Americans play by a different set of rules The NAME GAME

March 22, 1995|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun Staff Writer

Go ahead, name your boy Sue. Name your girl Chastity. Be different. It's the American way of naming little Americans.

This isn't Norway, after all. Last month the vowel-crazy Norwegians threatened to fine a mother and father for naming their son Gesher, which means "bridge" in Hebrew. Norway has an official list of acceptable names, and Gesher isn't on the list.

Our national debt would be erased if we fined parents for bestowing unusual names on their kids. But that would be un-American. We want our kids to be different.

Naming children is about Identity -- never mind that your kids will grill you later on about why they're named Scarlett or Bambi or Hugo or Dakota. Sure, some will legally change their names and never talk to you again. But you were just trying to be a good, creative American. You were just trying to come up with something different.

Take Jeff and his wife, who are expecting a girl. At a Lamaze class at Mercy Hospital, Jeff explains that he wanted a girl's name that is "unique, but not too far out." What about Cala? Nice, but they discovered some soap opera has a Cala. The couple then devised Sierra Brooke. So, what will her full name be?

Sierra Brooke Schnitzer. To his credit, Jeff Schnitzer laughs with everyone else.

America wasn't always so daring with names. For generations, biblical and English names ruled, such as John, Mark, David, Mary, Elizabeth and Ann. And they are still popular names.

But in the 1960s, we got crazy and have the names to prove it. We called our flower children Harmony, Peace and Rainbow. Baltimorean Frank Zappa named his daughter Moon Unit and his son Dweezil. Sonny and Cher called their daughter Chastity. Johnny Cash had a hit song called "A Boy Named Sue."

In the 1970s, we got cute with Jason and Jennifer and Ashley. In the 1980s, we got ethnic by choosing names with African or Islamic roots. Many black parents took ethnic-sounding names and added prefixes such as La and Sha. Keisha or Shandrika.

Now, we're into everything from the seasons to geography. We have Summer and Spring and Paris. We have an abundance of gender-neutral names, such as Jordan and Taylor.

And we have clever names. Will B. Good, Rob Banks, Paige Turner, Candy Kane and Jack Daniels will take the teasing for only so long. Then, they will start shooting innocent people. Jane Doe, Ronald McDonald, Kris Kringle, Mr. Whipple, Mrs. Maryland, and Edgar Allan Poe III are listed in Baltimore's phone book. (Mr. Poe, whose great-great-uncle was the Poe, didn't want to talk about his name. Probably hears about it enough.) Daniel Boone teaches forest ecology at Johns Hopkins' School of Continuing Studies. Seriously.

The A, B, C's

Other names scream UNCLE. When Ed and Beth Hemminger of Annapolis came home with quadruplets 14 years ago, they first called them A, B, C and D. The initials begot Andrew, Beth, Christine and Daniel.

Naming a child used to be a sacred rite. Now husbands threaten to name their sons Thor or Horst to torment their wives. Or maybe we could name our daughter Peaches! A woman wants to name her daughter Melissa, but a Melissa dumped the husband in the sixth grade and no daughter of his will ever be named Melissa. Turns out the couple has a boy, and they name him Josh because the wife knew a Josh in fourth grade, and he liked her.

Parents often end up negotiating. Each side might get one or two vetoes. And when the voting is over, the husband loses. Middle names are usually the consolation prizes; the grandparents didn't get the first names they wanted, so the parents throw them a middle-name bone.

"We were in the car still trying to decide on a name," says Raquel Goggins. She and her husband, Mark, have just walked into the Lamaze class, where the women are in various stages of discomfort. The men just look uncomfortable. All are clutching pillows and blankets.

The Gogginses are having a girl and are leaning toward Najah Amira Rene Goggins. It means "beautiful princess" in Swahili. Rene is Raquel's mother's name. "I had to put that in," she explains.

But do they know that their future beautiful princess' name will be mangled for life?

"Yeah," says Mark. "People misspell Goggins now."

Mary James, who teaches the Lamaze class, has come across interesting names from all the parents she has met. She knew of one girl named Charmin, after the toilet paper, and her sister was named Choice, after the credit card. Mary's husband, Steve James, hears plenty of weird names in his insurance claims job in Columbia. He remembers a Pink Bug, a True Love Hunt from Texas, and a surgeon in Frederick named Robert R. R. Roberts.

Mary always wanted to name a daughter Jesse, "but then I married Mr. James." So, they have a daughter named Meredith. Meredith Leigh, because her mom loved the name Vivien Leigh from "Gone With the Wind."

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