April 6, 2012
We’ve known about postpartum depression for years, but recently another, even more insidious problem associated with child bearing has arisen. It’s called "baby name regret". Parents give their kids an interesting or unusual name, hoping their child will grow up to be interesting or unusual. I think this is an inevitable result of my generation’s obsession with trying to be unique and different. Not that a name necessarily defines your destiny. William Shakespeare asked, "What’s in a name?" Of course he had it easy, having a name like William Shakespeare. And admittedly he also said, "he that filches from me my good name/Robs me of that which not enriches him,/And makes me poor indeed".
And it can be hard being saddled with a name with an unfortunate history. I used to know a man named Adolf. Not the famous Adolf, the one who ruined that name for everybody, but the Adolf I knew was born before World War II. And he was a nice, unassuming guy, as was his next door neighbor, Benito. There are also studies that suggest that kids with unusual names are more likely to become criminals as adults, probably because if you’ve got a name like Lionel you’re either going to hear a lot of model train jokes or spend most of your days at school being beaten up. And I understand parents who named their children Andrew or Katrina the years those hurricanes hit being upset, but, hey, these things happen. It’s not a problem I’ll ever have to worry about myself, but for parents who are worried, though, I’m pretty sure your daughter Zoetrope or your son Quigley will grow up to be just fine.
And if you’re obsessed with them being unique, unusual, and interesting individuals I’ll let you in on a secret: they are unique, unusual, and interesting individuals. Just like everybody else. Being different isn’t for everyone, which may be why it’s so highly overrated. In recent history generations have generally rebelled against their parents to some degree or other, but I’m pretty sure Gen X was the first generation to not just rebel against our parents but against ourselves. Everybody wanted to look and act differently from everybody else–a famous advertising campaign even told us "Think different", and even though it was telling us to think differently it was also subtly telling us that proper grammar was for conformists. Except only a very small percentage of us knew that "Think differently" is grammatically correct, so, technically, we were the nonconformists.
As a result of our obsession with being different we all ended up looking like each other, while pretending to be so totally distanced and ironic about everything. And that’s the problem. When everybody wants to be a trendsetter nobody is. Not that I’m saying we should each stop marching to the beat of our own individual drummer, but if your individual drummer is telling you to play well with others that may not be such a bad thing. And if your drummer is telling you to change your name to Trout Fishing In America maybe you should ask your drummer what exactly he’s been smoking, but that’s another story. I can also think of a really good example of parents who wanted to give their child a name that was different and unusual and failed, but they were okay with it because they really weren’t concerned about being trendsetters or trying to be different from everybody else.
My mother picked the name Christopher for me partly because she didn’t know anyone named Christopher, so the name wouldn’t have any ugly associations, but mainly because she liked the book Winnie The Pooh. Later on she would wonder if maybe she should have gone with Piglet when I ate an entire jar of olives, or maybe Owl when I was around two and became an expert on every conceivable subject, whether I knew anything about it or not. Senility set in around four, but that’s another story. And there were times when she so frequently addressed me as What The Hell Were You Thinking that I started to wonder if that was my name. I’ve also had ups and downs with my name. Most people call me Chris. In one of my high school classes I sat behind a guy named Chris, and there was a girl named Kris on the other side of the room. One day Chris said to me, "Walking down the halls of this school and yelling ‘Hey Chris!’ is like going to a Cure concert and yelling, ‘Hey, you in the black!’" About the only time I get referred to as Christopher is when my parents are mad at me, although my full name is also included in my work email signature, so people I work with who don’t know me well are apt to call me Christopher. There used to be a guy at another company who would sometimes call me at work and he would always start our conversations by saying, "Christopher." He also sounded just like my father on the phone, so every time he called me my first thought was, "Oh shit, what did I do this time?" Not that I really have anything against being called Christopher. In third grade when I was first introduced to my teachers–for some reason I had three teachers in third grade–I told them I preferred to be called Christopher. I don’t know why I said this. It just sounded better than "May I mambo dogfaced to the banana patch?" And of course being three of the worst teachers I’d ever have they all insisted on calling me Chris. Except for the one who insisted on calling me Adolf.