Letter to President Obama #35 | Subject: Babies and Baby Names
Dear President Obama,
Iâ€™m writing because Iâ€™ve got a more personal question to ask youâ€”Iâ€™ve reached a strange point in my lifeâ€”I guess I must subconsciously want a kid, because Iâ€™ve been thinking a lot about children, and specifically, what names Iâ€™d give them, if I were to have any. Now just in case my momâ€™s reading this, there isnâ€™t a baby on the way or anything, so Iâ€™ve got some leeway here, but Iâ€™ve definitely been entertaining the idea.
But itâ€™s not like the familial pressure isnâ€™t there. My folks want a grandkid too. For instance, you know that the family abstinence-only policy has been thrown out the window when your parents see your cousinâ€™s new son, look at you, and sigh before saying, â€œWhat about our grandbabies?â€ and then hang their heads dejectedly.
Anyway, Mr. President, Iâ€™m asking you because your family seems to be an unqualified successâ€”and because your children have great names. For me, thatâ€™s a pretty big compliment; Iâ€™m a bit paranoid about names.
I mean, there are so many ways to screw up a name. Of course, there is the general problem of initials. Consider the following ostensibly appropriate names:
Anne Susan Stewart
Frank Upton Kilborn
Sarah Heather Thomas
Paul Oliver Ortler
When these names are made into acronyms, they are all dismal failures. Iâ€™ll leave the mental legwork to you, but they all stand for various naughty words. My name is an excellent example of thisâ€”my initials (BEO) can be short for â€œBody Odor,â€ but as I learned in middle school, they are also short for such treasures as:
Butts Eating Oysters
Busty Earthling Orgy
and of course, Burping Early Orlater
Needless to say, being called such things was pretty stressful. I certainly donâ€™t need to tell you that children love swear words. They are experts in all things related to toilet humor and theyâ€™d endlessly tease any child with such initials. (In fact, Iâ€™ve always believed that children would be excellent plumbers if they could be appropriately trained. This probably explains the success of the Mario Brothers video game franchise; donâ€™t forget that the Mario Brothers were plumbers. This explains all the pipes.)
Of course, there are other general naming rules. If possible, avoid middle names that are old-fashioned. I was named for my grandfather, whose middle name was Eugene. Itâ€™s a great name, and one that I like a great deal now, but as a child, I got a bit of grief for it. I mean, when a kid makes fun of your middle name you and scream back but itâ€™s an important city in Oregon! thatâ€™s not much of a defense.
This next point might seem obvious, but itâ€™s always important to avoid names that are already famous. The name â€œJesusâ€ is a good example. Like it or not, that name is already taken. And when viewed realistically, thereâ€™s no way your child will live up to such a name, unless heâ€™s really good at making fishes and loaves. Really good. The same goes for any of the seven virtuesâ€”if you name your kid Faith, sheâ€™ll probably become an atheist. If you name her Chastity, sheâ€™ll be pregnant at 16. (I actually saw this at a Wal-Mart in rural Minnesota. No joke.)
By extension, if you name your kid Adolf, thereâ€™s no way they can screw that up any more than it already is. The same goes for Judas. Then again, those names come with their own problems, so Iâ€™m certainly not advocating for those.
Finally, there is the problem of shoddy etymology. My first nameâ€™s a great example. Itâ€™s â€œBrett,â€ a pretty rare name. When people ask what it means, I tell them itâ€™s complicated. By that, I mean, that my parents thought it meant â€œstrongâ€; thatâ€™s how they found in a baby book. They chose this name because I was born prematurely (three months!) and I was lucky to be alive. I had a rough go of it at first; I was in an incubator for three months (chicken eggs stay in incubators for 24 days, take that chickens) and I was only 2.5 pounds. My parents wanted me to get all the help I could get, and I canâ€™t blame them.
As I learned in elementary school, many children knew what their names meant early on. The biblically-named kids had it pretty easy, I thought; I knew like 12 Jakes by the first grade. I only went to school with one other Brett; in fact, heâ€™s the only one Iâ€™ve known personally. Sadly for me, he was about 6â€™4 by the fifth grade. I wasnâ€™t. Thereafter, I was known as little Brett.
Only later did I find out what my name really meant. I learned German in high school. I was watching some boring German-language show in class and I heard a reference to a â€œSprungbrett.â€ The show was about gymnastics. Then the lady in the show pointed to a spring board. So I went home and got online. I searched for my name; of course, I found a lot of references to people with my name, and then I found a lot of websites in German. At first, I thought Germans really liked me! Then I realized that my name was really just a German wordâ€”so I looked it up. My parentsâ€™ initial hunch wasnâ€™t too far off, if viewed rather abstractlyâ€”Germans would probably recognize â€œBrettâ€ as something â€œstrongâ€; unfortunately for me, thatâ€™s because â€œBrettâ€ means â€œa boardâ€ or â€œa plankâ€ in German. So a springboard is a Sprungbrett, etc.
For all intents and purposes, my name literally means â€œa piece of wood.â€ This led to some odd encounters in Germany. Iâ€™d show up at a friendâ€™s house and heâ€™d greet me with, â€œHello, my American piece of wood!â€
Of course, things donâ€™t seem to be getting any easier now. It seems the Internet is no help here. What I mean is, itâ€™d be a little embarrassing to explain to oneâ€™s child where their odd name came from if you got it from the Internet; imagine that conversation:
Child: Where did my name come from?
Parents (in unison): Um, babynamesworld.parentsconnect.com
Anyway, Iâ€™ve made a little progress in my own search; Iâ€™m leaning toward the names Oliver William Ortler and Sophia Ann Ortler (Sophie for short).What do you think, Mr. President?
Thanks, and take care,
This is letter #35 to President Obama. No response yet, but I will let everyone know. If you like them, please let your friends know and tell them to tell their friends. Also, feel free to leave comments and join my Letters To the President Facebook group here.