Enough already of kids' monikers madcap, bizarre, or simply tragic

The Bard got it wrong, I reckon. "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," mooned poor love-struck Juliet of her Romeo.

Well, I'm sorry, Bill, but I beg to differ. There are some names that simply reek.

You have to feel sorry for children of those parents who - either out of lack of thought, misguided creativity, drug-induced psychosis, or simply the desire to show off - inflict ridiculous sobriquets upon their offspring.

I was reading a report on the front page of a weekend paper the other day with a degree of benign interest.

The report concerned an Auckland couple who, financially overextended and caught in the riptides of recession, had decided to hock off most of their belongings in an attempt to save their business.

You might think having to sell the family's $1.675 million home is a bit of a shame, as is flogging the $13,500 computer-activated baby grand piano. The $95,000 HSV-GTS race car, the boat, the dirt bike? Oh, well, needs must. The shoes, the fur coats, the children's Christmas presents? Ouch.

And your sympathy might be at least a little piqued for this riches-to-rags couple - until, that is, the article names their children.

Because what or how people name their children, whether intentionally or not, says quite a bit about them. Meet daughter, "Porsche", who is 2; and her baby brother, "Jag".

Sort of takes the edge off it, doesn't it? Probably lovely kids, and hard-working fun-loving parents, but Porsche? Jag? Have these people never listened to Johnny Cash singing A Boy Named Sue.

Last year, the celebrated Talula-Does-the-Hula-From-Hawaii case hit the headlines when New Plymouth Family Court Judge Robert Murfitt, presiding over a custody battle, bravely decided that the 9-year-old girl thus named should be made a ward of court and given a new name to shield her from the constant ridicule to which she was being exposed.

According to the Internal Affairs website, names in this country must adhere to certain criteria, including:

• Must not cause offence to a reasonable person.

• Must not be unreasonably long - less than 100 characters long including spaces (at a mere 32 Talula is well within this restriction).

• Must not without adequate justification, be, include or resemble an official title or rank.

• Does not use punctuation marks, brackets or numbers.

You could drive a coach and horses through that lot. And people regularly do.

Interest in the Talula case disinterred a number of similarly bizarre Christian names from the register of births deaths and marriages: Number 16 Bus Shelter, Violence, and for twins, Benson and Hedges.

It also revealed some of the names that registrations officials had blocked: Fish and Chips (ridiculous, but arguably more salutary than Benson and Hedges), Yeah Detroit, Stallion, Twisty Poi, Keenan Got Lucy and Sex Fruit.

The Talula case excited coverage in numerous countries, including the United States, where professor of law Eugene Volokh looked into some intriguing local precedents.

In the 1970s, a chap called Michael Herbert Dengler petitioned the North Dakota and Minnesota Supreme Courts to change his name to "1069". He was refused; likewise applications to various courts by others for "III", "Mary R", "Misteri Nigger, second 'i' silent". Whereas "Santa Claus" split judges in different jurisdictions, "Koriander" and "They" succeeded.

Celebrities have much to answer for in the erosion of the sanctity and good sense of the "Christian" name. Sir Bob Geldof and the late Paula Yates infamously named their daughters Fifi Trixibelle, Tiger Lily, Pixie and Peaches.

The stars are still at it: Cold Play frontman Chris Martin and actor Gwyneth Paltrow a couple of years ago named their daughter Apple.

When you witness the parade of names across the court pages, many of them appearing to bear little relation to family, tradition, or whakapapa, it is easy to assume the fashion for the unlikely, the trendy, the misspelled and the merely stupid belongs primarily to an underclass adrift in a valueless universe.

But reading about Porsche and Jag and their formerly wealthy family, we are reminded it clearly isn't so.

Thank goodness those unfortunate children cannot be traded in, but in keeping with the new austerity drive, their parents might at least have the good grace to change their monikers to something a little more appropriate.

And in the interests of charity, I'm prepared to make an offer: how about Chrysler and Ford?

- Simon Cunliffe is assistant editor at the Otago Daily Times.


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