A February 26th, 2008 Pew research study found that, "Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the largest families in America, among both religious and nonreligious groups." I did not read beyond that section, but it probably went on to also report that members of the LDS Church tend to have the most success on reality TV shows (the American Idol finals will come down to David Archuleta and Brooke White, mark my words) and that LDS children between the ages 18 months and 3 years know the words to "Once There Was A Snowman" better than any other religion.
Since we as a people tend to have more offspring than most, we have also learned some parenting lessons that we are obligated to share with those with less experience. For example, we know that there is one major decision that parents make that influences a child's future emotional well-being and overall success in life more than any other single factor. The secret to raising successful children is not dependent upon whether or not you use formula, expose the child to classical music in-utero, or deliver the baby in the hospital with a doctor instead of at home in a Mr. Turtle pool with a woman you met on the internet. The key is this:
Choose the right name!
My wife and I are happily expecting our third child in May (thank you, thank you). Our experiences in naming our children have varied dramatically each time we have gone through the process. We discussed the names of our first and third children for all of three minutes and we both loved the outcomes.
But baby number two? We disagreed on that one for months and then ended up selecting a name that was neither of our top choice (though in hindsight our daughter ended up with the perfect name for her). I mention this because it is pretty remarkable for the two of us to disagree on anything. Our relationship reminds me of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry begins dating a woman, realizes that she is almost exactly like him, and says, "All this time I've been waiting for me to come along, and now I've swept me off my feet!" If naming a baby can become such a serious matter that it caused even the NMH and NMW to dig in our heels and not back down, there needs to be some sort of guide to help couples through the process. Here are some of the lessons that I have learned and would like to pass along to the world, but please comment with your pearls of baby naming wisdom and I will update the list as needed:
New: The "Moe's Tavern" Test: Thanks to my little 'bro Tony for this rule, which has received strong support from the comments thus far. Bart Simpson would frequently call Moe's Tavern with bogus first and last names that sounded funny when said together, such as "Amanda Huggenkiss" and "Seymour Butz". One real life examples of this is former professional baseball player Joe Carter (Joke Harder). I'm going to expand this rule a little to include avoiding giving your child the same first and last name. For example, one local news anchor is Neill McNeill and the Carolina Panthers play-by-play announcer is Mick Mixon.
New: The "Logistical Nightmare" Test: Credit to The Wiz for this rule when she said that a name should be, "Something people have heard of before. Don't just make up a name that can be phonetically pronounced but nobody has any idea what the heck that's about." First of all, great point. Secondly, very appropriate use of the word, "heck", given the Utah roots of many of the readers of this blog. So why call this the "Logistical Nightmare" test? One night when my wife and I were first married we were watching a movie in our teeny, tiny Provo apartment when one of the actors said, "This is a logistical nightmare!" Neither of use knew what the word "logistical" meant and it took us about three years to figure it out. (From 1997-1999 I thought a "logistical" was either an Italian pasta dish, a deep sea creature, or a bone near the scapula.) To us, the word logistical looked good on paper, but it meant absolutely nothing. Several of you have voiced your support for this rule, which discourages made-up names like the following ones that have been shared thus far in the comments - Arvilla, Maristine, Eeston, Lundyn, etc.
New: The "I'm Changing My Name to Salem" Test: Thanks to Bwebster for inspiring this rule and for sharing his wisdom after having nine children and twelve grandkids, "When my (former) wife Marla and I named our last daughter 'Emily', we had no idea that roughly 40% of the US population was doing the same thing. 'Emily' now goes by 'Salem' and wears tattoos and piercings. Sigh." Most of the comments on this topic have recommended avoiding the top fifty most popular names for a given year, otherwise your child might suffer from an identity crisis. Failure to adhere to this rule will result in future dinner table conversations with your 1st Grade son named Joshua that sound like this: "I was trading Pokemon cards with Joshua P. and then he left to go play football with Joshua N. and Joshua R. But then Joshua T. sat down next to me and traded me an Infernape Level X for a Beedrill and a Raticate that Joshua Q. had given to him...."
The "Here Comes Pat!" Test: Thank you Jami for having this rule included by saying, "Must be able to identify gender by name. (A holdover from the 'Jami is a boy's name!' days.)" Well said, and we can all tell the wounds are still pretty fresh for you. This rule is so obvious that I am ashamed to have left it off Version 1.0 when it was released. If we learned nothing else from Saturday Night Live in the early-to-mid 1990's it is this lesson - using androgynous names like "Pat" makes life unnecessarily hard on young children. I discussed this with the NMW and together we came up with a few other names that could get you into hot water with this test - Cameron, Taylor, Jerry, Chris, and of course - Jamie.
The "Back Porch Shout" Test: Emily made the following comment and gets credit for this rule, "My hardfast rule is it's got to sound good shouted from the back porch." This rule is very creative but also serves a practical purpose. It made me remember a girl named Carrie Anne who lived kitty-corner to me when I was growing up. Every evening at about 6:50 p.m. her mom would open the front door, take two steps on to the porch, cup her hands to her mouth, and yell at the top of her lungs, "Carrrrrr-iiieeeeeee-ANNNNNNE!" Halfway through the second syllable, poor Carrie Ann was already halfway home. As a parent, I have been amazed at how many times I have to shout my childrens' names in crowded places - the mall, Wal-Mart, Primary activities, Trick-or-Treating, the library (which for some inexplicable reason does not go over well), etc. - to get their attention. Before naming your child, go in you backyard and yell it three times to make sure that it carries well. You'll need it someday.
The "I Got An F in Geography" Test: Credit goes to Megan Hall's comment for this one. Apparently, most of you do no approve of naming children after cities, states, or countries. This rule says that if it appears on a map, it should not appear on a birth certificate. I have to admit that this rule makes me swallow my pride. We have absolutely loved living in North Carolina for the past five years and we are naming our soon-to-be daughter after our state. That's right, we are naming her "Northie". Just kidding. She is going to be named Caroline. If we we ever have another boy, we have discussed naming him Logan (we were sealed in the Logan Temple). Are we wrong for doing this?
The "La-Utah" Test: Megan either has too much time on her hands or is a very experienced baby namer, because she struck a nerve when she said, "Utah Test: Does it start with La-? (LaVerl, LaDawn, LaNye). I am glad that the "La" prefix was addressed, because I see this becoming an increasingly popular mistake as more and more professional athletes have "La" in their names. Here is a small sample of a few current pro athletes - LaMarcus Aldridge, LaBrandon Toefield (that's right - LaBrandon!), LaRon Landry, and LaDanian Tomlinson. The Tomlinson family takes the cake, however, as LaDanian's wife is named LaTorsha. Keep an eye on the "La" phenomenon, it could be the next baby name plague.
The "Ghosts From The Past" Test: (Thanks to Erin for this update, which now includes the names of former flames.) Some names from your past or your spouse's past are forever tainted. Do not, under any circumstances, name your child after either of your former boy/girlfriends. Also, if the nerdiest kid in your spouse's high school was named Kyle, and Kyle just happens to be your all-time favorite name, it's over. The name comes off the list. No additional discussion is justified. Each of us have certain names from our past that evoke bad memories. When the "Ghost From The Past" card is played by your spouse, just respectfully remove it from your list of favorite names, ask no follow-up questions, and move on to the next one.
The "Wayne-Ray-Lee" Test: Credit to Shelley for the following revision: ***(The Wayne-Ray-Lee test is only applicable to boys. Girls are exempt since they are far less likely to end up in the Big House regardless of their name. Shelley's daughter has the middle name "Rae" and my niece is often called "Ray Ray", and their names suit them perfectly.)***When watching the news tonight, listen for how many people being arrested have the names Wayne, Ray, and/or Lee somewhere in the mix. Credit for this rule go to my sister Angie and her husband Forrest who brought it to my attention several years ago. I have put their theory to the test and it is remarkably true. About 63% of all convicts are cursed by the Wayne-Ray-Lee syndrome. In fact, I heard that in Georgia a boy by the name of Ray Wayne Lee was born. Instead of taking him to the nursery, he was immediately 'cuffed, taken to prison, and placed in solitary confinement. Ironically, the name of the prison is Wayne State Prison in Wayne County Georgia. Even if your favorite uncle was good ol' uncle Ray, avoid these three names at all costs.
The "Mean Jay" Test: When I was growing up there was an older boy who lived down the street who went by the name, "Mean Jay". He would do horrible things like pretend to be a burglar and break into our house when he knew our parents were not home, or pin us to the ground and not let us up until we sniffed smelling salts. (I'm actually crying right now amid the flood of repressed Mean Jay memories). Parents need to remember that every neighborhood has its own Mean Jay. Therefore, when considering baby names you have to ask yourselves, "If I were the meanest kid in school, what could I do to make fun of this name?" The Mean Jay test eliminates names like Melvin (eternal wedgies), Duncan (could not go near a swimming pool), Ralph (so many vomit and Ralph Wiggum jokes, where do I start?), and Chastity (Jr. High would be miserable). For example, my full name is Dennis Andrew. Even with those seemingly normal names, I was subjected to my fair share of "Dennis the Menace" slurs and Mean Jay used to walk by me and say, "An ugly kid drew...and drew....and drew...and drew...man was he ugly!" If the name fails the Mean Jay test, spare your child the trauma and leave it behind.
The "Helaman Chapter 5" Test: The Book of Mormon prophet Helaman named his sons "Nephi" and "Lehi" so that they would remember the good works of the original Nephi and Lehi and act accordingly. Sometimes it is good to give a kid a name to live up to. This test explains why the names Joseph, Spencer, Talmage, Gordon, Eliza, and Rebecca are so popular within the Church. It also explains why if you ever meet two brothers named Alma and Amulek, they were probably born within an 80-mile radius of Vernal. Parents need to keep the Helaman test to within reasonable limits and remember that this does not justify you naming your daughter Abish or your son Teancum. If the name you are considering is scriptural or meaningful in Church history without becoming too obscure, go for it. (The only excusable obscure name from Church history is any of the following - Orrin, Porter, or Rockwell. A boy with any of those names would automatically become the toughest kid in his class. Hmmm..now I'm seriously considering "Rockwell" for a boy's middle name. How cool would that be?)
The "Queen Lili'uokalani" Test: Queen Liliuokalani was the last monarch of the kingdom of Hawai'i. Her name is so difficult to both spell and pronounce, she deserves this rule to be named after her. In short, the Queen Lili'uokalani test encourages parents to choose names that are easy to spell and just as easy to pronounce. However, this is the rule that my wife and I could not agree upon. When we were expecting our second child, both loved the name Allison and wanted to give this name to our baby. I wanted the traditional spelling while the NMW wanted it spelled Alisyn because she felt the "-son" ending was too masculine. I felt like our poor little daughter would spend most of her life telling people, "No, it's not pronounced 'Alley-sign', it's just plain Allison". I am pretty sure the reason that Asia'h Epperson got the boot tonight from American Idol was due to the Difficult Spelling Test. Please help us settle five years worth of debate and post comments to tell us if you would have used "Allison" or "Alisyn" if you were naming your daughter. While we get that debate cleared up, my advice is to avoid names that require people to sound it out three or four times before they attempt to pronounce it.
The BAD Initials Test: With the amount of texting that most kids to today, the wrong set initials could doom your son or daughter to a difficult childhood. Families with the last name of Thompson, for example, cannot, under any circumstances, name their daughter Felicity Amber, regardless of how much they like it. Other initials to avoid - LSR, DRK, NRD, LOL (unless you want a really silly little girl), and JRK.
The Letter Hog Test: A lot of families end up with this type of a problem: The first pregnancy results in twins and they are named something cute, like Nathan and Natalie. When baby number three comes along, the parents feel obligated to continue with the "N" names and come up with Nancy. By the time Naphtali, Nebuchadnezzar, and N'Asia'h are born, the parents have violated almost all of the previously mentioned baby naming rules. The lesson, if parents are going to be letter hogs when naming their children (my family, for example, consists of Angela, Andrew, Anthony, and Amy - I think Amtrack and Aurora would have been next), use a letter that will leave you with plenty of wiggle room. This is especially true if both you and your wife have a lot of siblings. Afterall, it is inevitable that one of the cousins will eventually be named one of your pre-determined letter hog names, so you need to be able to adjust on the fly.
Those are the first few rules that I could think of. Now your help is needed: Please comment with the following advice:
1. Which rules listed above are the best.
2. Additional rules that should be added.
3. Help settle the "Alisyn" vs. "Allison" debate.
Through our combined efforts we can create the most effective baby naming system in the known world. As a result, a young set of parents could be influenced to switch their baby's name from Gadianton Ray Johnson to Thomas Michael Johnson. On behalf of the almost-Gadianton's out there - thank you.