I was 5 minutes away from becoming Lorraine.
During the period affectionately known as the Baby Boom, routine amniocentesis and maternal sonograms were still years away. And while the 50s and 60s can claim fame to some of the best music in the history of the universe, its struggling medical practices offered no help to new parents trying to choose a name for their children. That being the case, one would think the prudent thing to do would be to spread your bets equally across two columns of names: one for boys and one for girls. But my parents were so convinced that I was going to be a girl, they put everything on pink and let it ride. When I finally did appear, I was a surprise to everyone—even me. I wasn’t a girl.
Nowadays, new parents can avoid some of the stress of choosing a name by asking for the sex of their new baby weeks or months ahead of his or her arrival. While it does narrow down the naming choices by 50%, it still doesn’t make the task any easier. In Germany, new parents get help from the government by requiring strict conventions that insure that a child’s name is consistent with the baby’s gender. The name can’t be interpreted as being offensive or ridiculous (a practice the United States has yet to embrace) and its spelling must be conventional, probably to avoid any little Adolfs running around Marienplatz in dresses.
Arab countries go one step further by dictating that newborn names adhere to religious values. Whether boy or girl, their middle names must contain a traditional moniker that honors the Prophets, so chances are you won’t find many Fifi Trixibells or Pomegranate Purples destined for high public office. In China, fathers have the final say. And like the Arab culture, a Chinese newborn can have up to three names—one of them being a “generational” name such as Banpaizi, Ziyn or Chuanshizilian—something that rolls off the tongue when positioned next to their given name, Skipper or Buffy.
American parents resent anyone telling them what they can or cannot name their children—evident by the creativity of the celebrity parents of Bronx Mowgli (Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz), Moxie CrimeFighter (Magician Penn Jillette), Nakoa-Wolf Manakauapo Namakaeha Momoa (Lisa Bonet and Jason Momoa) and Spec Wildhorse (John Cougar Mellencamp and Elaine Irwin). What parents do demand is the freedom to give their children names that will espouse a lifetime of dignity, character and distinction, like Cholera Priest, Envy Burger, Pickle Parker, Gonorrhea and Syphilis (twins), Banana Howdy or Bart Simpson’s favorites, Al Coholic, Anita Bath or Oliver Chlothesoff.
Short of using an iPhone App (yes, they do exist), there are a number of things to keep in mind when naming your newborn. Remember that they’re going to have their names for the rest of their lives. Unless, of course, they decide to change them from Chad Johnson to Ochocinco, Maurice Micklewhite to Michael Caine, Issur Danielovitch Demsky to Kirk Douglas or Chaim Klein Witz to Gene Simmons. If they’re musically inclined, your child may go from Leonard to Lil’ Scrappy, Dreaddy Kruger, Cunninlynguists, Gnarls Barkley, Messy Marv, Chali 2na or Shorty Shitstain. When they get older, they can abbreviate their name to just their initials: JC (Jesus Christ), P.T. Barnum, L.L. Bean, J.K. Rowling, H.G. Wells or O.J. Simpson.
Some new parents bestow honor on a newborn by extending the legacy of their family tree. They’ll choose great-great grandfather Elmer or one of his cousins, Lester, Homer, Cleveland or Nellie Belle— not that there’s anything wrong with Lester, Homer, Cleveland or Nellie Belle—just as long as it flows when put next to the family name: Pickle Parker Cleveland Roosevelt.
Most pediatricians advise new parents to forgo coming up with creative spelling of their children’s names: Kayciance-Clarita Jayne, Aksel Rhose, Razziel, Prinzstohn, Phenway, Benjerman, Dierrah and Jerzey Chor. Try to imagine your daughter who has now grown into a successful, 37-year-old prospective homebuyer on the telephone with her mortgage broker: “Yes, that’s spelled K-a-y-c-i-a-n-c-e… Just like it sounds.”
Keep in mind what’s going to happen to their initials or monograms, once they become rich and powerful and have their clothes tailor-made. All of William Terrance Franklin’s dress shirts will be emblazoned with WTF on the cuffs. Petunia Ursula Samuels’ Armani suits will have PUS on the lapels. And, heaven help Farleigh Udell Keaton.
Think twice before saddling your children with cute nicknames that will haunt them until the end of time. While Cupcake, Pookie Bear and Snookums might seem like an affectionate way to start your kid down the road of life, chances are their classmates will replace them with their own merciless versions like WingNut, Four-eyes, Stumpy or Pizza Face that will inevitably haunt them until they achieve high political office: “Ladies and gentleman, the Speaker of the House, Ferret-face Fenstermacher.”
Finally, there are few things in life worse than a man being given a woman’s name. While it didn’t seem to hurt the careers of Leslie Nielsen, Lindsay Buckingham, Evelyn Waugh or Stacy Keach, it’s a guaranteed way to get your kids beat up in the parking lot of P.S. 496, so invest early in those Karate lessons. Similarly, if you’re going to name your kids Winterby, Leighton or Chumley, you’d better be rich and be able to chauffeur them from private school in a bulletproof limousine. Otherwise, they’ll never make it home alive.
With time running short and my mother anxious to checkout of her room, I still didn’t have a name. So my father initiated a frantic inventory of items in the hospital room hoping for a good name for an 8-pound baby boy. Q-tip, emesis basin and sphygmomanometer were possibilities, but my mother would have nothing to do with it. Finally, he spied a Welch Allyn Vaginal Specula hanging on the wall. Two of the words were possibilities. He ultimately decided on Allyn. And, just to avoid saddling me with a lifetime of misspellings, he changed the spelling from Allyn to Allen. But I’m thinking of changing it to Lorraine.