Thought I Could Organize Freedom; How Scandinavian of Me

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Reader Umung Varma notes a piece in today's New York Times on Denmark's strict rules on baby naming:

At its heart, the Law on Personal Names is designed to protect Denmark's innocents—the children who are undeservedly, some would say cruelly, burdened by preposterous or silly names. It is the state's view that children should not suffer ridicule and abuse because of their parents' lapses in judgment or their misguided attempts to be hip. Denmark, like much of Scandinavia, prizes sameness, not uniqueness, just as it values usefulness, not frivolousness.

So no Apple or Brooklyn, let alone Dweezil or Moon Unit. I decided a long time ago that if I ever had a daughter, I'd name her "Antigone," partly because of that "burden." I like the idea of a name that reminds a child she's unique. Though, of course, that can backfire: A friend who was taking a masters in social work once worked at an urban summer camp where there were three girls named "Unique."

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  1. Problem with that is everyone would pronounce it “Anti Gone” rather than “Antigony” which is something like it’s supposed to be pronounced. Greek names for women are nice though.

    I can’t say I’m entirely unsympathetic with Denmark here. My brother-in-law came up with the idea to name his son (due in weeks) “Noah” but to drop the “h”. Seriously. “Noa”. I have no idea what he’s thinking.

  2. I still say the winner of the “we tried too hard (or maybe not hard enough) to name our kid” competition is:

    Corvoisier

  3. I’ve seen the Driver’s Licenses in this story…it checks out.

    Mom is a hippie has twins.

    First is named BoyA.

    Second is names BoyB.

  4. Imagine. “Hi. My name’s Monkey Anus Bush, and I approve this message.”

    Now that I mull that over…

  5. We have some family members who named their kid Holly. Her last name is Day. My husband suggested that she might change her name to “I’m going to kill my parent’s some” if it got too much for her. All the rest of her brothers and sisters have normal names. The joy of being the first…

  6. It is the state’s view that children should not suffer ridicule

    So rather than go after the ridculers, they go after the parents.

    I was blessed with red hair and took a lot of ridicule for it as a kid. Perhaps the state should have forced my parents to dye it brown for my protection.

  7. I once had a friend named George Lipschutz who was so traumatized by his name that he changed it to Sam.

  8. A friend of mine was doing peace corps in Guatemala and met a child that his parents named ‘Range Rover’ (said with a latin accent, of course).

    Wow.

  9. A maid of my girlfriend’s, here in Brazil, named her son after a famous actor who appeared in lots and lots of movies:

    “Also Starring”

  10. If families were sovereign rather than governments, we’d all be happier.
    Myself, I’m pretty happy now… considering.

  11. We named my daughter Liev (pronounced lee-evv), so I know she’s doomed to a lifetime of pronouncing her name, but still, everyone thinks it’s a pretty name. And her middle name is Athena.

    Nice Bjork reference.

  12. A friend of mine from high school is named Summer Day.

    Her little sister is Sunny June Day.

  13. Working at a jail I ran into a street worker with the given name of Velvetta.

  14. I’m one of those poor dopes that has a last name that is perfect for other kids to ridicule. I won’t tell you what it is because you guys will rag on me until I’m forced to withdraw from H&R. Suffice it to say, my kids never tell people what their last name is. Like Red suggested, maybe I should legally change my name to protect my kids.

    “I’m going to kill my parents some DAY” spit coffee on the monitor, thanks. VBG

  15. “It is the state’s view that children should not suffer ridicule…”

    The logic of the Danish government seems to be “we must protect the children from the supposedly bad choices of their parents, because we know how to raise their child better than they do”.

    Nearly every choice a parent makes will, in some way, affect the future of their child. So, taking Denmark’s assertion to its logical end, one could conclude that, in the interest of the child, the best course of action would be for parents to completely relinquish their offspring, at the time of birth, to the benevolent State, which will then raise the child according to its homogenous accepted standards.

    For example, for a parent to spoil a child, or send it to its room to eat dinner every night, or not let it go outside to play…all those things might damage the child’s future much more than a name. So, why should the state legislate against names, but not those other things?

    Yes, yes, let’s take this insanity to its logical end, and just let the state raise their droves of homogenous robots.

  16. “It is the state’s view that children should not suffer ridicule…”

    The logic of the Danish government seems to be “we must protect the children from the supposedly bad choices of their parents, because we know how to raise their child better than they do”.

    Nearly every choice a parent makes will, in some way, affect the future of their child. So, taking Denmark’s assertion to its logical end, one could conclude that, in the interest of the child, the best course of action would be for parents to completely relinquish their offspring, at the time of birth, to the benevolent State, which will then raise the child according to its homogenous accepted standards.

    For example, for a parent to spoil a child, or send it to its room to eat dinner every night, or not let it go outside to play…all those things might damage the child’s future much more than a name. So, why should the state legislate against names, but not those other things?

    Yes, yes, let’s take this insanity to its logical end, and just let the state raise their droves of homogenous robots.

  17. Yes, yes, let’s take this insanity to its logical end, and just let the state raise their droves of homogenous robots.

    In all fairness to Denmark, I believe such laws were instituted because more than one set of parents tried to name their child something like “1111&&*8nhb12~~~~7.” I think (originally) it was an attempt to keep such paperwork nightmare names from occurring, but clearly Denmark has done the usual government thing and taken it too far.

  18. My wife taught at a very low SES school in a rural community outside of Austin, TX for a year.

    There was a student in another classroom in her grade whose name was pronounced Lemahngelo.

    The kids name, no joke, was Lemonjello.

    Haven’t yet seen much to top that.

  19. Props on the Bjork quote.

  20. My dad had a high school buddy named Harry Balls. At 14 I more or less called him a liar (as much as you can do at 14 without getting your ass kicked). He hauled the dusty box down from the attic in the garage and showed me the yearbook. Sure enough, Harold Balls.

  21. Most original name?

    My cousin, John Johnson, who has two kids named Matt Johnson.

  22. i knew a now-retired urologist named harold dicke.

  23. The most annoying guy I knew in college was named Christian D. Orr. Instead of just referring to himself as Christian or Chris, when he met somebody he’d introduce himself as Christian D. Orr and explain that it’s not “Christian Dior”.

    My initials are ARS. Fortunately not too many people pick up on that.

  24. Well, nobody wants to remember the Atlanta Rhythm Section.

  25. I like the idea of a name that reminds a child she’s unique.

    Yeah, most kids LOVE being singled out for “uniqueness”…. Germany has a similar system. Honestly, I see no problem with this. What other solution is there to stop parents from giving their kids stupid names?? Punishing the abusers seems like the sensible libertarian solution, but that is not going to prevent the life of hell that unfortunately-named kids are going to have to live through.

  26. The Brazilians are particularly adept at weird names. Here’s a nice list of them:

    http://www.portcult.com/Portugal.64.BRAZILIAN_NAMES.htm

    Among my favorites are Adolpho Hitler de Oliveira, Elvis Presley da Silva, Hericlapiton da Silva, Ludwig van Beethoven Silva, Maicon Jakisson de Oliveira, Marili Monr?i, Marlon Brando Benedito da Silva and Sherlock Holmes da Silva

  27. “Yeah, most kids LOVE being singled out for ‘uniqueness'”

    I’m sure she wouldn’t “love” it; sometimes parents do things kids aren’t going to like at the time. As for “what other solution”… there’s no other solution. There shouldn’t be a “solution.”

  28. Having a unique name has different pluses and minuses as I can personally attest.

    On the minus side, people always do a doubletake when introduced to you. They seem to be trying to figure out if your parents were in a cult or something. It can also cause problems with spelling which causes problems with ones records. People have trouble understanding your name on when spoken aloud. (It’s very surprising how many people don’t want to here the word “Love” as a surname and instead hear “lowe” or “Lower”) Also, if another person does have the same name, people seem less likely to doublecheck that they have the right record. I have twice gotten another Shannon Love’s medical records.

    On the plus side, people remember you. I wasn’t any kind of social animal in High School or college but people still remember me to mutual acquaintances seemingly just because my name stuck in their minds. I never have to be worried about getting lost in memory pile of names. Co-workers, bosses and clients all remember who I am and what I do.

    Naming laws like those in Sweden are common in Europe. Frances has one, Germany has one and think there is even one in Holland. These laws reveal a cultural distrust of the individual that has many other more significant political manifestations.

    My odd name (for my time and circumstances) helped make me the person I am today. Looking back I find the occasional taunting and alienation acceptable prices for the perspective I enjoy today. I wouldn’t have liked the state to have come in an slapped some blas? moniker on me for my greater good. Maybe I would have been “happier” in some sense, at least as a child, but that doesn’t mean I would have been “better” and “happier” in the long run.

  29. In the same vein as ‘oughtta be a law’ up there, the worst name I’ve ever run into was a guy whose locker was next to mine in high school. He was Harry as well, and not as short for Harold, but given Harry, and his last name is a bit too vulgar for plain language here, but it started with a K, ended with a tz, and had the initials of our favorite wannabe world government in the middle.

    I’m sure you all can spell it out.

  30. Used to be an OB-GYN in Temecula Ca named Dr Kuntz.

    This just never gets old, does it…….

  31. I’m sure she wouldn’t “love” it; sometimes parents do things kids aren’t going to like at the time.

    Maybe she’ll NEVER like having a strange name. My point is that the “uniqueness” Americans prize above all else should not necessarily be a guide to labelling your child and subjecting them to potential ridicule for life. And as for “there should not be a solution”, well, this is one case where we really should “think about the children” instead of merely thinking of ourselves.

  32. My fiancee has a name (both first and last) that is almost entirely unique and nearly unpronouncable. Only people who know her know how it’s said, and spelled. (It’s a good traditional Greek name, she being half-Greek, but not one that’s at all common in the US.)

    While I’m sure that as a child she was teased, she told me in no uncertain terms that there was no way she was changing it after we’re married next year.

    While I’m sure every child wishes they were named ‘Brad’ and ‘John’ and ‘Lisa’ and ‘Jennifer’, it should be remembered that you spend about 10 years, if that, in an environment where your peers are entertained by teasing you about your name. Then you spend the rest of your life with that name, among adults. An interesting and unique name can be much more of a blessing over those years than it was a curse over your childhood years.

    Or, in short: ‘for the children’ almost never flies. It’s nearly always a stupid reason to legislate.

  33. Shannon: To clarify, your name is properly pronouced ‘luv,’ rather than a Germanic ‘lov-ay’? If the former, how do people get ‘lower’…?

    Friends of my wife’s family named their first son ‘Dakota Starbuck.’ Yarf.

    G

  34. An interesting and unique name can be much more of a blessing over those years than it was a curse over your childhood years.

    I’m sure “Harry Balls” agrees with you.

    These laws reveal a cultural distrust of the individual that has many other more significant political manifestations.

    Well said. Okay, I grudgingly agree that legislation is not the right solution. But I also believe that children should not have to suffer the stupid choices made by their parents. Oh well. At least they can change it later.

  35. I think you guys have gone through every naming legend at Snopes.com, but as long as it happened to you I’ll suspend my disbelief.

  36. I can’t believe no one notice that the author of the article was named Lizette. Typical, Danish moniker cops are never around when you need one…

  37. I can’t believe no one notice that the author of the article was named Lizette. Typical, Danish moniker cops are never around when you need one…

  38. I can’t believe no one notice that the author of the article was named Lizette. Typical, Danish moniker cops are never around when you need one…

  39. I plan on naming my firstborn son Apache Ninja, and the second Maximus Lightning. For this, I expect that someday, little ANM and MLM will truly know what it means to hate their father. And if every word of historic Hollywood epics can be believed, they’ll be ready to be kings.

  40. While odd names are being tossed around, I should add the name of a man my father served with in the Navy. “Ron Moore” is a pretty normal name until you consider how the military announces names.

  41. I’m not sure if my parents are telling me the truth, or if they chose a name for me that they later regretted and then chose to lie about it. But the story I’ve always heard is that my mom wanted to give me the middle name Daniel, after a dead uncle or something, but whoever typed up the birth certificate fatfingered the name, and so for the past 29 years my middle name has been Danial (with an “a” instead of an “e”). Apparently they never thought to have it corrected.

    I thought about legally changing my name for a while, but then figured the uniqueness of the name is kind of hard to give up. I am so used to the questions about it that this name is part of me now.

    So the Danish need to forget about the parents, and keep the government data entry clerks from giving kids wierd names.

  42. As a computer geek, I see lots of unsusual names out there. At a big tobacco company I met a man named ‘Bipul Dikshit’ all our nametags said ‘J. Doe’ his said ‘Bipul D.’ At an elementary school I now support there is an unfortunate child named ‘Mahogony Shake’.

  43. Patrick, are you serious? You can’t possibly call yourself a libertarian. To support a law like this, you creep awfullly close to falling into the morass of statism.

  44. How about parents who forgot their kids might be drafted into the military?
    I knew a PFC Gull and a PFC General Smith.

  45. No, I don’t support the law; but as someone who was mercilessly ridiculed as a child (admittedly, for my last name, not first), I can understand the motivation behind it. Let’s say that I would never support such a law here, but if I were (say) German I would probably do nothing to get rid of it there. I happen to prefer traditional names anyway, even out-of-fashion ones like “Nigel” (one of the supposedly “wrong” names mentioned on that amusing site linked above). But I just cannot wrap my brain around the concept of parents giving their kids “unique” names just to be “different”. Everyone is unique and different anyway – why make things harder for them? PS. I don’t call myself a libertarian… but I am slowly veering in that direction, with the help of this website 🙂

  46. “I don’t call myself a libertarian… but I am slowly veering in that direction, with the help of this website :-)”

    I thought you were gonna say “in spite of this website.”

  47. One of my Aunts used to live next door to a couple who named their two kids Ham and Cheese. I can only hope their last name wasn’t something like Sandwich.

    On a personal note, I was named after my father, who was named after his father, who was named after his father. It was a very common name (John) but I HATED it! I WANTED to be my own person, not just another copy of a copy of a copy. Yeah, I know it’s just a name, and a rose by any other would yadda yadda, but I still changed it when I was older. My dad approved of the switch, but 21 years later I’m still trying to convince my mom stop calling me Johnny.

  48. I knew someone who decided to name their son “Matthew”, but to be different, decided to spell it with two ‘t’s. They were too ignorant to know, and too stupid to think of looking up, the fact that Matthew is normally spelled with 2 ‘t’s.

  49. what’s in a name.

    There’s just too many anecdotes here.

    First: children will be teased mercilessly no matter what you call them. If it’s not their name it’ll be something else or nothing. Children are nothing if not creative. I recall friends of mine who agonized for months over an ‘uncorruptable’ name for their pending new arrival. When they brought the little pink bundle home to introduce her to her older brother they said ‘meet your new sister, Amber’.

    He, in fine fashion, picks up his best movie Brit accent and says “allo ‘Amberger”. Any name can be made fun of.

    I use neither of my legal names. My first name is my father’s first name. He hated it and never used it, but here I am. It’s a ‘normal’ name, but neither of us liked it. Mom picked my middle name from a popular tv show. It too is ‘normal’ as such things go, but dad didn’t like it. SO, from birth, he called me ‘Jake’ and that stuck. There’s just no telling where your name will wind up.

    Incidentally, it is no fun when the first sylable of all 3 of your names rhyme. (and yet I survived)

    A good friend of mine had his father’s surname from birth. His father was, and I quote, “a no good bum” and so when my friend turned 18 he took the simple step of changing his name to something more acceptable (his maternal surname). A simple solution.

    My daughter has a relatively uncommon name. I won’t say it’s ‘unique’ but it’s certainly not Mary or Elizabeth. She was grumpy about that for her early childhood (because she’d have rather had a different, and ultimatley more teaseworthy, unusual name), but when she hit age 10 she found her stride and now wouldn’t change her name for anything. So, you never really know.

    Finally, names have power. Whether you want a kabalist explaination or a pop psych one, I is my experience that people of a name are also of a type. I’ve never met a ‘Susan’ that wasn’t a psycho bitch. I’ve never met an Ian who wasn’t brilliant but geeky. Anecdotal sure, but I do take care in picking names. Maybe this is an argument for USING known names. I’m not sure how a son named Angleiron Snowdrift would turn out 🙂

    There is definately a difference between a creative name and a stupid name. Antigone is beautiful and uncommon. Definately creative. Chlymidia (after her aunts Chloe and Termidia) is just stupid- to say nothing of cruel.

    However, if we legistated against stupidity we’d need MUCH bigger prisons.

    I understand the good intentions (and the roadbuilding that implies) of the law, but still find it an unconscionable intrusion of the government into private life that is none of their business. It’s bad enough that the government feels the need to stamp, number, index, brief, debrief and file every newborn. That they feel the need to name them as well is beyond beyond the pale.

    Jake(if that *is* my real name 😉

  50. Hey, does anyone here use their real names at restaurants when being put on a list for a table to become available?

    We’re usually “the Hoopners.”

  51. My nephew was named Jacob. One day my sister went to school to pick up her son. “I’m here to pick up Jacob L-.”

    The school secretary was perplexed. And then she smiled, exclaiming, “Oh, you mean ‘Jake’!”

    It turns out that my nephew had entered the new school with the nickname form of his name. He had introduced himself as ‘Jake,’ and it stuck. He liked it. But he hadn’t told his parents! After they learned of his name change, it took them a while to get used to it.

    The kid was in grade school. I don’t know if he had been teased about “Jacob” or not. Later, I know, he was teased for being overweight and for not playing in sports – by the coaches, too, the crumbums. (Weak joints meant no sports for him. So the teasing by the coaches was quite uncalled-for, and the State should have called them on the carpet. But as we know, sports people are given a great deal of lattitude in our society, even in state-run schools. Especially in state-run schools.)

    One can call oneself anything one wants. I once asked a liberal lawyer what she thought the Ninth Amendment meant. “What are the rights retained by the people?” And she quickly gave an example: “The right to call yourself anything you want, provided the naming is done for non-fraudulent reasons.”

    I was named Timothy. I was, for ages it seemed, called “Timmy.” Then “Tim.” Because of a typo, for one year I went by the name “Time.” Later, in recognition of my Finnish ancestry, I offered “Timo” as a more friendly nickname. Unfortunately, some people pronounce this “Timmo,” which is wrong. Recently, my neighbors have been using the preppy nickname “Timmer.” Hmmm. A number of people now call me “Mr. Tim,” which I kind of like, though I’m not sure why.

    When in school, one kid repeatedly taunted me, saying “Tim’s got ‘tims,'” which I think he believed meant “breasts.” I’ve never found that peculiar usage in any dictionary.

    I usually introduce myself as “Timothy.” Immediately, if the other person is a man, he will extend his hand for a shake and call me “Tim.” If the person I’ve introduced myself to is a woman, she’ll likely repeat my name as given, as “Timothy.” Maybe this explains why I like women so much.

    So in business situations, where brevity is the soul of the lackwits, I introduce myself as “Tim.” Just to save trouble and time. Or Time.

    In writing, though, I’ve almost abandoned that name. Two associations with it give me trouble. The name sounds “meek”‘ the lost, forlorn quality to it is often recognized by artists. Consider the main character of Ray Bradbury’s “Homecoming.” The other problem? It derives from words meaning “honoring God.” I’ve thought a name change to “Timoathy” might be more appropriate for me.

    I’ve known a man named “Randy Matter.” I once took a credit card from a man named “Dick Short,” and the card put the lastname first. I kid you not. I’ve had to hold a snicker when introduced to a man named Kunz, and he didn’t try to pronounce it in the German fashion. Yup, he called himself “Cunts.”

    Weirdly, a Finnish name in my neck of the woods is “Aho,” pronounced “Ah – ho.” Easy to make fun of, I suppose, but few did or do. But back east, in Minnesota, my family members with the same name pronounce it with a long A – yielding A-ho’… I always wondered why they didn’t pronounce the name correctly, rather than in the vulgar, Americanized tongue.

    The names people keep are often as strange as the names people give – or take.

  52. Wirkman Virkkala,
    You surely feel much better now!
    (Are you sure you haven’t been hanging out too much with Hagar the Horrible?)

  53. Jake, be careful what you claim on the Internet; there are people around who still remember that thirty-odd-year-old Readers Digest issue you got the “Amber” anecdote out of. 😉

  54. I knew the “Lemonjello” and “Orangejello” sibilings story was an urban myth even before I read it on snopes. I’ve had three different people over the last five or six years tell me about their sister/cousin/aunt who was a school teacher and who heard about the names from other teachers. I found it extremely dubious that there could be that many pairs of twins named after Jello flavors.

  55. I’d like to name my child Dick, not Richard, just Dick. Especially if it’s a girl.

  56. SR-

    I swear that the Orangejello and Lemonjello story is true! A friend of mine knew this guy whose aunt’s boss went to school with them!

    This friend’s mother also paid $250 for a cookie recipe. She had fun making those cookies until the day she woke up in a bathtub of ice with her kidneys missing. She died on the way to the hospital. My friend was so upset that he killed himself by attaching a rocket engine to his car and flying over a cliff.

  57. A high school friend of mine who is now an elementary school teacher, told me the tale of a boy whose parents – no doubt aiming for uniqueness – gave him a name that sounds like Sha-theed. Unfortunately for the boy, his parents must have also been illiterate. The spelling: Shithead.

  58. I have taught for 12 years and the following names are the real deal, the children all sat in my class and their names appeared on my role sheet in the same spelling here.

    Dome Favors (he said it was pronounced DoMay, Not Do Me)

    Phuc Yu (I pronounced it fook, he claimed the correct pronuciation was err you know, later went by the americanized name peter, my response was, is this supposed to be an improvement)

    Precious Bush (nuff said)

    Car names are increasingly popular including spelling vary widely

    Porsche
    Lexus
    Mercedes

    Regards

    Joe

  59. Porsche

    It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that the parents wanted to name their child “Portia.”

  60. It’s a sad day when there are more kids in elementary school named “Hunter” than “William”. My family isn’t helping things out: “Madison” and “Chase” morphed from family names into first names on my mother’s side of the family.

    – Josh

  61. Well, Porsche is a last name, and therefore a no-no as a first name…. and Mercedes is a real girl’s name. In fact, the car was named after the girl.

  62. In the 7th grade I was placed in a class with two other people with the same given name as me. I really didn’t want to be an Alison A., so I spent the year as “Alice”. I don’t think my father ever forgave me.

    Seriously, unique names can be good. Thank God I wasn’t named Jennifer or Laura like the millions of other people my age.

    Also, if you want to prevent names like “1111&&*8nhb12~~~~7”, then it would be a lot easier to simply not allow any names containing non-alphabetic characters. The registry isn’t a good idea for a society with a lot of foreign born citizens.

    “I’m sorry, you can’t name your child after your father; it’s not on the list.”

  63. Speedwell,

    I don’t read Reader’s Digest (which I consider to be inadquate even as toilet paper), but I’m not ‘claiming’ anything. The story happened as I told it. Perhaps it was in Reader’s Digest before that as well (this would have been about 15 years ago), but it’s not like there’s anything ORIGINAL in RD anyway. I’ll keep that in mind next time I have occassion to tell the story.

    I suppose for your next trick you’ll tell me that the story of MY name appeared in Good Housekeeping in 1953 😉

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