The decision, by the government in New Zealand, to ban certain names has led to titters on Twitter and prompted much water-cooler chatter on the subject of names and naming. Irish people have written about how hard people in other countries find it to pronounce Irish names. The Daily Edge beautifully illustrated this difficulty.
When you think about it, their name is the first social token a person receives. Levitt and Dubner, who wrote Freakonomics devoted much ink and paper to musing about the social capital of certain names, predicting which would be popular with the next generation and why certain parents give certain names to their children. (Much of it is to connected to the desire to sound as though they belong to a more affluent sector of society than they do).
When I was 16, I changed my surname by deed poll. My old man is an arse, and there was no way I was going through life with his name. It was only then I realised what a difficult thing it is to give yourself a surname. Naming my children was a doddle comparatively. I called them Ishthara Saoirse and Kashmira Meadhbh (Kashmira means The Abode of the Goddess and also the name of a flower that grows on the Malay Peninsula, where we lived when I was pregnant. Meadhbh means intoxicated with joy) .
The conversation about names yesterday and today, made me think of interesting names I have encountered. In one class I taught in Singapore, I had a Tan Wee Ping and a Hu Lee Ping. Their personal names were Wee Ping and Lee Ping, respectively. I have also taught three brothers named Nixon, Regan and Clinton as well as sisters called One, Two and Three. Their dad wasn’t going to bother using a ‘real’ name until he had a son.
When I lived in Indonesia, I knew quite a few men called ‘Shah’ (one of them intimately). Under the new naming laws of New Zealand, they would not be allowed to use the Anglicised version of their name because it means ‘King’. Likewise, the Indian women I have known called ‘Rani’ – meaning ‘Queen’.
In India, my daughter and I had a neighbour named ‘Dimple’ and one of the nurses at the hospital we attended was called ‘Pinky’. In Malaysia, Azlan is quite a common name, and it took years before I stopped thinking of lions every time I heard it.
The prize for most unusual/discomfiting name still goes, however, to a seven year-old who was in the first class I taught in Singapore. His personal name was Kun Ting. I called him ‘Darling’.