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There’s plenty in a name

There’s plenty in a name
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First Published: Sat, May 07 2011. 01 15 AM IST

Baby blues: Prepare your child for the new person. Thinkstock
Baby blues: Prepare your child for the new person. Thinkstock
Updated: Sat, Jul 02 2011. 02 54 PM IST
My sister has given her child a very obscure name from the scriptures. The word sounds funny and near-obscene in English and looks really bad when written down. The baby is just some months old, but already the other children laugh at the name and go on chanting it because it is very amusing. You can imagine what it’s going to be like when the child goes to school. My sister says the name has been suggested by her spiritual leader, and its meaning is so beautiful and appropriate that she will teach her daughter to be proud of it. What is your opinion? I am urging her to find another with a similar meaning and greater social acceptability. Please advise if this is right on my part or whether, as my sister says, the child will deal with it. She reads your column and I would appreciate an answer.
Baby blues: Prepare your child for the new person. Thinkstock
The Internet is full of sites about parents giving children names ranging from the odd to the downright ridiculous. People then quote “studies” either about how children with odd names do well, or how they fail at what they do, etc. I tend to feel that it is pretty cruel to have a child deal with a name that is not only odd—but “funny and obscene”? Surely there is no need to get so attached to the significance of a name if it is going to set your child up for teasing, mockery and ridicule. “Unusual” names a child can be taught to live with and even be proud of. But frankly, going into the distinctly odd and laughable zone is just placing a millstone around a child’s neck.
Your sister’s faith in her spiritual leader does not have to be manifested in the child’s name necessarily, you could tell her. And if it is possible, you could speak to this leader, and ask him/her why he/she is playing this cosmic joke on the child by suggesting a name that will be so embarrassing for the child to live with.
Many people born with odd names that invited teasing and derision when they were growing up say they waited impatiently till they could jettison the name legally, or resorted to “giving themselves” a pet name, going to great lengths to hide the real name. With the world becoming something of a global village, today it is not easy to live with a name that means something terrible or terribly funny in another culture, since various cultures do intersect often now. It’s not that parents need to consider how it sounds or means in many languages, but if as you say it sounds bad in English itself, which is spoken all over the world, and in this country too, then I would say she really needs to reconsider her decision about naming her baby.
We have a 10-year-old daughter. I am expecting a child again. Two years back we lost our younger son at age 6 to cancer after a 10-month struggle with the disease. We had the help of a family counsellor (we lived in the US at the time) and our daughter, though very traumatized during the time and after the death, has managed to deal with things, as have we. However, she is absolutely adamant now that we name the child after the brother she lost—and a variation of that name if it is a girl. My husband and I find the thought painful and also unfair to the child that is to come. Please advise us on how to handle this.
In the grieving process, one of the deepest fears and guilt, of both adults and children, comes from continuing to live life “normally” after the loved one has departed. The guilt and fear centres around “forgetting” the person. Of course we don’t forget, but the fact that we resume our routine life worries us; we feel this in some way diminishes the memory of the person. It is in response to this fear that many people in your situation choose to give the new child the older name. This way, it is felt, the child’s memory is kept fully alive. Perhaps your daughter is (unconsciously) doing the same thing—letting go of the departed person feels too much like “forgetting about him”. And, hence, the insistence on the earlier name. It is also a way of dealing with the pain of loss, by thinking of the new child as a simple replacement. Also, at her age, perhaps she does think that the arrival of the baby will be like her little brother never went away. And so giving him or her the same name will just be part of this thought process, perhaps for her.
But as you rightly feel, this is not healthy—for the family as well as the new child. The new child must be a person in his own right, not a “replacement” for the one that died. How do you get this across to your daughter? First, by reassuring her in many ways, not necessarily always verbal, that her departed brother is and will forever be a precious part of your lives. Also, you could a little matter-of-factly say, the next time that she brings up the naming issue, “no, the new baby can’t have the old name because he/she is an entirely new person and needs its very own name”. If when you say this, she cries, or sulks, or shows any kind of distress, lead her into a conversation about her brother, about missing him, about loving him, remembering him. Perhaps you could even go so far as to say that he wouldn’t have liked his name given away like that. But tread carefully here, because this is territory which involves guessing at what someone who has died “might have liked and not liked”, which is emotionally tricky terrain.
Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, May 07 2011. 01 15 AM IST