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General Articles

Titular Tittle-Tattle

It’s a well-worn cliche - that owners look like their pets, or vice-versa, but what of our names? Some emotional psychologists have us believe that we ‘behave our names’, that our names ‘define us’, shape our development. Do, for example, all named ‘Clive’ act geeky and bookish, or it is inevitable that those called ‘Henrietta’ are irritating in public places?

As soon-to-be-Grandparents, we have entered the bewildering world of baby names, but that, in itself is dangerous territory - why label a tiny human with a title to be carried for the rest of its days? Why do we no longer use names such as Ernest, Basil or Eunice - because they have ‘age-related imagery’?  A tiny toddler named Bernard is endearing, n’est pas? I passed through my early years loathing my middle name - May, - as it did not fit the young me, the me in skinny jeans and hot-pants (only last week, in fact) - now I celebrate it, as I’m starting to resemble my Aunt, from whom the name derives (wrap-over apron, carpet slippers, interesting vocabulary). Least said the better about the celebrity set grafting dreadful names on their prodginy, and then wondering why they go off the rails whilst still in nappies.

The notion of naming inanimate objects, ascribing gender-biased traits is as old as humans themselves - cars, boats, trains. Observation - individuals tend to name their cars (pal has one called ‘Alan’) of the opposite gender to themselves - could this be a subconscious desire for a new pal, in automotive form (one you can leave at the front door or in the garage on winter evenings, if it is a good friend). A darker desire, maybe, to control another human being - in contrast to the real world, where their power is reduced by circumstances beyond their control (eg marriage or plans for Christmas).

A slightly more awkward - yet commonplace issue is the odd and eclectic labelling of our private parts - read everything by Caitlin Moran for a true belly-laugh on that one. Why we make life more complicated for young children by calling our body-bits by strange and wondrous names is beyond me, but rich-pickings for comedy material. I feel an anthropology funding grant coming on, to globally research how cultures - rural, suburban and metropolitan, refer to their nether-regions. No bother about an evaluation report, I’ll be detained fairly soon into the study.

Naming pets, of course, is the safe, cowardly path to self-amusement. Unlike children, they don’t hate you for their ‘tag’. We’ve all done it - hamsters called Armitage Shanks, rabbits called Russell Hobbs, kittens called Karl, Frederick, Rosalind Franklin, and, my personal favourite - a dog called ‘Chair leg’ and a puppy named Hypolytte.

And what of the digital era? Fruit seems to dominate. Why Orange, Apple and Raspberry Pie? Is it supposed to exude a healthy air?….

That modern, secular rite of passage, the naming ceremony provides grist to this particular mill - what purpose does it serve? In more compliant religious times, traditional baptism was a vital link with the Divine, happy to take you into the pearly-gates anytime after the font-side ceremony.  Nowadays, why do we feel the need to have the ceremony, and not invite the Divine to it? Why not just have an ordinary party, in private. This would save the celebrant’s winces when s/he announces that ‘Zanussi Bosch’ is a much-loved addition to the family, although likely to grow up with an irrational fear of white goods.

Ah well, we have decided to remain ignorant of the gender of our first grand-child. Therefore, I can mull over possible and highly improbable gender-neutral names. The possibles - Val, Kim, and derivatives - George, Frankie are much less fun than the improbables - Bump, Tiny, Yard-stick, Freckles and Weazle. I expect the reality will bring a more pedestrian title (Pelican? Zebra?), but, as with much life-style choice demands of the 21st Century, the  new baby ought to be able to change its name and reject the familial yoke. Wouldn’t you rather be known as ‘Razor-wire’, and shrug off your life-long association with your inner-Derek? I know I would -  and my name is not even Derek?

Tuesday, 1 December 2015    Section: General Articles    Author: Julia Moore
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