Civil Liberties

Names Can Never Hurt You


A New Jersey couple is complaining of discrimination after a local ShopRite refused to inscribe a birthday cake for Adolf Hitler. The Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, Express-Times reports that Heath and Deborah Campbell, who live across the Delaware River in Holland Township, have "three children named for Nazism": Adolf Hitler Campbell, who turned 3 on Sunday; JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, who turns 2 in February; and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell, who turns 1 in April and is named for SS honcho Heinrich Himmler. (Since my German is limited to a few words that overlap with Yiddish and a few more that I picked up from Hogan's Heroes, I'm not clear on why the mm became an n. Does that feminize the name?) The Campbells, who favor swastikas ("symbols of peace and balance," according to Heath) as a decorating motif, claim not to understand what the big deal is about their Nazi namesakes:

"I just figured that they're just names," Deborah Campbell said. "They're just kids. They're not going to hurt anybody."

Heath Campbell said some people like the names but others are shocked to hear them. "They say, 'He [Hitler] killed all those people.' I say, 'You're living in the wrong decade. That Hitler's gone,'" he said.

"They're just names, you know," he said. "Yeah, they [Nazis] were bad people back then. But my kids are little. They're not going to grow up like that."

"Other kids get their cake. I get a hard time," he said. "It's not fair to my children.

"How can a name be offensive?" he asked.

This story, which has been picked up by newspapers ranging from USA Today to The Australian, sounds too good to be true, like a below-average Onion article or an above-average Saturday Night Live sketch. But according to Robert M. Gordon, an Allentown psychologist consulted by the Express-Times, the Campbells are neither facetious nor stupid; they are mentally ill:

Any parent that would impose such horrific names on their children is mentally ill, and they would be affecting their children from the day they were born. Only a crazy person would do that.

Gordon's attitude is the only thing that made me sympathize with Heath and Deborah (as opposed to their kids). Must every anti-social tendency, every species of idiocy, every flavor of unreasoning hatred be reduced to a pseudomedical psychiatric label? Can't anybody be a neo-Nazi numbskull anymore?

For the record, Walmart, where the customer comes first, was happy to produce the birthday cake that ShopRite denied little Adolf. Do you think ShopRite would have flinched if the birthday wishes had been for Mao Tse-Tung?