Weird and wacky monikers are not just the exclusive realm of the rich and famous. When it comes to naming children, ordinary people sometimes inflict extraordinary cruelty.
So. Harper Seven Beckham was welcomed to the world on Sunday 10 July and, for a few hours after her arrival, the speculation as to what she’d be called had the internet creaking. When the name was announced, Twitterland lit up as the jokes poured in thick and fast. I’m sure you saw them. My favourite? ‘Harper Seven… if she’d been born 15 minutes later, she’d be Kworta Eight.’
The Beckhams, and other celebrities of their ilk, engender such interest when they have a life event. I don’t know how they feel about that and, frankly, I don’t care. What’s interesting, though, is that people almost expect these celebrities to give their child a weird and wacky name. As if weird and wacky is the exclusive right and realm of the rich and famous. It’s not. ‘Ordinary’ people give their children ridiculous names all the time but, because they’re not in the public eye, it generally goes unnoticed. Unless, of course, it’s totally offside. Then it’ll most likely end up in court.
In 2008, a family court judge in New Zealand made a nine-year-old girl a ward of court so that she could change her name. Embarrassed by the moniker her parents had given her, the child told her friends her name was ‘K’. Judge Rob Murfitt saw the child’s point – her name, as given to her by her parents, was… Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii.
And, again in New Zealand (is there something in the water?), a couple were told they couldn’t name their child 4Real. Similarly, Sex Fruit, Keenan Got Lucky and Fish and Chips (for twins) were disallowed. Amazingly, though, No.16 Bus Shelter, Violence, and Benson and Hedges (more twins) were allowed. In his ruling on Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii, Judge Murfitt commented on the poor judgement exercised by some parents and slammed the trend of giving children bizarre names. Doing so, he said, lumbers them unnecessarily with a social disability.
Names are funny things. Funny peculiar. I have no Talulas or Bus Shelters in my family but we’re not without a little bit of quirkiness when it comes to our handles. I am not called what I was christened. Same goes for some of my brothers and sisters. Common to our generation and our culture, it’s not unusual to be called something other than what you’re actually christened.
Back when I was getting my handle for life, parents were inordinately influenced by the clergy of the parish who all but insisted that children were called after saints. Even if you didn’t have a holy bone in your body, they still had you by the short hairs. Given that the clergy then ran the schools, it wasn’t the smartest thing in the world to buck the trend and set your little darling up for ridicule. The nuns could make a child’s life a misery if they chose to (and they frequently did) and owning an unholy name of some description was akin to putting a flag over your head. It singled you out for cruel and unusual attention.
So you complied. You called your child a holy, saintly name. But once they were christened and the priestly and nunly ones were happy, you could call the child anything you liked.
Your name, therefore, became what you grew up with. What your parents and family called you on a day-to-day basis. What matter if it doesn’t actually appear on your birth cert?
It matters quite a bit, actually, when you want a passport. When I applied for my first passport, they wouldn’t issue it in my ‘name’. No amount of huffing and puffing on my part would make them relent. They would only issue the passport in the actual name that appeared on the birth cert.
‘But that’s not me’, I told them.
‘Yes it is’, they replied.
‘But it isn’t.’
‘Yes it is.’
Is not. Is so. Is not. Is so. It went back and forth forever. Eventually, the only compromise they would afford me was that they put ‘known as…’ in brackets after the birth cert version. I hated it. Every time I used my passport, it annoyed me. I always felt like an imposter.
Over the years, people looked at me as if I had two heads when I voiced my displeasure about my imposter status. Some people don’t see it as any kind of big deal. But I do. I reckon a person’s name is a very personal thing and everyone is entitled to have their name respected. And everyone is entitled to be known by the version of their name that they prefer. If I meet, for instance, a Richard, I won’t automatically call him Dick. (He deserves some say in that one.) I won’t call a Patricia a Trish or a Michael a Mick or whatever until I’ve had their imprimatur.
And the passport thing was always a major annoyance to me. So much so that I decided to do something about it. Years ago, we were in the solicitor’s office one day about something mundane like house contracts and I asked the solicitor about legally changing my name. A week or so later, I had a legal document – a deed poll – to make me legit. People talk about ‘changing their name’ by deed poll. I don’t actually consider that I ‘changed’ my name. I consider that I had my real name legalised. Mind you, the solicitor thought I was a bit of a fruit cake but, nonetheless, he did the business.
So I’m legal. I had to renew my passport recently and I took gleeful pleasure in ringing up the passport office to tell them that I would be sending a copy of the deed poll with my application for renewal and I expected that the new passport would be issued in my ‘real’ name.
‘Are you sending us the original deed poll or a copy?’, they asked. A certified copy, I told them – the original resides in the solicitor’s archives… and I don’t live in that locality any more. ‘Hmmm. That could be sticky’, they said. The passport office only accepts original documents. I was ready to blow a gasket. Visions of yet another ten years of imposterdom. To strengthen my case, I had to accompany the deed poll document with two utility bills in my ‘name’ which, for many female halves of couples, might not be the easiest thing in the world to do. Luckily, my mobile phone bill is in my own name and, for some reason, so is the refuse collection.
So no more impostering. No more fuming every time I look at it. I finally hold a passport in my ‘real’ name.
Now, if only I had somewhere to go.
What exactly is in a name?
Richard Wiseman is Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK and author of, among other titles, Quirkology and The Luck Factor. He conducted an experiment to establish what names were perceived as successful, lucky and attractive.
Over 6,000 people were involved and Professor Wiseman came to the following conclusions:
James and Elizabeth were seen as the most successful. Jack and Lucy topped the luck table, and Sophie and Ryan came out as the most attractive. Lisa and Brian were seen as the least successful, Helen and John as the least lucky, and Ann and George as the most unattractive. Traditional names with royal associations were viewed as highly successful and intelligent.
(Check out http://www.richardwiseman.com/ and follow the link to Quirkology. Look at The Name Experiment under the Experiments menu. Worth a visit.)
Elsewhere, Professor Helen Petrie, from the University of York, has studied the psychological effects of having an unusual name.
‘I found that people with unusual names had a really hard time, particularly when they were children,’ she says.
‘They described getting teased and how traumatic it could be – because all children want to fit in. But when they became adults, they are often glad that they have something to help them stand out from the crowd.
‘People with very common names sometimes feel that they aren’t unique enough. So I think there’s a happy medium to be struck.’