Friday, June 29, 2012


Continuing the discussion on naming your baby, Mrs. Fenner, who I otherwise highly respect, begins a rather lengthy discussion on certain names that should be avoided and some of it is a little sensitive for modern readers and we’ll skip those parts.  And once again, though this is from the book Amercian Catholic Ettiquette, I have little understanding what this has to do with Catholics in particular.

She abhors any name that makes a boy sound like a “sissy” if for no other reason that it makes growing up with such a name difficult.  She certainly would not approve of the Johnny Cash song, “A boy named Sue.”  Reginald and Percy are certainly not acceptable names for a boy in the United States though, “they are suitable for English boys.”  Perhaps Mrs. Fenner is not so found of the English.  I think the English perfectly respectable people.
When my first sister was born they thought it was going to be me (they would have to wait another 16 years) and my Dad wanted to name me Christopher because of a highly popular nickname at the time for this name was “Kit” that my Dad thought was of some snappy value for some reason.  I think both Mrs. Fenner and Monsignor Manners would not have approved.  Fortunately the nickname was out of fashion by 1965.

She has some concern for those with “common names” such as Smith or Baker.  “Pick a distinctive baptismal name,” she recommend “for the purposes of identification”.  I understand what she means.  My last name is fairly uncommon but my first, “John”, though a great and strong name, was very common growing up.  I had an uncle and a grandpa John, five classmates in grade school named John, and two of my five priestly classmates were named John.  Hence, I rarely, if ever, went or go by the name John.  If anyone ever calls me by the familiar “Father John,” you know that they do not know me well at all.  

One way to achieve distinction is to use the child’s mother’s maiden name as a middle name.  (Careful though, remember what I told you about Andrew Kernin last week.)  She does oppose it for Scottish and Irish families however.  “Who wants ‘J. McA. McS’ for initials?”  Back to the monogrammed bath towels dilemma.  Can you imagine the size of cufflinks one would have to wear?

Now: Syllables!  Like poetry, one must be careful with the number of syllables in your child’s name.  (I told you it was going to get harder.)  “Do not use three one syllable or three two syllable names for your child,” Mrs. Fenner suggests.  “There is nothing wrong with these names but when said together they sound like soldiers clumping along with heavy boots!”  Which may be exactly what you want when he is in trouble!  Imagine standing on your back porch and calling out, “John George Smith!  Get in here right now!”

“It is better to be trite than pretentious,” reports Mrs. Fenner, “but avoid both.”  She also recommends avoiding picking fashionable names.  Like good architecture, classical is always in fashion.  Fashionable always runs the high risk of dating oneself and eventually sounding trite.  “Bambie?  What an adorable name!  Let me guess when you were born.”

Then there is a the problem of too many of the same consonants or too many of the same vowel sounds.  She does not explain why but you can guess why a child with the name, “Lilly Loraine Little” might feel like the Littl’ ole’ Lady from Littl’ Italy.  I think my parents did quite well with “John Anthony Valencheck.”

That finishes up with the actual naming process, but there will be one more week concerning what to do with the name after it has been bestowed.  So go ahead, you may name your child now.  But wait one more week before you start using it.

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