A Rose By Any Other Name: What Parents Name Their Baby Matters

What's in a name? That which we call anyone besides what these parents tried to name their children.

February 2, 2018
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In 2008, a New Zealand couple made national headlines when a judge granted the court temporary custody of their 9-year-old daughter. The parents’ offense could possibly make this case one of the most unique tales of custody loss to date. Custody was granted to the court so that the nine year old could legally change her name from “Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii” to something a little more normal.

According to reports published by The Guardian in 2008, Rob Murfit, a family court judge, made the decision after learning of the child’s embarrassment. Apparently, she had taken to telling her school friends her name was “K” just to avoid revealing the truth. The reasoning behind the court’s decision was that strange names set children up for bullying, giving them a disadvantage in life. And Murfit accused the parents of poor judgement and putting the child in a position of social handicap.

Although losing custody might seem like a harsh consequence for giving a child a weird name, it’s important remember that what parents name their children matters. Of course, parents don’t need to be constrained to choosing from the top ten baby names of the year. They should, however, practice restraint when they begin to adventure into extremely unusual names and consider the potential consequences of their decision.

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“When choosing a name for their child, parents should consider how the child will feel bearing that name during childhood and in adulthood,” says Fran Walfish, PsyD, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent. “Too often parents seem more preoccupied with their own name preferences.”

“Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii” might be among the most outrageous names out there, but it definitely isn’t the only strange names parents have tried to get away with. In this case alone, the judge mentioned records of names like “Fish and Chips,” “Sex Fruit,” and “Keenan Got Lucy” as examples of some of the worst names parents had given their child. Take a look at a few more of the most unusual names out there.

The Strangest Baby Names Out There

In 1994, the Los Angeles Times reported on a couple from Japan who were in a legal battle with the Japanese government over what they had chosen to named their son. They had given him the name “Akuma,” which translates to “Devil” in Japanese. Although the family was initially allowed to legally give out this name, the Prime Minister’s cabinet eventually got involved. The family was ordered to select another name for the child, stating fears that the child would face bullying in the future.

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In New Zealand, naming a baby requires a stamp of approval from the government. After denying a multitude of strange and cruel names, they chose to release an official statement sharing all of the names that are strictly off limits: Lucifer, Messiah, 4Real, and even Anal made the list, according to CNN.

France is another country who has a history of putting strict regulations on baby naming. Until 1993, parents actually had to pick from list of names provided by the government. Although they relaxed the laws after 1993, parents still can’t get away with trying to use an exceptionally strange name. According to Huffington Post, parents have recently been turned down when trying to name their child “Nutella” and “Strawberry” in France.

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In Sweden, one couple chose a strange name for their child to make a point. Sweden has very strict naming laws and vetos names that don’t comply with those laws. This family decided to fight back, naming their child “Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116” in protest, according to BBC. The Swedish government did not approve it.

The “Why” Behind Strange Names

When you hear stories of outlandish names, you can’t help but wonder what exactly was going through the parents’ heads at the time. It’s one thing to want to make a point, but giving your child a name that could become a source of humiliation for the child is another story entirely.

In general, it seems parents who are willing to let their child suffer because of their unusual name are driven by self-centeredness. In fact, Walfish believes parents who pick extreme names are downright narcissistic.

“Parents who name their kids really extreme names like ‘Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii’ have a piece of narcissism in their character organization,” she says. “People who are narcissistic, or have narcissistic traits, are missing the computer chip in their organized personalities to imagine the impact of their own behavior on others or empathize with others.”

Empathy is an important character trait for all human beings, but especially for parents charged with raising a child. Without empathy, many relationships are at risk of ruin. Feeling empathy is essential to returning the emotional needs of another person to make sure they feel understood, accepted, and validated, according to Walfish. And parents who aren’t able to empathize with their children are more likely to make foolish decisions without considering how it could harm their children.

Kerby Alvy, PsyD, clinical psychologist and author of Parenting Errors agreed, saying that many parents who choose unusual names for their children are more concerned about how that name with reflect back on them. They have certain thoughts about their own reputation or the reputation they would like to maintain, and naming their children is one more way to confirm that reputation.

How Strange Names Impact Childhood

“The name a child is given is a major shaper of one’s existence or one’s futures,” says Alvy. “There’s a history within certain cultures of naming kids with characteristics they want to see develop and actually work with their kids to develop those characteristics. So it’s not unusual in certain cultures that the name is actually given to try to bring out characteristics in their children.”

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This is one of many reasons Alvy believes what parents name their children matters. A name shapes what a child believes about themselves and often how they are perceived by others. What a child is named is a central part of their self-identification, according to Walfish.

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“Around age 3 to 4, every boy and girl needs to make a positive self-identification,” she explains. “If the child gets negative messages from his peers … and it makes the child feel self-conscious, it risks the child feeling a negative sense of self related to his or her name.”

And when it comes to incredibly strange names, they can become a source of shame for children. In schools, bullying is incredibly common. Kids with unusual names are prime targets for bullying, according to Alvy, and parents should consider this before they select a name for their child. Parents must realize that a strange name makes their child an easy target, and that they might be responsible for putting their kid in harm’s way.

“When parents want to be too creative and different, that’s when they can get into trouble,” adds Walfish. “It’s hard for a child to go through school and escape being bullied … Kids in school look for opportunities to tease and torment their peers. Having a name that’s unusual is a perfect opportunity for a mean kid to pounce on another.”

What Parents Need to Know About Naming Their Child

Naming a baby is hard. Multiple parents share with HealthyWay their own struggles to find the right fit for their child. One mom says she dislikes her daughter’s name, while another hates the nicknames friends and family have created for her son’s very traditional name. My husband loves to joke about being called “the baby” for several days after his birth while his parents debated about name choices. Some parents, like Amy, a mom of two, might find themselves hating the name they once believed was the perfect choice.

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“We had ‘Ariel Elizabeth’ planned for kid two,” she says. “After she was born, we tried it out at the hospital. No one could say it without puckering up their mouths.”

Another mom, Nikki, pushes back on the assertion that unusual names are always a bad choice. She shares that they chose “Beowulf” for their first child, despite criticism from family and friends and has never regretted the choice.

Although most parents won’t try to get away with naming their child “Metallica,” all parents should carefully consider the name they are giving their child. A good place to start, according to Alvy, is an honest look at the motivation behind their naming choices. After identifying those motivations, he also suggests examining any possibilities for a specific name to put the child at risk of teasing, shame, or insecurity.

In some situations, parents who have made a naming choice they have come to regret might consider taking extreme measures to make amends: allowing their child to legally change their name.

“As long as you’re consulting honestly with your kids about their name, a child might very well say, ‘Oh, mommy, I have a lot of trouble with this. Kids are making fun of me,'” Alvy says. “I think that it’s a good idea to ask your child what he or she would prefer to be named.”

Ultimately, parents have to be willing to have honest conversations with their children, according to Alvy. They have to be willing to hear the criticism their child offers up about their parenting choices, be willing to apologize, and make the changes necessary to improve their child’s life.

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