Sunday, December 28, 2008

What's In A Name?

Hi, my name is Vanilla, as you would have known if you hit this Weblog regularly. Can you accept it if it had been my real name ? (I hope you knew all along it is not real.)

'Vanilla" does not sound like a common name neither it is offensive in any way. If you run your finger down the list in any 'Baby Name' books, you may not find this name. Personally, I do not know anyone whose name is 'Vanilla' other than 'Vanilla Ice', the American rapper.

Put the conventional meaning found in 'Vanilla Ice Cream' aside, 'Vanilla' is in fact, an adjective meaning 'plain or basic' in information technology. The unfeatured version of an IT product is sometimes referred to as the vanilla version.

This blog is plain and basic. Hence, 'vanilla'.

Some of my colleagues are in the midst of naming their unborn babies. Naming these bundles of joy can bring both joy and anxiety. New parents often find themselves browsing through several baby name books and consulting opinions of others on the suitability of their tentative choices. Many are careful and avoid all possible absurdities in a name which might cause embarrassment to their children.

Yet, there is no lack of given or self-chosen unusual or in some cases, weird names.

Once I was talking to a product promoter in a shopping mall and he went 'Hi! Nice to meet you. I am Dragon, Dragon Lee." It sounded really odd but I could live with that. I continued my conversation with Dragon as if his name sounded no differently from names like John or Robert.

It got odder in another occasion. At a business meeting, a business associate came to me and extended a firm professional handshake and introduced himself as 'Barney'. Okay, I confess that I did try to erase the image of a purple dinosaur in my head. But the real shocker came when I flipped his name card and saw that it was actually 'Bunny' instead. It was tough to hold back my amused expression after that, though I managed.

How about names like Bullet, Milky, Jelly, Gummy and Chlorine? I can go on and on... I am sure you have your own share of unusual encounters.

It continues to baffle me when I see parents going all out to choose, errr, unusual names for their children. I respect that, due to the cultural divide, some names may sound unusual to some but are perfectly acceptable to others. But, in this globally fused era, shouldn't we be more sensitive when picking a name?

Last week, it was reported in Associated Press that a baker had refused to write out a 3-year-old boy's name on his birthday cake. His defence: It is inappropriate to write 'Adolf Hitler' on a birthday cake!

The parents of little Adolf Hitler justified that they liked the name because "no one else in the world would have that name." Why didn't they realise that there must be a good reason for the total lack of interest in that name? Go read up some WWII history!

Some celebrities seem to have a fetish for unusual names that carry an alternative geographical meaning. Listen to this...

David and Victoria Beckham named their eldest son, Brooklyn. Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger named their daughter Ireland. Michael Jackson named his daughter Paris. Is there any new mom out there who wants a name of the same genre? Try 'Singapura'.

Since the 2008 Olympics was awarded to Bejing in July 2001, China was in full gear preparing for the big event. The fever was obviously shared by many. By end 2007, it was reported that there were over 3,500 babies given the name of 'Aoyun' which means Olympics in Chinese.

With 1.3 billion people in China, repetition is one of the problems facing parents as well as public institutions. So, some parents try to differentiate their children's name from thousands others. hoping that their children will stand out. In one extreme case, a Chinese couple tried to name their baby "@", saying the symbol sounds like "love him" to Mandarin speakers and therefore showing their love for the child.

Gosh! Since when has someone been named after a symbol? Imagine three siblings with names such as "@", "#" and "*". Together, they spell perfect profanity!

Unusual naming has also caught up with the Internet era. In 2007, a Mexican new-born baby was named Yahoo, just like the famous Internet portal, because his parents knew each other on a dating site. I hope this will not inspire my colleagues to name their unborn babies, Google.

I am sure they are not going to. In fact, some think that baby-naming in Singapore is far too tame and unadventurous. When I was in college, I shared the same class as a Tom, a Dick and a Harry. Calling them was an easy and non-tongue-twisting event but calling them in one go was another matter altogether.

Singapore is a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual country and this makes naming more challenging. An otherwise meaningful name may risk sounding ridiculous in English, Chinese or Malay or some local dialects.

A guy I knew in college was named Long An. There wasn't any problem with this well-thought Chinese name until it was written as Longan, which is a type of fruit similar to Lychee.

I have also noticed that names are getting longer, as if in a race. Parents attempt to differentiate by naming their babies with not one but two or three English names. Thinking of naming your son 'Aaron Bernard Christopher Tan'? Think again. Writing them out or filling in forms can be excruciating, unless you are prepared to abbreviate it to 'ABC Tan' and making it sounds like ABC soup in Chinese.

If you feel patriotic enough to choose names which are 'Uniquely Singapore', why not consider 'Sang Nila Utama', 'Temasek' or 'Singa'? Alright, I was just being satirical. Serioulsly, for those who are looking for a name now, work harder on it.

No one said naming was easy.

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