Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Name Game, Part 1


Hi, I’m Noah. This summer my wife and I are having twins … At this point we’re just signing our paychecks directly over to the Burbank Ikea.

To paraphrase comedian Mitch Hedberg, “If I had a baby I would have to think of a name. So I would need to buy a baby naming book or invite someone over who has a cast.”

Naming a baby is obviously a very important thing. It’s a key decision you make long, long before the child has any say in the matter

I feel like this must have been easier hundreds of years ago. Read a Shakespearean history sometime. Every character is named either John, Edward, Richard, or Henry, because those were the only names available.

Amanda grew up with a very common name. She was never the only Amanda in her class, and she didn’t like that. My parents gave me my own fairly uncommon first name to balance out my very common last name. The nice thing about my name is that everybody knows how to spell it and pronounce it, and they know where it comes from.

And yet, back in 1976 at least, it wasn’t very popular as a name. It’s gaining more popularity now, but I only knew a handful of other Noahs, growing up.

The less nice thing about my name is that I get to hear a lot of hilarious ark jokes. Well, not really hilarious, and not really jokes, plural. Just one joke, and it’s not even really a joke. It’s just “Hey, where’s your ark?” To which my usual answer is “I think I left it at your Mom’s house.”

I wonder, other people with Biblical names, do they get these same questions, too? “Hey, Adam, where’s your apple?” “Hey Mary, where’s your … virginity?” Though I suppose a good answer to that would also be “I think I left it at your mom’s house.”

Anyway, the point is, Amanda and I are trying hard to give our twins distinct names, but not bizarre names. We will not go the Hollywood route and name them, like, Effervescence and Ultra-Detective Atkinson.
Oh, yes, we have decided that our kids will have the last name Atkinson, rather than Smith because I don’t want to force anybody to have the name Smith and have to hear hilarious jokes from hotel clerks every time they check in.

For another, my father is the eldest of eight children and, in addition to my brother I have seven male cousins with the last name Smith. I’m not too worried about the family name dying out.

So, our criteria.

A) Distinct names, so they will not be one of a dozen Jennifers or Jasons in their classes. No offense to the Jennifers and Jasons of the world. I’m just saying your parents didn’t love you as much as we love our unborn twins.

B) Not too weird. I am a huge Marx Brothers fan. But I will not be naming a son Groucho Atkinson. I will not be naming a son Groucho Atkinson. I will not be naming a son Groucho Atkinson.

C) Something people can spell. When I was acting in children’s theatre, we would sign autographs for the kids at the end of the show and all the cute little quirky alternate spellings people were giving their children’s names were the bane of my existence. I think there are more ways to spell “Caitlin” than there are Eskimo words for snow. I wrote one children’s play with a character named Caitlin who spelled it Q-H-8-T-L-exclamation point-N-N-N. Audiences don’t always get that joke, but I appreciated it.

D) Something people can pronounce. There are a lot of lovely names out there that are just too tricky. I am one quarter Irish and I love Irish names. But when you look at how some of them are spelled versus how they’re pronounced … well, you can kind of see how the country’s reputation for drunkenness happened. If I name a kid Seamus or Siobhan, I’m dooming them to a lifetime of Seemus and See-oh-bann and I can’t do that to a child.

E) Something that goes well with the last name Atkinson. This rules out a lot of names that end in A sounds, because the first name and the last name would run together in a mushy way. For instance, my name would not go well with Atkinson. Noah Atkinson. That’s too many vowels in a row, when you say it, it’s like you started speaking Hawaiian for a few seconds. We’ve also had to rule out one of our favorite names, Atticus. Atticus Finch is a great character from To Kill a Mockingbird and it’s just a is a great name in general. But you can’t really name your son Atticus Atkinson unless you want him to grow up to be a Gilbert and Sullivan character.

I have a lot more to say about this, so this is really only part one of an ongoing series talking about names.

Please feel free to leave your own thoughts about this issue and I will happily steal them and pretend they’re my own.

Thanks. Bye.


  1. Three words: Milo Smith Atkinson. The only problem with it is you won't be able to come up with anything nearly as awesome for the other kid.

  2. How about "First" and "Second"? Or "Diet" so that every official last-name-first-name record of one of them looks like an eating fad?
    Maybe hit up wikipedia and look up the names of famous people that were born or died on the expected/actual date of their birth, and pick the more meaningful ones.
    I make no guarantee on the quality of my comments.

  3. Hmmm, what's an awesome name that's Irish, spellable and pronounceable but not too common? Let me think.... odd, nothing comes to mind.

    --> MOLLY <--