What's in a Name?

I've been losing sleep lately, pondering important life questions, such as What is infinity? Who buys clown paintings? How often should I replace mascara?

And what should I name my baby?

"Naming your baby is the most important decision you'll ever make regarding your child," according to, you guessed it, a book on baby names. "It will affect his or her popularity, self-esteem, propensity for talking with a full mouth, and preference for network versus public television programming."

So naturally, I'm worried. Not as worried, perhaps, as I'd be if my two-and-a-half year-old son kissed somebody on the playground. But still worried. After all, the entire future of one would-be Hortense Gertrude Thelma Selma Stokes rests in my hands.

"If it's a girl, what about Bertha Ursula Stokes?" my friend Sue offered.

"Then her initials would be BUS," I said. "She'd develop a weight problem and need extensive therapy."

"If it's a boy, what about Godfrey Anton Stokes?"

"His initials would be GAS," I said. "And, while I'm not at all sure what qualities I want my baby's name to reflect, I feel certain that flatulence is not one of them."

What then? Brains or beauty? Trendiness or old-fashioned charm? Should we choose a popular, boring name, or an unusual, contrived one?

Place names are all the rage, like Holland, Savannah, and Georgia. In fact, Sue named her child Dakota. "Dakota has a nice ring to it," I told her. "But I kind of like New Mexico. Or maybe the Bronx. We could call her 'Bronxie' for short."

Sue looked displeased. "Perhaps you should consider an androgynous, executive-sounding name," she suggested. "Something like Mackenzie or Price or Farrel...or something sweet like Daisy or Jasmine or Rose."

"Not to mention Rhododendron or Hibiscus."

Then there are those parents who impose their own expectations, egos, and dreams on their children by giving them names that are hard to live up to. A woman in West Virginia, for instance, named her two children "Aristotle" and "Plato."

On the other hand, some parents sell their kids short. That's why, early on, we made the tough decision to eliminate Bambi, Bunny, and Rambo.

Of course, everything's relative.

The Norwegian government recently ordered little Gesher Larsen's parents to give their baby son a more ordinary name, or face a fine of $420. Names from the government's official list of acceptable names include, and I'm not making this up, "Odd" and "Dits."

Lindsey Stokes writes frequently about parenting. She has two young children but won't tell us their names.

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