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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Safety names

We've all heard crazy names.

Don't front as if you have no idea what I'm talking about. The U.S. Census Bureau even puts out lists of crazy names - people naming their kids after hard liquor, luxury cars, canned vegetables.

And with every out-there name, most of us have gotten a good chuckle or shared an incredulous look with someone else.

So I was on the phone earlier with a buddy who reminded me of a friendly debate we had recently while watching one of those celeb living shows on VH-1. This particular show was about celebrity baby names. And, yes, we laughed scornfully at the Apples and the Fifi Trixibelles and the Tiger Lily Heavenly Hiranis and the Daisy Boos.

Here's the thing though - in the end at least we were laughing at the celeb baby names. But we both agreed that often when we hear some of the other crazy names I referenced at the top we don't just laugh. We also shake our heads in pity...for the children.

Now, the premise of my argument is that I believe middle-of-the-road people, Average Joe and Jane America can be subconsciously suspicious of and condescending to people with "different" names the same way some of us are subconsciously suspicious of people of different races sometimes.

You don't think so? Remember the early '90s sitcom Martin, starring comedian Martin Lawrence? One of the many characters Lawrence played was his wild across-the-hall neighbor Sheneneh (pronounced Chez Ne Ne). Sheneneh was what pop culture "experts" (and comedians) called ghetto fabulous. And as the joke grew and Martin's fan base grew, an association developed between Sheneneh's name, her tacky ways...and her appearance. People began referring to their goofy neighbor or their loud, mannerless friend as Sheneneh. I called my own sister Sheneneh as a joke and to get under her skin, though, for the record, she was/is attractive and classy.

Relax though. Don't get all squeamish and squirmy, because the name game is not about race these days. It's about money.

If you're born to money and/or a prominent family your folks can name you "Dog Crap Murphy." And as long as the $$$ haven't dried up by the time you reach coolness-necessary age you will be fine. People will be nice to you. If you're a guy girls will dig you and other guys will want to be you. If you're a girl, guys will dig you and other girls will hate you anyway, 'cause that's just what they do. You could run for president or become a Hollywood star yourself. Eventually fans, normal people, will start naming their pets and their children after you. People will proudly hold up their babies: Dog Crap Smith, Dog Crap Lewinsky, Dog Crap Jenkins, Dog Crap Rivera, Dog Crap Chang.

On the other hand, if you're born poor and entering this life with a lump of coal rather than a lucky horse shoe in your diaper, and your folks give you a dumb name? You are screwed...unless your parents are artistic types who are expected to buck convention, or unless you grow up and learn you have an amazing: athletic talent, acting talent, singing talent, or to a lesser degree in terms of popularity, literary or theatrical writing talent.

So if you have a baby on the way and you're unsure of a name for him/her ask yourself these questions: Am I rich? Am I in line to inherit a lot of money by the time my child turns 10 or 12-years-old? Am I a certified hippie? Am I an artist - not just in my own mind, but a person whose art work is recognized? Am I famous for being an actor, singer, superb athlete, or for having posed naked in a gentleman's (or ladies') magazine?

If you can't say yes to one or more of those questions, do yourself a favor. Give your kid a safety name, a name so plain and so common that your kid's peers will be forced to make fun of him for something else, like weight or clumsiness.

Right about now, I'm thinking "James" sounds pretty darn good if any of you soon-to-be parents are still stumped.



  • My favorite is Poppy Petal Emma Elizabeth Deveraux Donahue (Samantha Spade from Without a Trace). She has one brother named Jethro Tull, after Jethro Tull. And 4 sisters: Rosie Thorn, Daisy Yellow, Lily Belle and Marigold Sun.

    And here I thought my cousin Elijah Blu had a weird name.

    By Blogger Dayngr, at 11:32 PM  

  • I was born in the time of free love and dirty hippy nonsense. I grew up with kids named Seven, Moon Flower, Boo, Karo (as in Karo syrup) to top it off my cousin is named Billy Jack.

    I have the impression that the ones without money have been held back by their funky names. Who knows?

    By Blogger Hammer, at 11:48 PM  

  • hmmm...I have to disagree with naming a child with a plain, safe name, although I certainly wouldn't go as far as naming my kid some really weird name or name them after a fruit! At one point, I knew about 3 or 4 guys named Joe. That gets confusing!!

    By Blogger Claudia, at 12:05 AM  

  • I have a weird name. No one ever forgets it. That's not always a good thing.

    By Blogger mist1, at 12:35 AM  

  • Thanks for the advise James. I've always been fond of that name for some reason.

    By Blogger captain corky, at 1:28 AM  

  • James, you have hit upon one of my pet peeves, and that's parents who bestow ridiculous names onto their children. Some of the worst offenders are those who choose "creative" versions of common names, some of which break spelling rules. An example in recent memory: Alican, (supposed to be pronounced Alice Ann.) I also knew a girl named Shelaugh, (Sheila.)

    Parents, please heed James' advice rather than to subject your offspring to middle school torture.

    (ps: for more fun with names, please see my blog entries for "baby names" and "p diddy." You know where to find me.)

    By Anonymous The Sarcasticynic, at 6:58 AM  

  • My cousin who is an RN, actually had a 14 yr. old girl wanting to call her newborn daughter Vagina. She had no clue what that name meant, only that she liked the sound of it. True story.

    How sad.

    By Blogger Christina_the_wench, at 8:23 AM  

  • James, I am printing up this post and mailing to some of my relatives who are stuck in the white trash rut of giving their children names that sound "celtic".

    To date I have cousins who have named their children "Trafylgar", "Jaydyn", and "Kaytlyn". (Apparently, throwing a bunch of extraneous y's into any name makes it "celtic".)

    By Blogger Queen of Dysfunction, at 9:51 AM  

  • [clap clap clap clap clap]

    I live with this. I have a very odd first name and it was hell when I was younger. Now, I just use my initials and life is so much easier.

    My kids both have traditional, normal names, although in this age of Whitney, Brittany, Lindsay, Josh and Jack, they've never had another kid in the same grade who shares their name.

    Great blog, James!

    By Blogger SWF41, at 10:19 AM  

  • My last name is fun--it's silly and kind of zippy.

    It's not, like, Butts or anything, but it's a butchered Hungarian name with a lot of consonants.

    For a long time, I just wanted to marry a Smith or a Jones, but now I embrace it, and I might even hyphenate, as I'll be the last one of the clan.

    By Blogger 123Valerie, at 11:15 AM  

  • I had a girlfriend that wanted to name our hypothetical kids Sunshine (girl) and Chief (boy). Why not Applesauce and Roadrunner?

    By Blogger Matt, at 11:30 AM  

  • I think "Matthew" is always a winner. Biblical and never out of style, it's a forever-classic.

    By Blogger Matt, at 11:33 AM  

  • Damn, wish I'd read this before I gave birth to my son, Ragyr Baddass.

    By Blogger Tere, at 11:46 AM  

  • Penn from Penn & Teller named his daughter Moxie Crimefighter.


    Also, Cubans (in Cuba) do this shit, too. They combine mom and dad's name (i.e., Elizabeth + Juan = Elian), or take American words and use them as names for their kids (i.e., Levis, Usmail, Usnavy). They also just make shit up (i.e., Drakelys).

    My point is, if my people do it, I would say that most cultures get questionably creative with baby names...

    By Blogger Tere, at 11:51 AM  

  • I was informed by a coworker that I have a name of a stripper..

    By Blogger Winter, at 12:16 PM  

  • What I don't understand is the "ethnic" names: Shaquondah, Shanequah, etc. Do these people hate their kids or what.
    I do agree big time with James, or any classic name actually. They are thousands, and should be enough for any kids.
    Too bad people can have kids without a license.
    And this "Vagina" name for this 14 years old girl. How can 14 years old girls can have kids. This country need to educate their youngs on contraceptives and parented planning.
    Real Estate, Pre-construction, Condominiums and Condo-hotels in Miami

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:39 PM  

  • HOly crap I would love to be named Crap Dog Murphy. ;)


    By Blogger Steven Novak, at 1:38 PM  

  • Tere is right... my niece actually went to school with two brothers named Usmail and Usnavy (US Mail and US Navy). Personally I'm going to follow the celeb trend of naming your children after food (Cocoa, Apple, etc) and name my future child Bannanna Smoozy... we'll affectionately call her "Nanny"

    By Blogger Balou, at 1:59 PM  

  • BTW, here's a few more celebrity offspring names to enjoy: Pilot Inspektor (Jason Lee), Sage Moonblood and Sistine Rose (Sylvester Stallone), Puma and Seven (Erykah Badu), Audio Science (Shannyn Sossamon), and the topper -- Tu (Rob Morrow's daughter)... umm, yeah, her name is "Tu Morrow." Very funny, Dad!

    By Blogger Balou, at 2:06 PM  

  • Bad names for a child make them into resentful adults, especially if they had some other childhood malady, like buck teeth, scoliosis, mono, head lice or obesity. The problem with names in America (post native american) is that they don't mean anything. The child's name should either reflect the child's current personality or the person whom the parent would like the child to be. My feeling is most parents don't give any thought to the baby's name other than it must be similar to other stupid names they've heard from the herd of mopey mothers and their hangdog husbands. Granted, "Stinky" isn't a name a child should keep forever; however, Kyler sucks too if fify other first graders have a similar sounding name. Most people don't know what their name really is until they grow up a little and who they are becomes apparent (think "Dances with Wolves" here)

    Also, for most of you here who may have no clue, many of the "ethnic" names(as anonymous poster expressed above in his or her thinly veiled racist statement) such as Shaquandah or something you make think sounds similar, are actually born of three things. First, many "ethnic" names are actually Biblical names and/or their variants. Devora, Hassan, Naomee, etc. are really straight from the Bible. Second, many names are bastardizations of commen names in another language--Letitia, LeMuel, Desiree, Juwan etc. come to mind. Third, for many African Americans, there was a sort of back to Africa movement that began in earnest in the late 1960's/early 1970's wherein some people chose "African" or Muslim names for their children (Akeem, Mustapha, Kareem, etc.) over names from former white masters (Susan, Billy, Bobby). John and Robert remained popular due adoration of slain leaders as was Martin and Malcom (you meet very few African American men born in that generation named Lyndon, but a lot of Dwights--go figure) Great in concept, but bad in execution, especially in a country that is still pretty racist. Add to that the fact that not everyone who wanted to give their child an African or exotic sounding name knew much of the world outside of their block or town and you end up with Laquandicia (which sounds very pretty) and Ayannaiesha (pretty, but someone couldn't stop themselves). The only real problem with these names is as JB has put it, that people use them to be racist or prejudiced by blaming someone's background for their current state. But, as I've pointed out, since no name really means anything in America, you should get points for pretty sounding if your name is uncommon.

    Just for the record, I have been related to a Mercy Dee (was supposed to be Mercedes, but the old midwife wrote down what she heard), Andalusia, Littlebeaver, and Jwgo (pronounced Jay-goo) and have spent serious time with a Peyote, Rain, Tree, and Free.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 4:30 PM  

  • The first weird celebrity names I can remember were Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa, but seriously, Frank was one crazy m-effer. It would of been stranger if they'd been named Steve and Mary.

    By Blogger Lee, at 4:37 PM  

  • First of all - did you see the episode of "Martin" when Kid was on the show? And Shenehneh took him back to her apartment, and she had a clapper that moved a curtain aside, revealing a giant neon sign that read "Shenehneh Forever"? That was so frickin' funny to me. That show could be really irritating, but that cracked me up.

    Second, I have an actual African name (with a meaning, in Amharic), and it is soooo irritating when people ask me if my mother made it up. Dammit, just because you haven't heard of a name and don't know anything about African history (my name is Ethiopian, and I've been asked repeatedly if I speak Swahili. You know, the only language spoken on the CONTINENT of Africa...) doesn't mean someone made it up. On that tip, though, there are some jacked up made up "Ifrican" names out there. Whatevers.

    By Blogger bc, at 5:04 PM  

  • Dayngr, I actually like Jethro Tull. Seriously, I could handle that name. I don't know if my wife would agree. And Elijah Blu is pretty cool too.

    Hammer I agree. Crazy names on broke people equals disaster.

    Claudia, I was partly being tongue in cheek. I really wouldn't want everyone naming their kids James or Joe or Fred. I just don't want to see these kids suffering name abuse.

    Mist1, don't tease us. Give us a hint. What's your first name?

    Captain, no prob. Captain Corky and 1st-lieut. James. I like that.

    Sarc, those entries on baby names and Diddy were funny. Shoot a link over here to 'em. I'll post it in the comments.

    Christina, "Vagina?" That's just nuts. That would definitely have been child abuse.

    Ha, Queen, you made me spit out my Sprite. Extraneous Y's. I'm gonna try that for a Celtic twist.

    SWF41, just like I told Mist1, quit teasing ;-) Tell us your first name. We won't laugh.

    123Valerie, I have a friend whose last name is Butts. I don't know why it doesn't make me laugh like it would have when I was 10. But he's a ranking naval officer. That helps to take him seriously.

    Matt, Sunshine and Chief? Who were you dating? Or better yet, what was she smoking? I actually considered Matthew for a kid's name. I think Mrs. B likes that one too.

    Tere, I like Ragyr Badass. Imagine him as attorney general or a judge. He'd have to abbreviate. The Honorable R. Badass. Very cool.
    And Moxie Crimefighter? That was just downright mean of her dad. Then again, daddy is rich. And you are right. Cubans are definitely not alone in the wacky name game. I've seen plenty of black folks do it too. My parents threatened to take me and my sister's lives if we gave our kids out-there names. None for me yet, but my sister must've believed my folks 'cause her and my bro-in-law's kids all have semi "saftety" names.

    Winter, yours is a mysterious, seductive name. But it is true (I've heard) that strippers like to stage-name themselves after seasons. Wait a minute - was this the same co-worker who complimented your behind?

    Anonymous, there are so many names I don't understand out there I couldn't even begin to address specific ones. But I agree with you on the parenting/responsibility thing. Trust me that's an entire post all by itself.

    Steven, I'm with you. I think it's cool. Just imagine being that cool that you could pull off that name.

    Balou, stop lyin'! UsMail and UsNavy? That is wrong, wrong, wrong. Bananna is cute though. And Nanny would be a nice nickname. Oh, and that Pilot Inspektor one always cracks me up.

    BD, as usual I won't argue with your historical perspective. It's dead on. But you know dang well you shake your head and go tsk tsk sometimes when you hear some of these names. And you know I'm right about them only being acceptable on rich kids. I know a couple of Frees, but I've never met a Peyote or a Littlebeaver. That's a name I'd like to hear a little background on.

    Lee, good point. Zappa fit into the artistic category though, so we expected him to give nutjob names to his kids. You're right. Steve and Mary would've seemed weird on his young'ns.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 6:31 PM  

  • See, BC, genuine ethnic names I think are cool. Like yours, an African name. I dig that. There's some meaning to it. I'm just down on the kids whose mom saw a Maybach drive by just before she went into labor and then had an epiphany.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 6:33 PM  

  • It is amazing what some people will name their children. They say they want their kids' name to be different, but I always wonder if they themselves want to be different.

    Although I have to be honest, we named my youngest twin after my favorite NASCAR race track...

    By Blogger Michael C, at 8:19 PM  

  • My personal favorites are the fraternal twins in my hometown, Lilly Viola and Willy Victrola. I don't know if they turned out to be musically gifted or not.

    By Blogger wordsonwater, at 9:00 PM  

  • You're asking for trouble if you name your kid Matt...they're all trouble! :)

    By Blogger Claudia, at 9:21 PM  

  • I think a fun thing to do would be to name kids after types of soup.

    Minestrone. Lentil. Chicken Noodle.

    The possibilities are endless.

    By Blogger thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy, at 10:25 PM  

  • Michael C., c'mon! You can't make that kind of revelatioon without telling us the name of the track (or the twin)!

    WoW, were their parents musicians?

    Claudia, on second thought you're right. I'd probably find little Matt online hunting for Ivana.

    ThirdWorst, I think I like Tomato Bisque.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 12:05 AM  

  • My dad once worked with a woman named... Placenta.

    I wish that were a joke.

    By Blogger Melissa, at 12:05 AM  

  • James, the specific pointers to those posts are:

    Glad you found them of humor!

    By Anonymous The Sarcasticynic, at 9:03 AM  

  • Melissa, I want to make a joke about Placenta. But I can't. That's messed up. And I'll bet neither she nor her parents were rich.

    Sarc, thanks for the links. I did enjoy 'em.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 10:04 AM  

  • JB,

    Yes the names are jacked up, but it only matters because we still live in a racist and prejudiced country where people who read a name automatically conjure up a negative image associated with it. Before Diquan and Shabaam it was Leon, Leroy, and Rufus. Or Kelvin and Shelton.

    We can't expect other people to look beyond a book's cover if we're unwilling to do it ourselves. Let's just say that when you meet a person with a bastardized Afican sounding name, you should remember that the person's parents were doing the best they could given their circumstances. And that while LaQuinta may mean a place of questionable lodging, she is also a bright and capable young woman.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 11:29 AM  

  • OK, BD you're trying to be funny. And that's OK. But let's play DA (Devil's Advocate). If we already know that there is name prejudice out there why subject our kids to that torture? Why not try to fix the prejudice problem then we can name them whatever makes us giggle?

    I hear you in that a tough stand might be warranted. But what if our kids don't want to be revolutionaries or used as revolutionary tools by us?

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 1:20 PM  

  • JB,

    Oh, if the reasons for placing these incredibly mouthy signature calls on our children were as noble or intellectual as you propose!

    I think a lot of it is simply the ignorance of children having children. A lot of sistermothers who name their children something f*cked up have never seen themselves as being part of America, so it really doesn't matter if the children have names that will be a hindrance. Over 2/3 of all African American children are born to a single parent and approximately 33 percent of those mothers are under 18. The cycle of poverty these kids come up in is the real villain. I wish we would start (meaning people in our community and news organizations like the one you work for) calling for Americans to recognize this very troubling American problem instead of trying to make it a Black problem or a problem of nomenclature. These dumb little sister-mothers don't know any Susans or Natalie or Matthews because they never leave their home block and there is no one named that who lives there. The only on will be the "mean" old lady named Marsha who continually tells these girls to keep their legs closed and go to school. The rebellion is screwing, having the baby so you can drop out of school and collect WIC or live in Section 8. The fact that the rebellion is not learning everything you can possibly know and using that knowledge to improve the life of your family is OUR fault. These girls have been and continue to be neglected by US. Those names are symptons of OUR failure to demand excellence. But until we can at least get a grip on making it a revolutionary act to drop in instead of drop out, we shouldn't penalize the kids whose mothers are victims of OUR negligence. I too, must share in the blame here by not being more of an assh*le to men who don't create families and women who name their children something stupid.

    BTW, I'm wearing MY sandals and black socks now.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 2:23 PM  

  • I'm betting the racetrack kid is Talladega or Bristol. Maybe Tony(Toni) for Daytona.

    SWF - who's absorbed way too much NASCAR trivia just by virtue of my zipcode.

    By Blogger SWF41, at 3:09 PM  

  • While helping my cousin settle her motherinlaw's estate, the motherinlaw's housekeeper/companion stopped by, we gave her a lot of the old lady's stuff because they were so close. She was holding an adorable little kid by the hand- she introduced her as LaSonia. Pronounced Lasagna. I stood stock still, lest i burst into tears of laughter.

    By Anonymous og, at 10:00 PM  

  • James: No this worker was male..

    By Blogger Winter, at 12:20 PM  

  • LaSonia? Po' child don't stand a chance.

    By Blogger GrizzBabe, at 4:12 AM  

  • Og, you win! LaSonia takes the cake.

    My sister went to school with two brothers whose nicknames were Luke and Mark.

    Can anyone guess what their given names were? That's right, Lucian and Marcian.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 12:38 AM  

  • Hi Nice Blog .This labor time tracker is used to track the time and attendance of employees, and at the same time track labor activity against specific parts, jobs, and operations.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:31 AM  

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