Sunday, 6 February 2011

By Any Other Name

There's a thread on Netmums at the moment about baby names that have been made illegal in various countries for all sorts of reasons - mostly because the child would be 'exposed to mockery', although in Germany it appears that they have a very specific list of allowed names and that being 'unclear as to whether it is a boy or a girl's name' will cause a ban.

The pope has also been appealing for sensible names recently.  There was a time not so long ago (our great-grandparents' generation) when a priest really could change a child's name at a baptism.  Nowadays baptism is no longer a naming ceremony, although many parents still think it is - it's a ceremony of entrance to the church.  It remains legally a reason to change a name, but most children are named long before they are baptised, and what the priest says doesn't make any difference.  Had my poor Aunt Reada been baptised today, she would have been able to be called Freda, no matter what the deaf priest heard.  My favourite story is the working class family who wanted to give their son the name 'Algernon'.  At his baptism, when the priest heard what they were planning to name him, he growled "Don't be daft!  I baptise you Bob", and the poor chap remained Bob from that day on until the day of his wedding, when he found himself having to explain to another priest why the name on his birth certificate was Algernon!

Names are really difficult.  Knowing that you are creating a moniker that will remain attached to someone for, hopefully, a good 80-100 years, is enough to stop anyone in their tracks.  I think I may have fallen prey to over-analysing it when it came to naming Abigail.

For years, my first daughter was always going to be called Imogen.  It's a Shakespearean name, apparently.  Except it isn't really; it's a miscopy.  Evidence shows that Shakespeare, who at the time was heavily into naming his heroines with meaningful labels such as Perdita (Lost) and Miranda (Wonder) really wanted to call this one Innogen (Innocence) rather than Imogen, which doesn't mean anything.  (Baby naming books will tell you that it means 'Image of her mother', but that must be a false etymology because surely that would be ImAgen?  And anyway, who wants to be the image of their mother?  And what if the baby comes out looking like Dad?!)

I just couldn't bring myself to call my daughter after an unfortunate mistake, even if it was really pretty.  And 'Innogen' sounds like something you take for constipation.

In the end, we had three names and we waited to see would Abigail would look like.  If she looked like her father, she would be Abigail (meaning: Her Father's Joy).  If she looked like me, Isobel, which is a form of Elizabeth; and if she looked like neither of us, Meredith.  I secretly loved Meredith, which means Great Leader, but The Rev hated it because it's originally a boy's name and it's neither a Biblical name nor a saint.  He was probably right.  I'm glad we ended up with Abigail, which met all our demanding requirements: a pretty name, can be shortened several ways, with a good meaning, can be said in other languages, comes from the Bible, and the only girl called Abigail that I ever taught was quite nice, really.

Despite all this, I still wonder occasionally whether we will regret calling her Abigail, because it seems to be insanely popular - we know three other Abigails her age already.  No matter.  It suits her.  If she has to go by Abi Jane for the whole of her school life, so be it.

1 comment:

Pigwotflies said...

I still like Imogen as a name, even though I know it's a mis-transcription. :)

The popularity of names thing puzzles and intrigues me. Independently, each set of parents goes through the process of choosing a name, only to find that name has increased in popularity and there are suddenly 3 Mehetabels in reception. Some mysterious zeitgeist infects the naming of babies.