The Ethics of Baby Names
“A Boy Named Sue,” Shel Silverstein’s hit song for Johnny Cash, catalogued the horrors visited on children whose parents saddle them with bizarre names. Despite ample research data showing that as a group, children with quirky monikers suffer greatly for their parents’ creativity, fathers and mothers continue to saddle their helpless newborns with names that ensure that they will be picked on and ridiculed, constantly forced to correct teachers and authority figures, and generally go through life feeling like a low-grade freak.
Not all oddly-named children grow up detesting their given names. A disproportionate number of American presidents had uncommon names like Millard, Grover and Ulysses; some of them even ditched more common first names so they could use their less conventional middle name. Still, naming a helpless baby “Moon Unit” or “Dweezle” or something worse is conduct that is stupid at best and unethical at worst. I had a college room mate who was named “Worldman.” He fretted about it constantly, feeling that his name created impossible expectations; to him, it was the equivalent of being named “Superman.” Your offspring can adopt a distinctive name later when and if the mood strikes, as when actress Sigourney Weaver re-named herself “Sigourney” in her teens. In the meantime, the kindest, fairest, most responsible course is to go with a name that doesn’t provoke the response, “What???”
Thus the Ethics Scoreboard salutes the government of New Zealand, which actually can veto an outrageous name, something the U.S. Constitution precludes. That lovely country rarely exercises this option, and I would certainly never advocate a constitutional amendment to prevent celebrity parents from giving their poor kids silly, unwieldy, pretentious or gimmicky names like “Moxie Crimefighter” (magician Penn Jillette), “Jermajesty” (Jermaine Jackson), “Kafka” (Tommy Lee Jones), “Apple” (Gwyneth Paltrow) and “Amadeus” (Mia Farrow). But according to the news services, there is a baby boy in Wellington who, but for New Zealand’s willingness to infringe the personal freedoms Americans hold dear, would now be named “4real.” The father was quoted as saying that he and his wife picked “4real” because most people have to look up the meaning of their names in baby books, but “with this name, everyone knows what it means.”
Absolutely. When your name is 4real, it means that your parents were irresponsible, and violated your trust before your were old enough to know the meaning of the word.