Would a rose by any other name really smell as sweet?

July 25, 2008

It was all very well for Romeo to ask “What’s in a name?” His only problem was a family feud which is simpler than going through life with a moniker that will be an embarrassment.

Family Court Judge Rob Murfitt recognised this when he ordered a child be put under the guardianship of the court so her name could be changed from Talula does the Hula from Hawaii.

I support his judgement because I have a rather jaundiced view on unusual names, although mine is not an embarrassment it is more often than not the source of confusion and irritation.

Elspeth is the Scottish form of Elizabeth and it is pronounced Els bith. Not Els peth, Elzz bith, Elzz a beth, or any of the other variations from albatross to Elizabeth to which I have had to answer.

Fortunately it is a name which lends itself to diminutives and most people call me Ele. That is often misspelled and mispronounced Elle or taken to be a shortened form of Alison, which causes confusion. But at least it isn’t usually difficult to sort that out.

While I may not like my name, at least my parents chose it with the best of intentions. That is more than can be said for Talula’s parents; Mr and Mrs Bridge, who christened their son Sydney Harbour or the couple who saddled their child with the names of an entire football team.

A British psychologist who undertook a study of unusual names concluded they can cause psychological harm. No wonder when some of the gems he encountered included Attracta Mann, Annete Curtain, Robin Banks, Susan Eatwell Burpit and Trina Field.

However, names with double meanings are not always the fault of parents with a perverse sense of humour. Even if you choose your child’s name with due care and sensitivity there is no allowing for changes in fashion and meaning.

Gay used to be a popular name with connotations of happiness. And it is not just names but initials which must be considered.

I once worked for a paper which referred to people by title, initials and surname. One woman I interviewed said she would prefer to have her name or just her first initial used.

When I checked the electoral roll back at the office I understood why – she was Veronica Dawn.

My farmer was named after his father, then called by his second name to avoid confusion between them but that causes other problems. So when it came to choosing names for our children we agreed we would give them names we were going to call them by, and that they’d be short and easy to pronounce.

Unfortunately that’s also the criteria used by shepherds, so the expectant father, dismissed most of my suggestions with, “No, I knew a dog called that.”

We finally settled on Jane, Tom and Dan. It hadn’t occurred to us people would assume we meant Jayne, Thomas and Daniel because no name is so simple it won’t be changed by those who think they know better.

But at least we haven’t blessed anyone with a name which needs a five-minute explanation with every introduction.

Not every parent worries about such things and I’m pleased Judge Murfitt has taken a stand on that for the sake of the children. Because while Romeo reckoned “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, I think Anne of Green Gables won that argument when she asked, “would it really if it was called a skunk cabbage?”

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