Naming Rights


Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

Related Post Roulette

95 Responses

  1. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I think the “Adolph Hitler” case is more complicated because the government is also trying
    to place the children in foster care/adoption, right? The name is being used as evidence to show that the parents are not competent. That does not seem to be the case here.

    I generally agree with you but for a comparative law basis, other countries are more strict on baby naming. I heard Japan and Sweden have approved lists of baby names. When I was in Japan in 2002-2003, there was allegedly a case of a woman wanting to name her child Akuma (demon) and the government saying no.Report

  2. Avatar greginak says:

    Certainly the parents can name their kid whatever they want even if they are doing him a disservice. I hear plenty of odd kid names. Many people when telling me their child’s names proudly announce they want to do somethign unique. I rarely respond to that, but the only response is “yeah…everybody is doing that now.” ( so it isn’t really unique at all, its following what everybody else is doing). I work in custody cases btw and the only time i ever mention kids names is when the parents are calling the child different names. I’m not referring to nicknames. If the parents can’t agree on the chlids name and are insistent on confusing the hell of the poor kid then something needs to happen.

    When i was a child therapist i had a kid who likely had childhood schizophrenia. Both his parents were train-wrecks so the grandma was raising the kid. The mom had named the child after the most hated character (human character not satan) in the bible just to piss off dads family who were very religious. Nobody called the kid his given name but he knew what his name was and why he was given it.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Pharoh? A boy’s parents had the audacity to name their son Pharoh. Those cads.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Pharoah Sanders. Fine musician, great sax player. Saw him with Sun Ra. His name was actually Farrell but Sun Ra called him Pharoah and the name stuck.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Very funny. I’m pretty sure that the kid greginak was referring to was named Judas Iscariot. From a Christian point of view, Judas Iscariot was the most hated human in the Bible. Jews are going to disagree. From our point of view it was either Pharoh, our enslaver, or Haman, who prvoided the template of the conspiracy-prone genocidal Jew-hater.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Nah, it’s Amalek.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

        Huh. I really like the name Judas.

        I think it is becoming used, to. (Though this website is not reliable, maybe)

        Also, as much as Judas is a flawed character in the Bible, I don’t think it is clear he is a hated villain. He is the symbol of human weakness. (The apostles are weak too, and even Peter pretends to not know Jesus, and I think it is meant to be clear that most people would have acted like Judas.)

        I would very much contemplate naming my kid Judas.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Judas is just a variant of Judah, Jude and the like. Judah was a son of Jacob, a common enough name, still is among Jewish people.Report

  3. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    “Salvador”, which was in the 300s 10 years ago but lately has dropped into the 500s, is more or less “Messiah”.Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Messiah, Christ, same meaning. Hebrew mashiyach, the anointed one. Jesus isn’t the only mashiyach in the Bible. All the kings of Israel were anointed and described as “God’s Anointed” as not only a title but a proof. The Queen of England was anointed as part of her coronation. But there was another mashiyach who wasn’t a Jew in the Bible: King Cyrus the Great.

    Greek has the name Christos, English Christopher, khristos-ferein, Christ-bearer. You could be anointed, too: chrism.

    Murkan Magistrates might think they know ’bout the Messiah. Stick to the law, Yer Onner. You don’t know jack about the Bible, for all your braying about it.Report

  5. Avatar Kazzy says:

    One of my issues with all the handwringing over baby names are the class, culture, and racial factors. The Freakonomics guys (who I tend to be iffy on) have done a lot of research on baby names. They found a certain “trickle down” effect, where wealthier people tend to be trend setters with name, seeking out names that no one else has. As these names become associated with rich and powerful people, they start to be utilized more and more by middle and lower classes, often with variations of spelling. As the wealthy people see their choice names adapted by “the masses”, they embark on new journeys for yet newer, more unique names. My anecdotal evidence, what I see working in independent schools often with large populations of very wealthy people, confirms much of this. Many of the wealthy parents have names for their children I’ve never heard of. Or they might be obscure references to cultural artifacts (It is possible the former are actually the latter, but the reference is loston me). And some of them seem straight made up. While these might be met with some eye rolls, they don’t seem to receive the derision that other naming conventions do. The vitriol aimed at certain African-American naming traditions seems far more intense, as does the criticism of spelling adjustments that seem more popular among the lower classes. Additionally, you have people who openly mock different cultural names, names which might be the “Jonathan” or “Christopher” of their culture but are largely unfamiliar to us.

    I say all this because it seems like a lot of stated objections to certain baby names are rooted in ignorance or animosity towards peoples of other races, classes, and cultures. Not all of it, but certainly some of it. Which always makes me very uneasy about indulging in it.

    Do I think some parents pick names that are deliberately transgressive? Or which seek to offend and turn the whole idea of naming your baby whatever you want on its head? Sure. Without knowing more, I have to think the “Adolph Hitler”* name is just such a case. The puts us into or close to the “children as social experiments” area, which I find objectionable and possibly actionable. But the vast majority of cases, to me, seem to be otherwise. A family doing something unconventional for a host of legitimate or semi-legitimate reasons who do not deserve out ire. Names by their definition carry a certain amount of symbolism, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise when people might seek to symbolize something other than what the “norm” is.

    * I’ve gone on record as stating that I actually think “Adolph” is beautiful name, but it’s association with one of history’s greatest monsters would mean it’d never be one we consider. I wouldn’t take issue with parents that felt similarly and arrived a different conclusion. But “Adolph Hitler” seems like something else entirely.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Has anyone met a non-Hiltonian Paris yet?

      I keep hoping that that one will be about as popular as “Lief” turned out to be.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:


      1. IIRC the parents in the Adolph Hitler case were members of or affiliated with an Aryan Nations like group. This is more than being transgressive.

      2. I’m not sure I agree with your overall thesis that members of the upper-class give their kids unique names. I know a lot of people from the Independent school system that you describe or at upper-middle class suburbanites. They all have pretty common names, nothing that would give an eye roll.

      3. It has been my experience that people that people are more daring when naming their girls than boys and this transcends everything. If you look at “Top 10” girl names and “Top 10” boy names, you will see a lot more decade to decade changes on the list of girl’s names. Madison was a flavor of the moment a few years ago. I know a lot of women born in the late 80s named Ashley.

      That being said, my hypothetical name picks tend to raise eyebrows. If I ever had a daughter, I’d love to name her Artemis. People tell me this is too far out there including people from the class you described above.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Artemis nicknames to Art, which is fine.
        If you don’t want a name with nicks, you need to work harder.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Artemis sounds decidedly Victorian in its neoclassical sensibility. Now, I doubt that you’d be doing your daughter a disservice by naming her Artemis, but then again I don’t think that the mother whose misadventure with the law resulted her son being misnamed did him a disservice by naming him “Messiah,” either.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Is there some reason you like Artemis more than Diana?
        It’s not like we’re talking about the difference between Vulcan and Hephaestus here…Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        I think Artemis is more evocative of the Goddess than Diana.

        For boys I like Saul*, Dashiel, and Anton (after Chekov)

        My other hypothetical choice for a girl’s name is Hannah (after Arendt)

        *Saul is a Jewish name. Paul is absolutely not.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        I should have given the link, but the tendencies I referred to regarding different classes was from the Freakonomics crew. Even the trends are loose, at best. For every Caleb you see an Alexander Beckingforth Thompson III. But they also pointed to a lot of names that are mainstream now but were not perhaps a couple generations ago. They became popular via the upper class and spread outward, became mainstream, and the process repeated itself.Report

      • Avatar TerryC says:

        My mother’s name is Artis, which I put down to a rural WV variant on Artemis.Report

  6. Avatar Damon says:

    Hey, let’s cut out the snarky talk about moonshine. Some of it isn’t half bad! *wipes tear”. God bless ‘merca and down the whisky rebellion!Report

  7. I’ve never personally knew anyone whose name was Jesus as in “Gee-zus.” (Well, once I did. But then I became an agnostic and the relationship became theoretical and no longer personal.) I didn’t realize that people did that on any regular basis. The baptists I knew growing up would have regarded such a name (at least with the Anglic pronunciation) as blasphemous.

    I do wonder wonder about your atheist-friend teacher who claims that the students didn’t have any problems with the nicknames he assigned. Students don’t always feel they have standing to protest what their teachers do in the classroom. (And again, I’m skeptical that there’s such a large number of non-latinos named “Jesus” running around, although Cocke County sound like it might be different. I guess I don’t get around enough.)Report

    • Avatar Lyle says:

      Actually here you see a cultural difference, the name Jesus is very common in Hispanic countries, far less in the Northern European culture. It may the same factor at work as Mohammed in Islamic countries.Report

      • Lyle,

        I suspect you’re right. I was just surprised to read Burt referring to what appears to be a non-trivial number of people named Jesus who don’t pronounce it “Hey-zeus” (and whom, for some reason, a middle school teacher feels the need to nickname with what some see as a condescending epithet. But then, my (hyper?)sensitivities on the subject are well-known around these parts.)

        (One thing I’d also like to know is if in Spanish language Bibles, Jesus is ever referred to as “Jesus.” I’m aware of some prayers, etc., that reference “Jesucristo,” but not “Jesus.” I’m pretty ignorant on this, so if anyone knows, I’d appreciate the enlightenment.)Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        My wife delivered a baby named Jesus on Christmas. Hey-Seuss, that is. I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone named Gee-suss.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I think I’ve run across 3 people named “Jesus” pronounced the Anglic way. All Latino, IIRC. Legions of “Jesus”es pronounced the Spanish way.

        And more superficially, in the Elton John song, Levon’s son was named Jesus, pronounced the Anglic way.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Jesus is referred to as Jesús throughout Spanish Bibles:

        Y Jacob engendró á José, marido de María, de la cual nació Jesús, el cual es llamado el Cristo.

        y Jacob fue padre de José, que fue el esposo de María, de la cual nació Jesús, llamado el Cristo.

        Jacob engendró a José, el marido de María, de la cual nació Jesús, llamado el Cristo.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Those are 3 different translations of Matthew 1:16, or Mateo 1:16. From the Reina-Valera Antigua (roughly equivalent to the King James Bible, but a few decades older), the Nueva Versión Internacional (the Spanish language NIV), and the Biblia de las Américas (an evangelical Bible from the 1980s), respectively.Report

      • Burt:

        I forgot all about that Elton John song, although I suspect Alvin Tostic wasn’t northern European 🙂



  8. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    There was a similar case in New Zealand in 2008. A couple gave their daughter a really long and embarrassing name involving the words hula and Hawaii. At age 9, the girl sued. The judge held that her name was a form of child abuse. His holding was really fun to read.Report

    • Avatar George Turner says:

      Her name was “Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii”

      UK Guardian articleReport

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I actually agree with the judge in this case. Giving your kid an unusual or uncommoname is fine. Giving your kid a name that they are too embarrassed to mention isn’t.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

        “Sex Fruit” is a very accurate description of a baby. I’d rule it as okay,

        I draw the line at “Soda Pop” and “Pony Boy” and “Dallas” as names. Child abuse.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

        By which I mean that a baby is fruit produced from sex, not that I want to eat a baby or find one sexual or anything weird like that. I should have phrased that better.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

        And why didn’t that girl just go by “Talula” and think of the rest as a cooky middle name that needn’t be worried about.

        I’d say that one isn’t bad at all.

        The native kids I knew growing up had far worse last names: “Drunken Chief” and “Yello Old Woman” were two I remember.

        Also, what about unintentionally really awful names? Chinese dad, Russian mom who wants to honor her grandmother: Ivana Wang.

        Richard Head.Report

  9. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    One of the last bastions of genuine racism left in America is the problem of Black Names on resumes.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      One of the many, many last bastions of genuine racism left in America is the problem of Black Names on resumes.


      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        True dat. I just said one of the last ones.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        I have a difficult to read last name. It is actually relatively easy to say if you hear it said and repeat it, but because of how it is spelled, it is often mispronounced, even after being heard correctly. People want to try to rectify what they say with what they see on paper instead of what they hear me tell them the name is. Interestingly enough, this makes it easier for my students (most of whom are not reading or are, at best, very early readers) to pronounce it properly than my colleagues. Often times, the children will correct teachers who repeatedly say it wrong. These teachers’ ignorance/unwillingness to learn is not limited to my own name: there are many students whose names are routinely pronounced incorrectly, with some even going so far as to imply to the child that he is the one who is wrong. About his own name. This is, of course, almost exclusively limited to foreign-born families or families with names from cultural traditions that aren’t of the dominant majority. My attempts to draw people’s attention to this… under the guise that our mission statement says “every child is known” and, thus, we should at least know how to say their names… falls flat.

        It is really remarkable how willing to be ignorant people are in service of their sense of superiority. Or is it a willingness to tout their superiority in service of their ignorance? Both, probably.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Case in point, one student at a previous school, his name was “Dahsir”, pronounced Dah (rhymes with Bah in “Bah Bah Black Sheep) – sear (like what you’d do to a steak). The librarian spent 1 minute (which is interminably long when such ignorance is on display) telling him it ought to be Da-shear, before I finally had to step in. She couldn’t wrap her mind around the h preceding the s. Ugh.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Learned a lesson a long while back, roll call in Army formation. Lots of odd names, people enlist out of the Pacific, especially from American Samoa, where it seems most of the men enlist. Faamausili, FA-a-mau-SEE-LEE. Not Fama-silly. If you don’t know how to pronounce someone’s name, take him aside and get him to say his name. I repeat the name, he corrects me. I say it again, until I get it right. Furthermore, people have their own pronunciations for their own names. Weiner, is that WEE-ner or WAY-ner. Knew a couple who legally changed their name from Weiner to Wayner just because nobody pronounced it the way they wanted.

        Nothing is more annoying that your own name mispronounced.Report

      • Avatar Fish says:

        BlaisP, this reminds me of mail call in basic training. My instructor was epically bad at pronouncing names; so bad, in fact, that I suspect he did it on purpose. And when an Airman would try to correct him, he’d just growl back at them, “It’s whatever I say it is!”

        Good times.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        People mispronounce my name often enough that I just let it pass as long as what they say falls along acceptable variations.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      An ex of mine used to work at a city center hospital on the east coast (well known). The hospital also had a large number of foeign patients. Her department made a list of funny names. The list included names of poorly english tranlated names and crazy ass named children from americans. I’ll always rememember a few: “Onaphoni Phonacasoni” (that’s my phonetic spelling-this guy was foreign) and “Tugboat Steamboat”.

      I still chuckle.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Asian immgirants tend to go for unsual English language names for their children or give their kids the demunitive form rather than the full form of their name. I read recently that African-Americans and Asian-Americans tend towards more creative names than White and Hispanic Americans.Report

  10. Avatar veronica dire says:

    I’ll say this, one of the nice things about being trans is that we get to pick our own names.Report

  11. Avatar Anne says:

    Probably a good thing my husband already had kids when we married if we had a son I love the name Solomon Grundy…I know, I know I blame this song

    • Avatar Kim says:

      that name has style.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      I think that Solomon is a fine name for a boy. Not so sure about Grundy.

      If I ever have children, I like Alice as a girl’s name or Jonathan or Akiva for boys.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        You don’t want to go with “Grundy” for a kid’s name – where I grew up, an “undie-grundie” was the local term for the atomic wedgie. You’d just be setting him up for pain and humiliation.

        “Solomon” is about a half-good name for a baby boy, in my judgement.Report

  12. Avatar Shazbot3 says:

    There does have to be a limit where a name is form of child abuse that should prompt action or at least a warning to change the name from a judge or social services.

    Naming your kid “Crapforbrains Forgottoabort” should not be allowed.

    But yeah, the limit should be way out there.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Check out George’s link for an example of names as child abuse.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      I was thinking about this. If I named my son Bob but called him Dipshit everyday, I’d be rightly accused of emotional abuse. But if just straight up named him Dipshit, well, what then?

      Of course, we run into the issue of determining intent. What if “Dipshit” is a family name, based on a centuries old tradition that predates the slur? Oi.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Even if you straight up just name him Dipshit I think its still bad. I’m sure that the parents of the girl in the New Zealand story really loved their daughter. They might have been awesome, doting parents who thought they gave their kid a really cool name. It does not change the fact that their daughter hated the name so much that she never revealed her true name to other kids and never had friends come to her house because she was deeply afraid of her friends learning her real name. If a kid dreads somebody calling them by name, its a form of abuse.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        “Messiah” does not seem like a name that seems like it would inspire dread. At least no more than any other name.

        “Adolf Hitler,” well, that’s a no-brainer.

        Kazzy lies somewhere in the middle. He named his son “Mayonnaise.”Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        “Messiah” does not seem like a name that seems like it would inspire dread.

        No, but “Selassie” inspires dreads.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        That’s Haile likely.Report

  13. Avatar Francis says:

    My wife is a public defender. Criminal courtrooms are a great place for exposure to unusual names.

    To wit: the court calls for “la a” to appear, using various possible ways of pronouncing those letters. After some time, a woman stood up and said: “My name is Ladasha. The dash don’t be silent.”

    You see, the name on the warrant was “La-A”.Report

  14. Avatar Stephen M. Stillman says:

    Of course the choice of name says something about the parent(s) and nothing about the newborn. Unfortunately, names like Messiah and God Shamgod (basketball player from NYC) can be resume killers because they feed into people’s biases. My bias: these sort of names suggest that child was born to an oddball, raised by an oddball, and might him/herself have been groomed into oddballhood. Now for employers that are looking to hire unconventional employees this might be a plus. Otherwise… I’m just sayin.Report

  15. Avatar Aaron says:

    I wonder what the magistrate would have done to Prince. Or Judge Reinhold – “Sorry, but you don’t have a law license and you haven’t passed the bar. You’re back to being Edward.” Does anybody in that county get away with having the surname, “Pope”?Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Judge is legally Edward Ernest Reinhold, Jr. (Which surprises me; I was sure he would be a “George”.) As for Prince, the real question is why he’s called “Fielder” when he was born to DH.Report

  16. Avatar Allen says:

    I started reading this and immediately thought, Kern County, CA. And yes, I live in Kern County.

    If you have any questions just run a search for “Ed Jagels.” Kern County had the whole satanic cult thing down long before the McMartin school case.Report

  17. Avatar mike shupp says:

    About 30 years ago, a fellow I knew — a substitute elementary school teacher — mentioned a student in one of his classes named End The War In Viet Nam Schwartz. God only knows what that kid did about his name …Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”

      “I better go. Mom gets mad if I don’t come after she calls me three times.”Report