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November 6, 2018

Choosing a name for your new bundle can be a minefield, especially in this politically correct world we live in. Jai Breitnauer has some suggestions on how to avoid potential faux-pas 

One of the first things you'll be asked by cooing friends is, “Have you chosen a name?” Even though you may say something heroic about waiting to meet the baby first, chances are, names have crossed your mind. Whether you’ve come up with a list or just had a fleeting thought that you don’t want to name your child after that kid at school, you’ve recognised the name you give your child is exceptionally important.

This was demonstrated by a recent, notable birth. When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announced their third child, a boy, would be called Louis there were a few raised eyebrows. Pronounced ‘Lu-ee’, meaning ‘renowned warrior’, it has been suggested the choice is a tribute to Prince Phillip’s Grandfather, Prince Louis Alexander of Battenberg, and a nod to Earl Louis Mountbatten. The name is also French – at a time when Britain is poised to break from the European Union. British TV presenter Piers Morgan was one of the first to tweet that the Royal couple were showing defiance toward Brexit, and the French Embassy in London congratulated the Royals on choosing a traditional French name. Whether a political poke or an accidental agenda, it brings to light the fact that baby names should be carefully considered. 

Know the rules 

In 1995, legislation was laid down to help protect children from having a troublesome name, and to protect certain status labels, such as 'King' or 'Constable' being misused. The rules state a name should not be too long, cause offence or resemble an official title. No Duke, Prince or Sir in New Zealand. And before you get worried about the meddling state, a quick look at the list of names rejected by the Department of Internal Affairs over the last 20 years demonstrates that some people need a little bit of help to get it right.

Names appearing on the banned list include 'Sex Fruit', 'Fish and Chips' (for twins), V8, .89, the use of brackets, anything written in roman numerals and anything with a backslash. While I think it’s a bit of a shame that 'Rogue' is on the list, I don’t understand why anyone would want to call their child 'Fear'. 

In 2008, the parents of nine-year-old ‘Lula Does The Hula In Hawaii’ lost custody of her after she revealed to the court she felt embarrassed by her name and wished to change it. Family court judge, Rob Muffit said, “The court is profoundly concerned about the very poor judgment that this child’s parents have shown in choosing this name. It makes a fool of the child and sets her up with a social disability and handicap, unnecessarily.”

The quest for unique 

That said, names don’t have to be boring or common. Do you really want to call your child in the playground and have ten other kids come running as well? “I didn't want names that appear in the top ten list every year,” says Michelle, mum to Holly, 9, Eli, 6, and Rosie, 2. “I don't have anything against those names, I just didn't want my kids to be in a class with several kids with the same name.”

This was so important that Michelle and husband Simon changed their baby name plans for Rosie. “When I was pregnant with Eli his ‘girl's’ name was Lucy, but by the time we had another girl we knew so many little Lucys that we opted for Rosie instead.” 

In the quest to have a truly unique name you might turn to mythology, folklore or old religious text – but make sure you’ve done your research. “I wanted a fun and unusual name for my son,” says Emmie, mum to Lucas, six. “We settled on Loki, the Norse god of mischief. We thought it was cheeky, but when he was just a few weeks old a friend told us Loki was a nasty character, responsible for the death of a god in mythology. We quietly changed his name to Lucas.”

Anna and Nathaniel were living in Japan when they had their third son, Boaz, 3. “We wanted something that would work in Japanese as well as English,” says Anna. “For example, I quite liked the biblical name Onesiumus, but the shortening ‘Oni’ means demon in Japanese!”

Having had a tricky pregnancy, they chose Boaz which means ‘strength’, which works in Japanese and is also quite unique. “Boaz in the Bible also has characteristics we’d like our son to emulate – he’s honourable, generous, proactive and protective.”

Cultural capital 

You may consider a name in a different language, especially if you are from another cultural background. But be prepared for that name to be tricky to pronounce.

“My name is an old Persian name, unusual even in Iran,” says Punteha, journalist and mother to 20-month-old Amelia. “Legend has it, Punteha was a female general, leader of the ‘Eternal Army’ of men. As a child I was always called Punta, and I felt angry that my school forcibly changed the pronunciation because they didn’t want to say it properly.”

Te Rawhina wanted to give her children Maori names but having a hard-to-say name herself, she decided on names that were simpler.

“We have Kiwa, Atamai and Aleki, but even they cause problems,” she explains. “Kiwa is often called Kiwi, and once, Quinoa! Aleki is the Tongan form of Alex, but Maori people often hear it as the Maori name Ariki, which can take some explaining.”

If you choose a cultural name, do it sensitively. Jacinda Ardern may have been gifted the name Waru for her baby by the Ra-tana movement, but pulling out a Hindi or Chinese name when you’ve never visited the country might cause offense to some.

Generation gap 

Consider whether your trendy name will be understood by your gran.

“Our four-year-old is called Lyra, which often draws a blank with people, especially the older generation,” says Tiffany. “She introduces herself proudly to people who just stare blankly and then look at me for a ‘translation’. I have to explain it’s from a book. Her middle name is Rae in honour of her grandfather Raymond, but I worry people think she’s named after Rey in Star Wars!”

Parenting commentator Emily Writes changed her name as an adult to something short, easy to say and spell. When naming her boys, she stuck to the same rule. “They're called Eddie and Ronnie, bogan names that people consider to be nicknames,” says Emily. “They’re named after Iron Maiden and Ronnie James Dio.” 

Emily says the boys are Nga-ti Mutunga Wharekauri so also have Maori names, Eddie James Te Hoia and Ronnie James Te Wai, after their uncle and great-grandfather. “I think it’s a beautiful tribute to pay to someone,” says Emily. “You hope they’ll inherit the traits of the person you love. It honours and remembers them.”

Honouring a family member is all very well, but you have to be pragmatic. If you want to pay tribute to Grandpa Dick, perhaps opt for Richard instead. If another family member has already jumped in to use that precious family name, consider using it as a middle name to keep the peace. 

“My sister used the name Jack and I loved that name,” says Emily. “I was really pissed off initially when she used it, but I was way off being pregnant so she got in there first. I wouldn't have two cousins named Jack and in the end, my two are very much an Eddie and a Ronnie.”

Whatever name you decide upon, remember your child will live with it forever.

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