Are Names Important?

We continue our series of old posts while I am traveling with some thoughts on children’s names first posted in 2015.

William Shakespeare has many memorable, oft quoted lines, including the one about the rose. You know the one, from Romeo and Juliet, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The implication is that names are unimportant. I disagree.

Names help define who we are and how we feel about ourselves. Parents spend a lot of time thinking about what to name their newborn child. Your name is one of the first gifts you ever receive.

Now, I question some parents’ judgement in choosing such names, but that’s a separate issue. Too often I smile politely when I hear the names of newborns and try to avoid saying what I really think: “Why in the world would you saddle your child with such a name?” I keep quiet not for fear of offending, but more to keep my wife happy – she would prefer that I conform to social norms. As you may have guessed, I am not a big fan of strange names and alternate spellings. I figure it is tough enough to be a kid without having to deal with a strange name.

I am tempted to provide examples of children I have known that have a good case, in my mind, for a lawsuit against their parents for cruel and unusual treatment, based solely on the names on their birth certificate. The problem is that I don’t want to insult anyone I know (or any of my mother’s friends), which makes giving real-life examples a bit problematic.

I had a classmate who was named after a famous statue. My mother says she was proud of her distinctive name, but that is not how I remember it. Of course my mother got her information from the girl’s mother, not from the girl herself. You have to consider the source.

My name is uncommon enough, or so I once thought. I reached adulthood without ever meeting another Lorne Anderson, and there was never another Lorne in my class at school. Now however, when I go to see my doctor I always have to give my birth date as well as my name, as he has two other patients named Lorne Anderson. It feels weird somehow.

The reason for my musing about names was seeing a news story from North Korea. A certain name is a big thing there.

With all the recent publicity over the American-made movie The Interview, many people are aware that the leader of North Korea is named Kim Jong Un. In Korea that, it seems, is not a unique name – but he would like it to be.

The edict has gone forth: if your name is Kim Jong Un you must change it, because there is room for only one person with that name in North Korea, and he isn’t you.

Given the state of North Korea’s economy and the at times bizarre behaviour of its leader, I suspect this pronouncement has been received with delight by Kim Jong Un’s namesakes. They probably already wanted to change their moniker, but didn’t want to draw attention to themselves. (I am assuming after the furor over The Interview that Seth Rogen is not an approved name.) You never can tell how a dictator will react, and this after all is the man who allegedly had his mistress executed, you don’t want to offend him. (The ex-mistress has supposedly reappeared, but the news reports of her execution seemed credible.)

So now there is only one Kim Jong Un in North Korea. Funnily enough, I think he already was unique.


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