The name game

It shocked the members of my jr. high speech team to travel to a tournament somewhere and hear one of the judges call me “Kenny.” My kids would look around to see who was standing behind me and finding no one there they’d ask, “Did that lady just call you ‘Kenny’?” I’d have to explain that meant the judge was from Pike County, where I was known by that name. It further confused them to walk down the hallway of the speech contest and hear someone call me “Brad.” All males in my family were known as Brad when I was growing up, and to a certain generation that name has stuck.

Young mothers and fathers often agonize over the naming of an upcoming child. They feel that the baby’s name somehow defines the child for life. There are still a goodly number of young parents who put off naming the child until he or she is several days old, although delaying the name game causes a good deal more paperwork. Hospitals frown on releasing unnamed children. Several years ago a young mother told me, “We put off naming her for almost a week. We wanted to see what her personality was like.” Uh … okay. How much personality can you show by sleeping and dirtying your diaper?

And of course there are the well-meaning young mothers who slap an unusual spelling upon their newborn. “Sofie” instead of Sophie, “Bentlee” instead of Bentley, “Ana” instead of Anna, and then spend the next 16 years getting angry with anyone who dares misspell it.

We’ve seen names go in and out of fashion over the decades. My grandfather and his brothers were named Homer, Oscar, Harris and Leo, none of which now appear in the top ten lists of any baby-naming websites. Of course there are some names that carry such a distasteful historical wallop that you’ll hardly ever hear of babies named Adolf or Attila, and I imagine that the number of youngsters leaving the Parkland Hospital in Dallas with the name of Saddam is rather minimal.

About 20 years ago, the University of Minnesota gave a group of high school teachers an assortment of essays to grade with only students’ first names at the top of the page. The researchers would switch the first names from teacher to teacher while the essays themselves remained the same. The results were a bit depressing for the teaching profession as certain first names tended to score the highest even though the writings themselves remained the same. I won’t go into detail on the results except to say that “Bertrand” and “Roxie” did not do well. I hope that I never graded an essay based upon a first name, but I must admit that I once had a troublemaker named Skippy and when 20 years later another Skippy showed up on my class roster, I kept a close eye on the kid.

The publisher of my plays often responds to a submission with, “Good script but needs a better title.” I tell her I have this problem in that I really don’t care about a play’s title. She tells me that many actors and speech coaches purchase a play on the title alone. I tell her that’s a ridiculous way to choose a script, and she agrees, but asks me to change the title. If it were up to me I’d just call it “Number 231.” My publisher is right of course, but it still irritates me when a name can mean so much. Several years ago a fellow put together all the best-selling ideas he could into a book title and came up with something like “The Ghost of Abraham Lincoln’s Mother’s Dog” or something like that. It sold well. The cool thing is that you can’t copyright a name. I could call all my scripts “Hamlet” or “Gone with the Wind” and neither Shakespeare nor Margaret Mitchell could touch me.

When I send in my Coonridge column to the 14 or so Midwest papers that dare carry the thing, I don’t even mess with titles. I used to title each column, but the larger newspapers would always modify them to fit the space requirement, one local weekly would print the exact title I sent them, the Missouri newspapers would retitle each column to give it a local spin,and one Indiana paper omitted the title altogether. To its credit, our local Journal Courier is usually the cleverest of the title taggers. The secret, of course, is to actually read the column before you print it and the JC has the professionalism to do just that.

If name choosing confuses you, there is help. A Swiss company, Erfolgswelle, will spend around 200 hours to brand your child, charging a mere $29,000. However, I’d be leery of the result from a company with a name like Erfolgswelle.

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About the author

Ken Bradbury is an adjunct instructor of theatre at LLLC after retiring from Triopia. He entertains on the Spirit of Peoria riverboat and is the author of over 300 published plays. Website:

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