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By any other name

Almost a full two weeks overdue, and not without causing his poor mother some degree of tribulation, at 6.26am on 29 December 2016, Seán Alexander Levon Sloane was born. Weighing-in at a healthy 9lb 11½oz, at the moment of his birth he was of course known as ‘Male Baby Sloane’. Having for the previous ninth months jokingly been called ‘Elvis’, over the coming hours we decided that, yes, he did indeed look like the name we had tentatively picked out. And so, by midday on the day of his birth, Seán he became.

Picking a name for one’s child is fraught with danger. Whilst the process itself can be absolutely hilarious and great fun, it is also of great life-long importance for the baby in question that parents get it right, or at least and perhaps more importantly not get it badly wrong. There are life-long implications to having an undesirable name.

One might ask, how could one possibly get it wrong? In all sorts of ways, is the answer. Think about someone you know that stands out because of a really unusual name. Take Bob Geldof’s daughter, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily Hutchence Geldof. I’ll leave it to readers to make up their own minds on that one. A name not properly considered may produce unfortunate initials which are less than desirable, eg, ASS, STI, STD, PEE or LSD. Fairly plain or seemingly ordinary names when inadvertently used with certain surnames can also produce unintended consequences, eg, Happy Rayne, James James, Robin Graves or Justin Love.

Urban myths abound about naming babies, such as with the twins called Sam and Ella (allegedly named around the time of the Edwina Currie great egg crisis). In 1993, I lived with a narcissistic American student who swore blind he knew a girl called Brick Wall! I recently read about a woman who, when heavily pregnant, had a flash of inspiration and decided she would call her baby Kika Belli (kick in the belly)! Fortunately, the baby’s grandmother-to-be managed to persuade her it might not be a good idea.

The naming of a baby, when considered in a global and cultural context, is also not perhaps as straightforward as one might think. In less-urbanised areas of the world, it is often the case that people are known by a single name. Various other cultures lack even the basic concept of specific, fixed names to designate people, either individually or collectively, and there are certain isolated Amazonian tribes, eg, the Machiguenga, who do not use personal or first names at all. However, it is nearly universal for babies to be given names and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has declared that a child has the right to a name from birth.

In the West, nearly all individuals possess at least one first name, along with a surname indicating that they belong to a family, tribe or clan. Between forename and family name may or may not be one or more middle names, further establishing such family and broader relationships.

When choosing a name, parents navigate a prospective minefield and have many things to consider. They may choose a name because of its meaning or because of a personal or familial meaning. It may simply be a name that both parents like, or it may be an example of nominative determinism, in which the parents give the child a name that they believe will be lucky or favourable for the child. In many cases, given or first names most often derive from a range of categories, including aspirational personal traits, occupations, circumstances of birth, objects, variations on other names, surnames, places, time of birth, physical characteristics, and any conceivable combination of the above.

So how did we arrive at our son’s name? For us, we had many considerations, including his multicultural and multiethnic heritage. Having dismissed Elvis out-of-hand, the first name to be included was Alexander, after his paternal great-great grandfather, a significant individual in our family. An Irish first name was of high importance and after long deliberations, Seán was the choice. Surname was a no-brainer, as neither of us admire double-barrelled family names.

Finally, we came to including a name that connected our son to his Turkish-Kurdish-Armenian heritage. Having considered various options, we landed on Levon, Armenian for Lion. As it happens, Levon is also a beautiful song by Elton John (who shares his father’s birthday), published on 29 November (a birthday shared by his granny and uncle), about a baby born at Christmas, just like Seán; if you’ve never heard it, go listen. Alongside the sentiments expressed in Levon, we also share those conveyed by John Lennon in his song Beautiful Boy, written for his son Seán. We also have a beautiful boy, Seán Alexander Levon Sloane. And we hope and believe we got his name just right. Time will tell.

Dedicated to my second son, Seán Alexander Levon Sloane.

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