Comment: A child's name is its entire spelling future

(File: AAP) Source: AAP

In the baby name game, parents get to invent the rules. Children live with the consequences. Is that okay with you?

It can be a pivotal moment in a friendship when new parents reveal the name they've chosen for their child.

I am afflicted with the kind of face upon which my emotional state is not so much written, as italicised in the boldest of fonts. Straight, it ain't. When visiting friends in a maternity ward for that first glimpse of a newborn, I find it politic to wear a bag over my head, the better to conceal my potential horror at either a) the gruesome appearance of their progeny or b) the rubbish name they've decided to burden it with.

I was relieved when some good friends recently had a son, easy on the eye as far as freshly expelled infants go, and decided to call him Kato.

"That is a cool name," I announced, gratefully removing the bag from my head. "I've always loved The Pink Panther."

At my friends' quizzical looks, I explained that Kato was the name of Peter Sellers' Japanese manservant in the films, given to physically attacking his Inspector Clouseau at inopportune moments, to keep the accident-prone sleuth's reflexes sharp and the sight gags coming.

The catchphrase for his appearances, delivered by an irate and heavily-accented Sellers, was "Not now, Kato, you fool!"

Kato's mum and dad looked less than that thrilled to hear this.

"We just wanted something unusual for him."

Here's the chance to bestow the kind of name we would have liked for ourselves...

It can be a tough call, naming a new person. It seems fun at first, weighing up monikers, sounding them out – empowering, even. For here's the chance to bestow the kind of name we would have liked for ourselves (I mean, come on – Ian – what were my folks thinking?).

In tagging our offspring, we're signalling who we are to the world. If we want to declare that we're down-to-earth kinda' folk, with no airs and graces, that we fit in, just like the rest of you, we're likely to go for something from the current hit parade. And, pop-pickers, the number one choice for baby boys this year has been Oliver; for girls, Olivia (hey, who knew we were so hung up on olives?).

If, on the other hand, we'd rather set ourselves apart, a more outré pick might be the ticket. Say, an Odin, or a Bathsheba.

How often, though, are wannabe mavericks thwarted by a sudden shift in the zeitgiest? How many mums and dads who called their sons Noah or daughters Isla in 2015 would have banked on those names coming in at numbers 4 and 15 respectively on the popularity chart?

I kid you not. This year in Australia, more boys were named Noah than Thomas. Maybe it's a climate change thing.

We never know what might be around the corner in terms of a name's prevalence. Back in 2009, when our daughter was born, we thought we were pretty sharp, calling her Harper. It was uncommon, but not wantonly obscure, with a nice literary vibe. We had no clue that David Beckham would choose the same name for his daughter, barely two years later.

That countless disciples of brand Posh n' Becks will now follow suit is as a knife to my secret heart of snobbery.

But what of those named Feargal, Siobhan or Feenix, who will spend their lives wearily spelling out their names..?

But there's more than just kudos for parents at stake in the name game. One whimsical decision by the olds can mean a lifetime of consequences for their kid. You may be familiar with Johnny Cash's cautionary tale of the "Boy Named Sue", but what of those named Feargal, Siobhan or Feenix, who will spend their lives wearily spelling out their names, until their inevitable, messy, emotional meltdown?

Over in Iceland, children are protected from the vagaries of reckless parents. The land of gushing geysers and glacial allure has its own Icelandic Naming Committee, the Mannanafnanefnd. Any out-there Rejkyavik parents who want to give their child a name that's not currently recognised need to apply for approval from the Mannanafnanefnd. And word is, those guys rarely play ball.

Maybe that's what we need; some kind of regulatory body to keep things in check. If we don't create one, how long before hashtags and emoji start to feature on the school roll call?

Then again, it's possible to over-think this stuff. Kato's a cool name. Why should it matter that some old fart associates it with a comic ninja from the '70s?

Like Billy Shakes said: what's in a name?

Ian Rose is a Melbourne writer.

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