Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Name Game

It gave me a shock to meet a grown-up Merlin the other day. I remember when I first heard the name
uttered, quite seriously, by a woman who seemed to be sane enough. Could she really be referring to her child and not some long suffering pet, I wondered. Later, I began to meet tiny Noahs and Moses(es?) as well.

What was going on? Was the idea to give your kid some kind of class or edge with these huge, myth-imbued names? Would there be any age at which, in the normal course of daily life, such a handle would not feel like a burden?

I've never much liked my own name which, when I was growing up, was extremely unusual - (I also went to school with a girl called Rebel - strangely, whenever she got into trouble, her parents seemed genuinely surprised).

Perhaps as a result of my own experience, standing out from the crowd due to my parents' choice, I'm somewhat unbalanced in my attitude to the business of name-giving. Certainly, when it came to choosing names for my children, my main motivation was to find something they'd feel happy with and that would not suggest to them that they had any expectations to live up to so far as I was concerned.

I hoped to give them names that could allow them to be anything they wanted, rather than something that seemed to insist they were destined to either lead the world - Winston, Tarzan, et cetera - or be compliant and get around in frilly aprons - Daisy and anything ending in -bel.

I bet they wish I'd chosen something else though - dissatisfaction is after all the fundamental building block of the parent-child bond.


  1. Years ago, I read of about an American fighter pilot of WW II, who named his children Allison and Merlin--after the engines that powered the P-41 and P-51. I suppose the story is apocryphal.

    One could supply much of the cast of the Old Testament out of an American phone book. Most Noahs one meets are likely to be Jewish these days, but the New England Puritans much favored Old Testament names: Noah Webster, Seth Warner, Israel Putnam come to mind quickly. Other churches preserve the tradition more or less.

    1. My brother swears he heard a woman in a supermarket yell at her child, who was running up and down the aisles, 'Will you just please behave, Maverick'

    2. A descendant and namesake of the eponymous Maverick--a Texan rancher who did not brand his cattle--died within the last couple of years. Also a Texan, he had served in the state legislature, and apparently was unimpressed by many a politician who claimed the "maverick" label.

      I suppose that woman your brother heard must have named her child after the call sign and nickname of the pilot Tom Cruise played in the movie "Top Gun". There was a TV show "Maverick" starring James Garner, but that was about 50 years ago.