January 7, 2011

What Other Baby Naming Taboos Am I Missing Here?

Personally, our family's naming taboos, weren't taboos, per se, just bad ideas: no soap opera characters and no awkward Google results. For example, India was on the kid's prenatal shortlist until I Googled "India Allen." [What can I say, I was a missionary in Japan in 1987, and thus did not see her centerfold.]

And while I knew about the Jewish tradition of not naming kids after living relatives, until I read Bruce Lee's Wikipedia page, I had no idea there was a Chinese naming taboo, too:

Lee's given name Jun-fan was originally written in Chinese as 震藩, however, the Jun (震) Chinese character was identical to part of his grandfather's name, Lee Jun-biu (李震彪). Hence, the Chinese character for Jun in Lee's name was changed to the homonym 振 instead, to avoid naming taboo in Chinese tradition.
Is this what you people talk about when you get together for lunch on Christmas Day?

The Chinese naming taboo entry, meanwhile, focuses on the Emperor, and how no one was permitted to use the Emperor's characters for anything, upon pain of death. Sounds complicated, especially when the Emperor's name contained a totally common everyday character. [Imagine the chaos if Cheney had ordered the country to stop not only naming their kids Dick, but using the word dick at all. OK, maybe not the best example.]

Anyway, the Emperor's long gone. Are there other actual taboos people are using these days? Are these different somehow from the generally bad idea?


I don't know about taboos today, but don't some cultures have a taboo about naming a kid anything too "special?" For fear of attracting the evil eye or something? Maybe it was just for children that were very hard to concieve... But I seem to remember reading about African or maybe Swahili names that mean things like "dung heap" and similar, in an attempt to convince spirits that the child isn't particularly wanted.

FWIW, in Jewish culture you don't name children after living relatives.

In Germany:

1) No names that endanger the wellbeing of the child, e.g. Asshole, Retard, etc.

2) Name has to allow to recognize the gender. E.g.: Kim or Jean only allowable with a second name which allows this like Kim Helmut or Jean Susan ;-) Was found problematic and not allowed for the name "Schröder" from the Peanuts for a boy.

3) No trademarks, e.g. Adidas. However, I know a girl called Mercedes.

The Jewish tradition about not naming after living relatives is specifically Ashkenazi. In Sephardic and other non-Ahkenaz circles that taboo doesn't really exist.

Another Jewish tradition (which I think is also Ashkenazi, although I'm not sure) is to not name babies for several days after they're born. Boys aren't named until their bris 8 days after birth, and girls at a more low-key (and circumcision free) naming ceremony that can be held any time. Liberal Jews don't follow this one as much as the no-living-relatives rule. But most of my Orthodox friends and family members won't tell anybody the name of their kids until the bris or naming ceremony (usually the kids get legally named "Baby Boy" or "Baby Girl" at the hospital, and the birth certificate gets updated after the bris/naming).

From what I understand, this is a tradition born of European superstition and a desire to thwart the evil eye and has no real religious or textual basis.

On #1, I guess "Asswipe Johnson" wouldn't fly in Germany?


It isn't a taboo, but if you want to start a fight, head to a baby name chat board and announce you're naming your son Ashley or your daughter Evan.

@Meagan, they're called apotropaic names, from the Greek "to turn away."

Apotropaic. nice.

So funny, because I know a male Ashley and two female Evans, well, one is Evanne, but still. I have been meaning to write about this topic for a while now, actually.

Our daughter K1 is apotropaically named Holden. It's a family name in my wife's family, and when she fell pregnant we had it on our list for a bopy, but when we found out it was a girl we decided we liked it anyway.

Our only taboo for naming was that it not be on the Social Security top 100 names list, preferably a good stretch below. K2, a boy, is named Jasper.

So now I'm thinking "Apotropaic Johnson" would be a great name for our second.
"Lil' Apo" has a nice ring to it, no?

I'm still mad we had three girls so I was not able to use my choice Kenesaw Mountain Landis Sullivan.

Interesting you bring up Ashley because I think it leads to the largest taboo. Naming boys "girls" names.
Lynn is a name that was almost in the top 100 for boys in the 1940s. In 1986 it left the top 1000 completely.
Leslie left in 1997.
Marion pops back in at the very bottom periodically (I'm assuming only because John Wayne is very manly).

Micah, it's pronounced "ah-SWEE-pay."

Not only is it fine for Sephardic Jews to name their kids after living relatives, you can really irk the grandparents if you FAIL to do so!

There was an interesting piece in Time magazine (I KNOW) on banned baby names in Iran a few years ago...ah, here: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1540450,00.html


Mercedes the car was named after a girl, it is a Spanish name for the Virgin Mary.

whoops, I accidentally deleted it, but above, I meant to mention my HS friend's dad, who always answered the phone, "This is Lynn."

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