Duana Names: Philosophical Interlude

Duana Posted by Duana at March 13, 2014 17:21:40 March 13, 2014 17:21:40

Hi Duana,

I am not an expectant mother, just a fellow name nerd with a general name nerd question. Is the importance of having a name that is easily spelled and pronounced overstated? Does focusing on names that fit those parameters sacrifice the diversity often expressed through naming habits?

I have a name that is unusual and not easily spelled or pronounced. While I do have interesting experiences because of it, I love it. I have never met anyone with my name, although they do exist (mostly outside the US), and I want the same for my future children.

Reading name blogs and sites can be disheartening and frustrating because the exclusion of many names is often an expression of (unintentional) cultural bias. Name trends are changing but names that still fit or match prevailing standards are favored. I recognize my bias toward unpopular names but still wonder-is it reasonable to avoid names simply because they will be hard for some to say and spell? Or because the name bearer will stand out and be different?


So here’s a question from D that came in very recently that I thought was worth discussing. D, you know the phrase “Sometimes love isn’t enough?” This is kind of like that. You’re right – quite right – but at the same time, that may not be enough.   Here’s why.

Yes, you’re absolutely right that the names we discuss here (and on other name blogs) are English-speaking centric. Mostly that’s because it’s an English-speaking blog. Which isn’t to say that other cultures and other names aren’t equally as relevant, just that there’s a wider audience of people trying to find a way to use Wilhelmina or Barnaby than there is Agneiszka or Arjun. 

But you’re right that it means they can be skewed, culturally, particularly in the multicultural world we live in. There are a lot of gorgeous names that aren’t getting their due (and that are more attractive sometimes precisely because they’re uncommon). I find two things are happening, though.   

1) Fully 50% of the letters I get are from people who grew up like you (or me!) with unusual names, who want a name that is reflective of their culture, but that also fits into North American norms or that also meshes with their partner’s completely opposite culture. When you’re trying to match up Japanese and Scottish, a lot of times landing in the middle means something “universal”, even if it’s not necessarily the most unique.

2) Baby namers today have to contend with the culture of unique spelling to make a name unusual. I know that these alleged misspellings can seem like urban legend, but they do happen. This week I was at a child-centric place where they have names on the cubbies. There was a Tomas (totally acceptable alternate spelling for Thomas) and right beside it, a Madylin (totally “non-classic” spelling of Madeleine, to borrow a phrase from Nameberry). The thing is, who knows the difference? You do, maybe, as a name snob, but a lot of parents are going for more “known” names simply to eliminate doubt of their child’s pronunciation or of the chance someone will think it’s a “kreatif” spelling. 

It’s not a perfect set of circumstances, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t still emphasize a very unusual name for your children if that’s what you want … but I hope this explanation helps a little?

Tags: Name Nerd
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