Think dignity, not cleverness when naming a child

Think dignity, not cleverness when naming a child

What’s in a name?

My first name is one you don’t hear every day and, after going through early childhood and puberty, I finally decided it was unique enough that I was proud of it.

Kids will take a name that is a bit different and use some crazy variation on it just to tease and aggravate. There’s one variation on my first name that still lands on the wrong side of me. However, the natural inclination of most youngsters was to make something out of my last name, so “Spider Webb” and “Webfoot” were heard frequently.

My mother always blanched when someone shortened my first name to Will. “I named him Willis, not Will,” she’d admonish.

With the advent of rock and roll music, then hard rock, metal rock and now rap and hip-hop, there are all sorts of unusual names out there, mostly adopted for recognition and/or publicity. Movie, television and theater stars often have stage names and generally not as unusual as names in recent music history. Stage names were more common perhaps in the earlier days of the movie industry. For instance, the King of the Cowboys, Roy Rogers’ real handle was Leonard Slye. There was Lash Larue, so named because he used a whip, and, of course, Hopalong Cassidy, a screen name for one William Boyd.

Names can invoke a great many different feelings and responses. As a youngster growing up with a rancher father, I went to a lot of rodeos in the late 1940s. On the rodeo circuit that made our town, the livestock producer had the meanest Brahma bull anywhere with the appropriate name of Hitler. It was easy to hate that bull and pull for a little guy named Billy Wills who was one of the best bull riders around.

But, to stick a regular kid with some terrible name is almost criminal.

Being an avid periodical reader, I run across all kinds of unusual things and, a few months back, I saw a story from Wellington, New Zealand, about a court issuing a ruling regarding horrible names for kids.

It seems that a family court judge, presiding over a custody case involving a 9-year-old girl, ruled that she become a ward of the court. The judge made the ruling so her name could be changed from “Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii.” In issuing the decision, the judge made reference to “poor judgment in choosing this name,” saying it “makes a fool of the child and sets her up with a social disability and handicap, unnecessarily.”

The judge went on to cite a list of unfortunate names: Fish and Chips, Yeah Detroit, Kennan Got Lucy and Sex Fruit. Registration officials blocked those names but several odd ones were allowed, including, among others, Number 16 Bus Shelter and Violence.

In Sweden, giving babies pop names like fast food chains, bands or beer is all the rage so you get kids with handles like “Budweiser” or “Metallica.”

Then, there’s George Foreman, he of boxing fame and the grill for the diet conscious. All of his sons, and I lost count of how many, are named George.

Growing up, I knew of a family named Snodgrass. Imagine the teasing those children got. However, I suspect that last name got some reprieve through accomplished actress Carrie Snodgrass.

Kids can be terribly cruel. I even knew a kid with a first name the same as a major city and his last name was another major city. I won’t repeat them here lest he still be around. He was a nice kid and I wouldn’t want to embarrass him.

However, there are a couple of names that are somewhat humorous and unique and, I figure, those young men made the best of them. My ad manager many years ago named his son Rusty Naill. Then, I had a couple of reporters who worked for me and they named their son Flash Gordon after the old comic book hero of the 1940s and 50s.

Perhaps such notables as Bill Cosby and Leonard Pitts have touched on the saddest trend in naming children. And, that is the very different and unusual names, both in spelling and pronunciation, which come about when children having children must come up with a name.

What’s in a name? It could be a lifetime of unnecessary discomfort and embarrassment. Give them a unique name if you must but one that allows them the dignity you wish for yourself.

Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher. He can be reached at

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