If you’re like me, you think it’s funny that a lot of people have goofy names. If you’re not like me, you’re one of the people coming up with the goofy names. One of us needs to change his ways, and I think it’s you, JuDee.
I write this with the knowledge that I am in danger of offending people I know and like. I have friends with absurd names, and some who have given their children absurd names. The extraordinarily snobbish diatribe that is about to follow should in no way be construed as evidence that I have less than warm feelings for these people, or for the children whose lives they have ruined with cruel names like “JayceSun.”
Now, I like fun as much as the next guy — unless the next guy is Pete Townshend, because hoo-boy, I can’t keep up with him! — but I draw the line at making child-naming time wacky creative fun time. Certain activities are meant to be boring. It means you’re doing them right. These include school plays, service projects and naming your children. If fun should break out during any of these undertakings, you should stop immediately and start again.
You see, one of the goals of parenthood — I am generalizing here — is that your children will live into adulthood. And if that should happen, and you’ve saddled him or her with an absurd name — one that you made up or intentionally misspelled — then what have you done to his or her chances of being taken seriously? Would you trust a doctor named Kaytelynne? Or a lawyer named M’Kaee? Or a senator named Orrin? (Seriously: “Orrin”?)
The two best places to find ridiculous names are Utah and the National Football League. I don’t know why this is. Those two groups have little else in common.
In Utah, there are names like these, all of which I got from the single best silly-name source, the obituary pages: Vonda, Julaine, Luray, Ferral, Ardath, Shyrel, Artell, Gerial, Zelma, and Elna. (Utahns 90 years ago were apparently still a little punch-drunk from the trek west.)
From elsewhere in the paper, I find these actual names of non-elderly Utahns: Jefra, Eunhi, Chanthy, Shurron, Chaulyn and Lyndell.
In the NFL, there are these names, all of which belong to men who were born on Earth: Edgerton, Adalius, Peerless, JoJuan, Canute, Artrell, Ligarius, KaRon, Jashon, Earthwind and Plaxico. (How does someone come to be named “Plaxico”? Did his parents follow the Utah practice of name compromising, where Dad want to name him Plate, while Mom wanted to call him Mexico, and they combined the two?)
Do you notice that the names of the mostly white Utahns are very similar to those of the mostly African-American NFL players? Perhaps there is common ground between our cultures after all.
I present these rules in naming your children:
1. Don’t make up a name. You have to give your child a name that already exists and is a commonly accepted name. That may sound restrictive, but there are literally thousands of perfectly good names to choose from. We don’t need any new ones. Civilization is more than 6,000 years old; the brainstorming session is over. I’m sorry you didn’t live 200 years ago, when exciting new names were still being forged. But now, in 2002, or whatever, WE’RE DONE. No new names.
2. Don’t misspell your kid’s name on purpose. Seriously, what are you trying to pull? Violation of Rule No. 2 is usually an effort to circumvent Rule No. 1: We can’t make up new names, so we’ll misspell an existing name, thus, in a way, making a new name!
No. You can’t do this. It’s not clever; it just looks like you can’t spell. It also does not distinguish your child from the other children with the same name. When the teacher calls on Michael, it will sound the same as if she is calling on Mikkal, MyKle or Mighkull. She should not have to differentiate between traditional-spelling Michael and all the train-wreck-spelling Michaels in the class.
3. You are entitled to one capital letter per name. Do not deplete our nation’s supply of capital letters by wedging two or more of them into one name.
4. No one takes women seriously whose first names end with two e’s. I’m sorry, but it’s true.
5. You have a friend who says he or she once encountered two people named Lemonjello and Oranjello. But your friend is lying. Those people exist only in urban legend. Stop saying you’ve heard of them, because you haven’t.
After this column appeared, I received three e-mails from people claiming to have known someone named S***head (pronounced "Sha-THAYD"). This is untrue, of course; S***head is another urban legend, and if I had been allowed to say S***head in the newspaper, I would have mentioned it in the column. Anyway, I wrote back to these people and let them know they were lying about knowing S***head, and none of them wrote back to insist they were telling the truth. So I'm glad we settled that.
Years later, this column still gets referenced a lot. It's linked to from various baby-name sites. In 2005 I ran into an old acquaintance I hadn't seen in ages, and he said whenever a relative is pregnant, he sends her a link to "The Nayme Gaimme." It's one of the more enduring things I've written, which is nice.
About a year after this column ran, I received this e-mail from a woman named Mary Thompson. It starts out OK but then turns bad:
Hi, I just read your article about baby names on the web and I couldn't agree more. I've been keeping a list of true baby names for awhile. These names are names I've seen in print in the local papers or witnessed by a trusted friend or family member or even at my kid's schools (this is metro Atlanta). And yes, they do include Lemonjello and Orangejello (deputy sheriffs in Clarke County, GA), S***head, A**hole, Diarrhea, Phenomena, Vagina, Sensuous. The rest of the baby name list are just the usual, inane unpronounceable black baby names. It's not urban legend, but completely stupid parents, or single mother. Mary
I never thought to blame stupid names on single mothers. Is Mary's reasoning that without the sensible influence of a husband, women go pig-wild and name their kids whatever the heck they want? Hmm.
Anyway, I wrote back to her and said this:
"Thanks for the e-mail, but until I see a birth certificate, or a valid newspaper mention, I'm not going to believe anyone is named Lemonjello, Orangejello, S***head or A**hole. You definitely didn't encounter these people; a friend or relative said THEY did, but they were kidding or lying. Sorry."
Mary replied with this heartwarming tale of faith:
Thanks for the quick reply regarding inane baby names. When my husband's 65 year-old aunt says that she typed up deputy certificates with the names Lemonjello and Orangejello on them, I'll believe her. Our pastor's wife worked with someone named Diarrhea. Sometimes in life you have to take some things on faith. I haven't seen Jesus or Muhammad. but I tend to believe that they existed from what others have said (or written). I haven't met S***head or A**hole, but I know they're out there!
I've met a lot of s***heads and a**holes, but never anyone who was actually NAMED that. It's good to know that someone so dismissive of "inane black baby names" and single mothers is simultaneously so devoted to her religious faith. Makes you feel good inside.
Anyway, regarding Lemonjello and Orangejello, I got a few e-mails from people doggedly claiming to have encountered them once. Some more people posted comments below saying the same thing. If all of these people are telling the truth, then the Jello twins are both male and female, anywhere from 5 to 30 years old, and live all over the country. In other words, they're an urban legend and you're all liars.
After this last letter was posted, I received the following e-mail:
I think you should get a life. [You and me both!]My name is Vonda and I'm only going to be 30 in a month. I'm not from Utah, but from New York. You said you were not trying to offend people, well I'm very offended. [Actually, all I said was that I knew I was in danger of offending people I knew. Offending strangers was not a concern for me.] Yes my mom was a single mother but she did not name me. It was my grandmother who did and let me tell you, I'm very proud of my name. Do you know how many people actually say to me "wow, that's a beautiful name"? Alot. I'm a single mom and my son's name is Joshua. So it has nothing to do with single mothers. [Nor did I say it did, of course; that was the previous letter-writer, whom I made fun of for suggesting such a thing.] Do you know that there is a singer out there named Vonda Shepard? She doesn't seem to mind her name and she is younger then me. With the money she makes, she could have changed it along time ago. There are so many more names out there that are ridiculous then ours.
Can't you find something else to do with your life then to pick on others names. [If that was a question, the answer is no.] Are you jealous because you got a plain old common name?
If I parse this letter correctly, Vonda's complaint is that I suggested Vonda is 1) a silly name and 2) a name for old people. I stand by both statements.