I am endlessly fascinated by baby names, probably because I am endlessly fascinated by people – by our history, our beliefs, our cultures. We reveal an awful lot in the names we choose for our children.
Despite the initial sense that baby names are a light and fluffy subject, at least once a week I pause and realize that I’m on thin ice. Do I mention that Claus has Nazi overtones? Do I declare that Marisa is hopelessly passé? (I did, and I regret it.)
But I hear the ice crackle when I talk about race, religion, and ethnicity. How to address the fact that Dante, a classic Italian heritage name, has been adopted by African American parents, often respelled to Donte or Dontay? And let’s not even start with the complexities of Cohen.
Message boards and comment sections turn ugly – sometimes really ugly – when terms get thrown around. From WASPy to ghetto, it doesn’t matter if the term implies that you’re a have or a have-not; when it comes to comments, we all have thoughtless and thin-skinned moments.
It would be absolutely false to deny that our choices of names aren’t impacted by race, class, religion, and dozens of other lifestyle factors, all of which can be difficult to discuss. In the real world, no one will dare tell you that Mal’a’Kyhi is a needlessly tortured name for your son. (They’ll wait until you’ve left the room before declaring that your son is doomed to life as a fast food fry jockey.) Or that your daughter Gertrude will hate you by grade six, beloved grandmother’s name or no. (Couldn’t you spell it the right way? Why wouldn’t you choose a normal name?)
It’s not fun to hear, but I do think it is better to know than not. If you Google your child’s name – here’s a Sunday Summary that mentions Zaphyn that I think of often – chances are you’ll find the good, the bad, and yup, some of the ugly.
All of this is a round-about way of saying this: I don’t have a formal comments policy. I don’t delete comments because a descriptive term will potentially be offensive. (There’s a line, but I’ll defer to the Supreme Court’s definition of obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”) Most of the time, I think we all do a good job of recognizing that we’re discussing real people, and that real people are often giving their honest, top-of-the-head reactions.
To sum up: comments are great. I’m always delighted when I see a first-time comment waiting for approval in the queue. And I notice when the regulars are not around for a while. Please comment with a generous spirit, and please read the comments with a degree of generosity towards our fellow man. Er, moms.
You can find this on my About page as “A Comment on Comments.”