JENKINS: How to spare your child humiliation by choosing the right name

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

First, I'd like to express my appreciation to those readers who responded to last week's column by sharing some of the more bizarre names they've encountered. So to Delmer, Credenza, Uniqua, Placenta and Heironymous, let me just say thanks for the e-mails.

And now, as promised, I'm going to talk about how parents can avoid such needless naming disasters. Because a child's name is not something that can be chosen flippantly. We're not talking about pets here. We're talking about children. There's a difference. For one thing, pets can be trained to go to the bathroom outdoors. For another, it doesn't matter what you call them. Remember Steve Martin's dog in "The Jerk"? He still wagged his tail whenever somebody scratched his ears.

A child's name, on the other hand, will define him/her throughout life, for good or ill.

This I know from personal experience. My parents christened me "Robin," after the beloved harbinger of spring. Or so they said. I'm pretty sure they were just too lazy to pick out two names, so they chose one that (in their minds) would suffice for either a boy or a girl. On the bright side, over the years, I've enjoyed all those free samples Stayfree keeps sending me in the mail.

But enough about me. This is about how you can spare your child a lifetime of humiliation just by choosing the right name. Heck, it doesn't even have to be the right name. It just has to not be the wrong name.

For starters, try choosing one that people can spell. You don't want your child to go through life having to spell out his or her name every time someone asks for it. "That's Bjorn, with a J. No, b-j-o." (Note: a name like that is perfectly fine if you live in Sweden, where everyone expects a J to follow a B.)

Likewise, avoid alternative spellings to common names. You might think it's cute to name your daughter "Shynnyn" and assume that everyone will just pronounce it "Shannon." But don't be surprised when her teacher calls her "Shy-nine" on the first day of school.

Another good tip is not to name your kid after an automobile or a body part. Just think of the potential consequences to society if everyone ignored this extremely sensible advice. I can hear it now: "Do you, F150, take Uvula to be your lawfully wedded wife. . . ."

Finally, in choosing a name, be sure to give some thought to the future. I mean, seriously, can you picture an 87-year-old woman named Brittany?

For my part, I've always preferred the classics, like the Biblical names enjoyed by my two youngest sons. You can't get any more classic than that.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go pick up Nebuchadnezzar from ball practice.

Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English and director of The Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.