Naming Customs: What's In a Name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

-William Shakespeare

One doesn't have to know literature to be able to place these immortal words, spoken by Juliet as she thought out loud of the difficulties she and her lover, Romeo were dealing with based upon their last names.

The Power of Names

Names hold within them some type of power which may show itself over time. Historically, people named their children for the attributes they either saw or hoped would be in them. In the First Nations culture, such names as Strong Eagle, Running Bear, Quiet Springs and others spoke of the holder of the name as being strong of character, having great physical prowess or a quiet spirit. In the Torah (First 5 Books of the Old Testament), we find children are named for specific situations or for particular qualities they embodied. Isaac, miracle son of Abraham and Sarah, was named Yitzhak (laughter) since his mother Sarah laughed when she was told she would conceive and have a child in her old age.

This practice is carried on to this day in my countries and cultures outside of Western, industrialized nations. Traditional names provide a link to the past and connection to generations gone before. The naming of babies after someone who was a family member, perhaps now gone, keeps the memory alive. Names with strong meanings are often tied to the hope that the child will become a living model of the name they bear.

The Naming Contest

Today, naming baby has taken on some new dimensions and things aren't quite what they used to be in this face of parenthood. Unusual names provide some benefit, as long as they aren't outrageous. An unusual name will usually bring a bit more attention to the bearer of the name and often remains in the mind of the hearer for a longer period of time. Also, a child with an unusual name has the opportunity to create their own image in a way that isn't quite as available to those with more common names. Parents who choose really strange or outrageous names may not be thinking of the long-term effects upon their child or the possible disadvantage their child may have as a result.

Baby naming these days is highly competitive, high pressured and can end up being a secretive process as parents strive to have the name that is most unique, original or unusual for their offspring. Often, the fear of having the name "stolen" will drive a decision underground until the day of the actual naming. Difficult spellings can present problems for teachers and others as the child grows - all this in the name of individuality.

What Is Most Important?

So then, at the end of the day, what really is in a name? True, it provides an anchor for personal identity, but isn't the person inside the name of more value than the name itself?


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