We all know people who have unusual names. Some of them are intended to be “cute,” like Justin Thyme or Madison S. Garden. You might wince when you hear names like these, but others might think they’re clever. Whether someone has a “good” name is subjective. You can’t legislate this kind of thing, right? Well, that’s exactly what one judge in the Dominican Republic wants to do.
Apparently, there is a trend among Dominicans to give their children names that are cartoon characters, body parts, and car makes. Gender ambiguity is also big in names these days. An electoral commission judge is against this sort of thing. Unfortunately, for the sake of irony and this column, this judge is not named “Outlandish Justice Smith.” It is Jose Angel Aquino.
Two of the names Aquino mentioned were “Mazda Altagracia” and a name that translates to “Breast Jimenez.” I can understand his not being a fan of names like this, but that doesn’t mean I think they should be outlawed. Who has the right to decide for others what they should name their kids?
Of course, the Dominican Republic isn’t the only place where children are sometimes given unusual names. My son went to school with a boy named “Tai-chi” and a girl named, “Gypsy.” In the past few decades, we’ve seen names like, “Butterfly,” “Freedom,” and “Peace” — not to mention, “Moon Unit” and “Dweezil.” In the world of sports, there have been players named Lawyer Malloy, Pacman Jones, and Coco Crisp.
But clearly what the judge is talking about are names that parents give their kids that don’t seem appropriate to him. We all know what he means. Parents come up with a first name that they think would be a fun combo with their last name. If their family name is Daniels, they name the kid, “Jack.” If the parents’ name is Port, they name their child, “Ari.” If their last name is Land, they name their kid, “Disney.”
Some parents show appropriate restraint. Minnie Driver’s folks resisted naming her, “Backseat,” Barry Bonds’ parents didn’t name him, “Junk,” and Brad Pitt’s parents held back from naming him, “Arm.”
But some people just can’t stop themselves from giving their child an outrageous name. I know we’re supposed to be non-judgmental about this, but it’s hard not to react if Mr. and Mrs. Motel name their daughter, “Bates,” or if Mr. and Mrs. Mills name their son, “General.” And I’m going to feel bad for the kid if Mr. and Mrs. Waite named him “Over.”
Our thought when we hear names like these is that the parents didn’t really think things through.
They might have had a good laugh when they gave their kid a name, but apparently they didn’t realize how much he or she would be teased. For example, if you have twins, you don’t have to name them “Trick” and “Treat.” If your last name is Bigg, you can resist the temptation to name your daughter, “Too.”
A well-known retired racecar driver has the name Dick Trickle. What were his parents thinking when they named him, “Richard?” If your last name were Trickle, don’t you think you’d think things through a bit?
On the other hand, if we are to believe that great child psychologist, Johnny Cash, maybe having a name that gets a kid teased might make that kid stronger. That’s what he sang about in “A Boy Named Sue.” Shel Silverstein wrote the song, and Silverstein wrote many respected stories and books for children. In the song, Sue’s father points out that it’s because of Sue being picked on and having to fight so much that he became a strong man.
All of this supports my initial position that a democratic country cannot and should not legislate what people name their kids. What some people think is a stupid name, others will think is brilliant. There just can’t be any objective standard about this. Well, there can be in one instance. Years ago, a basketball player whose last name was “Free” changed his name to “World B. Free.” It was a nice sentiment, but the problem is that he changed his name from what is objectively one of the absolute greatest names ever: Mr. Free’s first name had been Lloyd.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.