Diva Muffin (Frank Zappa) or (these are seriously names that have been documented) Seamore Butts, Meadow Hill or Harry Pitts.

Apart from never been able to find my name on awesome, kitschy 'named' gifts in the Two Dollar store, I came off pretty unscathed.

Psychologists believe there may be a bit of narcissism at play when parents choose strange names for their children, and a deep desire for their offspring to be considered more "unique".

Cleveland Kent Evans, professor of psychology at Bellevue University in Nebraska and author of Unusual and Most Popular Baby Names says society's strip-mall culture fosters the desire for parents to nominally distinguish their children.

He cites a boom in unique names dating to the late 1980s but says the taste for obscure monikers developed in the 1960s, when parents felt less obligated to keep certain names in the family.

Does it matter?

While the debate about whether it is a good or bad thing for parents to try so hard when it comes to naming their children rages on, the most important part in the equation is not how the parents feel about a name, but how the child sees him or herself, irrespective of what they are called.

There is a general consensus among Psychologists that a child's attitude to their name (and to most other things) is a gauge of their self esteem.

So in my case and following the argument of psychologist Ron Taffel, the author of Nurturing Good Children Now, while my name is different, I know I am unique because of who I am, even if I had been called Jane (or Joshua- as I would have been had I been born a boy).

If I had low self esteem, I would think my "weird" name might have put me at a disadvantage somehow.
 
Perhaps the middle of the road for parents who are trying to find a name for their child is to remember the following:

1. Your child is not a brand; he or she is their own person.
2. Their name is not about you, it is about them.
3. They are unique, because they just are.
4.  Building their self esteem is more important than having the "most different" baby name amongst your pregnant peers.

Fortunately, if you do have the uncontrollable urge to follow the trend and name your child Pina Colada, or Cosmo Ranger - they can change it when they are older, although you wouldn't be doing them any favours when they have to spell that all out in school.

Names declined in New Zealand

The most commonly declined names in New Zealand of the past decade include: Justice, King, Princess, Prince, Royal, Major, Duke and  Bishop.

Tell us: Do you think it matters what you name your child? Do you wish your name was different?

- Essential Mums

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