What's in a bat-crap-crazy name?

Should the state prevent parents from giving their kids humiliating names?

Published July 25, 2008 6:10PM (EDT)

Everyone loves a good ludicrous baby name. Half the reason the culture goes so nuts over celebrity pregnancies is because we can't wait to see if the new parents can top Moxie Crimefighter, Audio Science and Pilot Inspektor. The problem is, actual children have to grow up with these names, and when those actual children are not blessed with preternaturally beautiful parents and/or gobs of money, that's a hell of a cross to bear. Hence a New Zealand family court judge's decision to make a 9-year-old girl a ward of the court long enough to change her birth name of -- wait for it -- Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii.

Under New Zealand law, names that might "cause offense to a reasonable person" can be blocked before they make it onto a birth certificate, which has saved some kids from "creative" names like Yeah Detroit, Cinderella Beauty Blossom, Sex Fruit and Hitler. But Talula Does the Hula made it through that first check on parental judgment, as did Benson and Hedges (twins), Violence and -- wait for it -- Number 16 Bus Shelter. That right there is the problem with such a law: Whether a name is offensive is almost entirely subjective.

Personally, I wouldn't name my kids anything on the list of banned or permitted names, but I certainly don't understand why Midnight Chardonnay got through and Cinderella Beauty Blossom didn't. (At least the latter could go by Cindy or Ella.) People naming their kids after a brand of cigarettes is indeed disturbing, but the individual names Benson and Hedges actually fit right in with the whole trend toward WASP-y surnames as first names. And although Talula (or any variant spelling thereof) has never been a popular name, according to the Baby Name Wizard, Talia has been skyrocketing in the U.S. in recent years, and Lula was quite popular in the late 19th century, which makes it ripe for a revival. (Check out the graphs for "Emma," "Grace" and any permutation of "Lil" if that trend isn't obvious to you.) If she went by Tallie or Lula and never, ever told anyone her middle names, I dare say that child would have an easier time of it than poor little Number 16 Bus Shelter.

I'm glad for her sake that Talula Does the Hula got a less embarrassing name, and frankly, I think her parents deserved the swift kick. But I don't know how I feel about government intervention into baby naming -- especially when the government OKs "Violence." Readers, how about it? Are bully-magnet names a form of child abuse? Should the state step in? Let us know what you think -- and tell us the worst baby names you've heard -- in comments. (Note: Oranjello and Lemonjello, Chlamydia, Eczema, Vagina, etc. are racist and classist urban legends. Don't even bother.)

UPDATE, WE HAVE A WINNER: A terrific comments thread included such excellent questions as, why "don't we see more little girls and teens named Oprah?," a father who accidentally named his child Brittany Spears (ooops! He did it five years before she hit), gripes about kr8tive spellyng, and several votes in favor of out-of-the ordinary names. But we wanted to choose a winner. And Leeandra Nolting, you get points for volume AND style. Please email broadsheet@salon.com so we can send you a special prize. Below, LN's entry for the worst baby names she's heard gets props as our letter of the day:

Dejoneria -- This was the unfortunate name of a very nice girl in one of my freshman comp. classes. It was pronounced de-zhan-AIR-e-a, but at first glance the girl appeared to be named after a cross between mustard and VD.

Tequila Yeager -- a little girl in one of my mother's preschool classes. "Yeager" is a very common last name in my hometown and there's not much you can do about that, but it is still a bad idea to name your child after what you were drinking when she was conceived.

Strawberri--This is the name of the very nice girl behind the counter at the McDonald's on Canal and Royal in New Orleans.

Quo Vadis--There were several students at the University of New Orleans named misspelled variations of this.

Beatle -- The unfortunate name of a little girl in a friend's third grade class. Yes, her parents were Beatles fans. Apparently, Paula/Pauline/Paulette, Georgia/Georgine/Georgette, the many female variations of "John," and Eleanor, Pam, Penny, Julia, Martha, Rita, Prudence, Lucy, etc. were all considered unsuitable tributes to the Fab Four. -- Leeandra Nolting

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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