Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
Naming a child is perhaps one of the most personal and one of the most challenging decisions that parents face. There are a number of factors to consider—tradition and novelty, spelling and pronunciation, familial and ethnic heritage, relationship to surname and sibling names, and meanings. Then there is the reality that while name changes are possible, most of us keep our first names for our entire lives, making an offspring’s nomenclature an important legacy.
We see this kind of naming throughout the Bible, where angelic visitors dictate the names of important figures like John (“God is gracious”) the Baptist and Jesus (“Yahweh is salvation”) himself. Consider, for instance, the names of Hosea’s children, a son called Jezreel after a valley known for its bloodshed and a daughter Lo-ruhamah to mean “the Unloved.” While most parents I know don’t face the pressure of God dictating their children’s names to make theological points, it’s clear that the practice of naming carries tremendous responsibility.
For much of U.S. history, naming trends remained fairly mainstream, with a small pool of names serving the vast majority of families. Yet increasing diversity, greater desire for uniqueness, and more exposure (in the digital age) to naming fashions means an ever-expanding list of possibilities. It might seem like an anything-goes era, but governments throughout the world still regulate (to varying extents) the choices allotted to parents. Take, for instance, the New Jersey couple who lost custody of their son, named Adolf Hitler. Or note that in Massachusetts, names are limited to forty characters (much less generous than New Zealand’s one hundred), all of which must be letters in the English alphabet.
All of these regulations serve as reminders that children are not solely the property of their parents. They belong to their parents, the state, themselves, and God. Finding a name that pleases all of those parties can apparently be quite tricky, but the effects of a naming decisions—whether orthodox or eccentric—can last a lifetime.