Friday, October 30, 2009

What's In a Name?

My brother, Youngblood, and his wife are expecting their second child. As a rule, they don't know the gender of the baby. And they won't until Mrs. Youngblood pushes that sweet, screaming, poop-making machine out into this world. They've got some ideas for how they'll refer to this forthcoming bundle of joy. One of the candidates for a male baby is the name "Brendan." Of which, I'm not a fan.

Believe it or not, I've got a couple of quasi-reasonable objections:

1) It's too easy to confuse "Brendan" with "Brandon" and I suspect a person named the former would spend a good deal of his life in correction mode.
2) When the other kids start picking on him, he'll invariably be called "Brenda." (That's certainly what I'd do if I were 9 years old and I wanted to tease a kid named "Brendan.")
3) I can picture a little boy named "Brendan," but I can't imagine a grown man called "Brendan." It just feels like a short-term solution. It doesn't really...mature...very well.

I'm probably responding rather weirdly when it comes to this particular name. And, now that I've shared my objection with Youngblood (and the rest of the free and not-so-free worlds), my objection can pretty much be discarded.

Except, perhaps, for that last reason.

I don't--thankfully for the rest of the planet--have any kids. I don't have near-term plans to have any either. Which is to say that I'm grossly unqualified when it comes to debating parenting philosophies. At least from a first-person standpoint. I am--allegedly--a modestly intelligent person. And I have had, like, three whole conversations with parents and/or their offspring about parenthood. So I'll step into my arrogant pants for a moment and tell other people how they should live their lives. (Just this once.)

Arguably the biggest mistake any parent makes is limiting the concept of their "child" to the first life stage their son or daughter travels through. A baby will be a baby for a while. And then they won't be. They'll be a third-grader for an even shorter amount of time. And they'll be a teenager for far longer than is comfortable for any sane person. And then, most importantly, they will be an adult. At some point. It's an inevitability that all of us should be so lucky to endure.

In my experience, there's a wistful fetish--that is perhaps only a couple of generations old--within Western culture for a certain notion of what childhood is supposed to be about. Someone or something is always trying to protect children or preserve the integrity of the experience of being a child. And someone or something is always celebrating childhood as if it were a bubble of pure, unadulterated joy. Like there's a cultural decision to make bliss the most blissful when ignorance is the expected, accepted norm.

Which, of course, is not really the case. At every stage of development that I've observed, children/kids/juniorpoopersofpants have a lot going on mentally and emotionally. They may enjoy more moments (and/or moments that last longer) where the psychological obligations of behaving in a civilized manner do not appear to exist but, to their credit, the youngin's are not braindead or heartdeaf. They see things. They think and they feel. And they're slowly accumulating the stories on which their identities and personal belief systems will be built. They are, very plainly, adults-in-training.

That sounds kinda like a hairy, steaming pile of suck, don't it? could be. But it doesn't have to be. Childhood and adulthood are not simple, monolithically categorizable experiences. There are rites of passage that link many people together as if they're all taking the exact same steps along the exact same journey. But we don't take the same steps. And we certainly don't all step in anything that resembles the same order.

Some of us graduate from pre-school, lose all our baby teeth before we finish learning to multiply, discard the idea of the other gender as having cooties at some point around junior high, obtain a driver's license as soon as legally possible, do our first kegstand before college, do a lot more kegstands in college, survive those first three really crappy jobs, choose a spouse, push out some pantspoopers of our own, finally move into that corner office, cry when our own kids begin to remind us how far we are on our own journeys and then...well...some other stuff.

Before that other stuff happens, those bittersweet reminders are probably what trigger the fetish for childhood. The view via the rear mirror is always much happier (or, if you prefer, more painful) than the time that has passed really was. Memory, despite the complex series of chemical interactions that make it possible, is the great simplifying tool. It transforms childhood into this thing that is innocent and pure and wonderful. It dulls the awkward, irrational truth which is neither entirely bad nor entirely good.

Childhood, like adulthood, is just another thing you do that you can enjoy if you want to. You shouldn't be told what it will be or how you're supposed to experience it. The only expectations a person who is experiencing childhood--or adulthood for that matter--should have are that there will be lights and tools and people to help you learn how to use those tools as you stumble and glide along your path. You don't need anything to be dulled or amplified for your benefit. You just need the freedom to fumble...or to start the wild rumpus.

Wait...this was supposed to have something to do with a name, wasn't it?

I guess I don't know exactly what IS in a name but I do know that no parent is simply naming a baby or a child. They are, Godwilling, naming a person who will grow up. Consequently, the job of a parent isn't to raise a "child", but to train an adult. Which is probably a far scarier endeavour. Maybe that's why the persistent longing for "childhood"...persists. It looks like it is more fun perhaps because it was. Or so it seemed. And maybe that's why so many baby names are...cute.


Red said...

So, I like Brendan, I like it a lot. I see your point though. Try growing up with my name. I am tired of people butchering my name in any way possible. Not only is it a sucky experience to have an unpronounceable/easily misinterpreted name, but it also kinda sucks for those people around me. I can't tell you how many people I have embarrassed just because they couldn't pronounce my name. I feel like I should take the blame because I have a "stupid" name. Like those butchering name people look at me and think, "why couldn't your parents have named you something normal or more traditional?!" I'm proposing that we name the new little baby just a letter, like Q. Q looks awesome, you can't screw up a letter, and signing credit card receipts would be easy! Welcome Baby Letter Q! BTW Nan and Pap like the name (I think), so it is pretty much decided.

the_capital_t said...

While it is kinda counterintuitive to the gibberish that appears above...Q works for me.

On the subject of unusual names, I was once acquainted with a woman named Tsilla (pronounced CHILL-A). It was so unusual, but it was also a ridiculously cool name. It was something that suited her and that seemed to positively inform her identity. Which, I think is the most basic goal of any name.