On the Need to Reform Our Present System of Naming Children

Like David Copperfield, I was born.  Immediately thereafter, my parents decided it would be a good idea if I had a name.  In that regard, their judgment was sound.

Then sentiment took over, and they decided to give me the same name as my father.  My father had reservations, because when he was a boy, he knew a kid who had the same name as his father.  Everyone called this kid “junior,” which my father thought was icky.  The fact that my father did not like this kid only intensified that feeling.  In order to spare me the fate of being tagged with a moniker like that, my father insisted that I be a “second,” which is to say, the Roman numerals “II” were added to my name on my birth certificate.  I think my life would have been easier if the blank on that certificate following the word “father” had been filled with the word “unknown,” allowing me a name that was all mine, with neither “jr.” nor “II” following it.

For the first fifteen years of my life, I was subjected to the “lecture.”  I would be told, by those who think such things important, that I should never have been a second.  Only if my father had been a junior, or if I had been named after an uncle, they informed me, would that have been appropriate.  This lecture was delivered to me through the years by various people, and I became weary of hearing it, even if they never tired of saying it.  So, about the time I entered high school, I took matters into my own hands, and dropped the “II.”  This took care of the lecture, but as I was still living at home, I needed some way to distinguish my mail from that of my father, and so the dreaded “jr.” took its place.  A year later, I got my first driver’s license, with the “jr.” on it, and that made it official.  When I finally moved out and got an apartment of my own, I dropped the “jr.” as well.  But with a birth certificate with a “II” on it and a driver’s license with a “jr.” on it, there really was no escaping these suffixes, one of which will probably, despite my protestations, end up on my tombstone.

Meanwhile, there were my relatives to deal with, and for that purpose the “-y” was added to my first name, as in “Johnny.”  There are two problems with this kind of name-formation.  First of all, names like “Johnny,” “Billy,” and “Charley” are diminutives, which just do not have the stature and maturity of the names of their respective fathers, “John,” “Bill,” and “Charles.” Worse, they are phonetically indistinguishable from “Johnnie,” “Billie,” and “Charlie,” which are girls’ names.  With the addition of a single “-y,”, I was not only rendered a small version of my father, but was also feminized at the same time.

And then there is the use of the word “Little,” uttered before the first name, as in “Little Pete.” This last way of trying to undo the confusion of having two people in the same house with the same name is the worst of the lot.  All the ones previously considered only suggest that the person so named is derivative of someone else, a diminished version of what came before.  With the use of the word “Little,” the reduced stature of the person so referred to becomes explicit.

And all this to satisfy some strange masculine pride in one’s own name!  The whole point of having names is so that, through utterance or inscription, we can indicate the person of whom we are speaking, and do so in an unambiguous manner.  And just when we need it most, as when two males are to live under one roof, vanity triumphs over reason, and the son winds up with the same name as his father, as if it were some precious heirloom that must be handed down from one generation to the next.  I say this is a masculine trait, because the cases where a mother names her daughter after herself are so rare that I have personally only known of two of them.  The feminine solution to undoing the ambiguity that was deliberately created is for the daughter to take on a nickname, like “Sweetie.”  In any event, I have certainly never heard of a woman named after her mother going by the sobriquet “Judy, jr.,” for example, or “Little Judy.” And “Judy, II” would make us suppose her to be royalty.

But the problem is mostly confined to men, and it is toward this vain sex that we must focus our attention.  In particular, it is time to abolish the custom of allowing a man to name his son after himself.  And while we are at it, it is time to abolish the custom of having the wife change her last name to match her husband’s.  There is no reason for a woman to lose her identity by taking on her husband’s name, especially when she is likely to get divorced five years hence. And what surname do we give their children, you ask?  Well, children belong more to women than they do to men. They are the ones who do most of the child rearing, and who get custody of the children when that divorce finally arrives.  Therefore, we should give the children the woman’s last name.

This last proposal, by which all male children would have first and last names different from those of their fathers, may sound like something on the feminist agenda.  If so, it would not be the first time that men have benefited from the feminist movement.  With this reform, every boy could grow up to be his own man, with his own name.

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