Josephine Hammond not long ago wrote an article for Onyx magazine discussing baby names in the African American community (of which Hammond is a member). I’ll let you read her article and her concerns about people giving their children “imaginative” names.
Recently, the actor Shia LeBeouf, who experienced a lot of schoolyard teasing and bullying because of his unusual first name, made a public plea with celebrities to stop giving their children weird names (such as Nicolas Cage naming his son Kal-El, a name from the Superman comic books).
This morning, I realized there’s an aspect of this I hadn’t thought about before: giving your child a more or less common name, but with an imaginative spelling. The way this came up this morning is that there was an Amber Alert on TV about an abducted girl in our state. Now, from the outset I don’t anyone to infer in any way that I’m making fun of this girl or her situation: what follows should make it clear that I am concerned about her and wanted to find out what I could about her situation.
The sound cut out on the TV just as they were giving the particulars of the Amber Alert. All I got was her name and age, not her location. I wanted to find out if she was in our area, so I Googled the name, which the TV announcer said was “Brittany Mayo.” I soon found out there are lots of Brittany Mayos around the USA, but I could not find this particular one. After much searching, I found the story. The girl’s name is Brittny Joynn Mayo.
I never, never in a million years would have thought to Google “Brittny” because I never would have spelled it that way. I might have tried “Britney” at some point, since Ms. Spears’ redneck Louisiana mama graced her with that spelling.
The name Brittany comes from a real place. It is one of the Celtic lands and is part of modern-day France. Naming your child Brittny or Britney or Britni is a little like naming a child Englynd instead of England.
When I was in school, there were a lot of Tiffanys in my grade. (And I guess if I were named after a jewelry shop, I’d rather be named Tiffany than, say, Zales.) Mine was the first generation in which little girls were named Tiffany, I think. Since then I’ve seen Tiffani, Tifani, and Tiffanie. I’m sure there’s a Tifni and a Tifney somewhere too.
Now, if your name is Deborah or Debra and people call you Debbie and you’d like to spell it “Debi” (for whatever reason), that’s your choice: it’s a nickname. But don’t saddle your child with the given name “Debi.” What if she wants to become an investment banker? Would you trust your portfolio to a Debi?
Furthermore, if you have been stuck with an unfortunate spelling of a conventional name–Anfernee Hardaway, Andruw Jones–I believe you should have no qualms whatsoever about going down to the courthouse and having your name legally changed. Afraid you’ll hurt your parents’ feelings? They didn’t seem to think that much about you, seeing as they didn’t bother to consult someone who was familiar with the names “Anthony” and “Andrew.”
I live daily with a surname that people want to misspell (hence the blog title), but that is usually due to the listener’s laziness: I never say a “t”, but they put one down anyway (my last name is spelled exactly the way it sounds). It’s not the listener’s fault if they don’t spell “MeShaell” correctly when they hear “Michelle.” It’s the parent’s fault for the “creative” spelling.
Someone may need to find your child one day. Don’t create such an unncecessary hindrance.
To be sure, many names have multiple conventional spellings (Catherine Katherine Catharine Katharine Cathryn Kathryn comes to mind immediately), but most people are aware of such variations and will typically ask. But if your name sure sounds like “Cynthia”, only your mom decided to spell it “SinThea”, you’ll be finding it misspelled every day of your life.
(Aside for would-be pugnacious posters: yes, we have an Iain. No, it is not an imaginative spelling. His ancestors on his mother’s side are from around Dunfermline, and that’s how they spell it. “Ian” is an anglicized form of the name. What would have been tragic would have been insisting that people pronounce it “Eye-an,” as Mr. Ziering of 90210 apparently does.)