A Kid By Any Other Name

“I don’t want to be ‘HusbandMan’ anymore,” HusbandMan said the other day.


“By the way, HusbandManâ„¢ is trademarked,” he added.

“Noted. So what do you want to be called?”

“Dr. Awesome.”

So HusbandManâ„¢ will from now on be called Dr. Awesome. After all, “HusbandMan” was my coinage. (For the record, I’m alternatively known as WifeLady, FoodLady and CandyPants. But I digress.) Dr. Awesome has every right to name himself. Plus, as a good wife, I like to support him—in this case, with a public forum and plenty of rope.


If only it were this easy to name The Kid. It’s a big thing. It’s huge. Giving name to a thing is at the universe’s essence, according to the Christians. (John 1:1—”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”)

Names are both terribly important—it would be impossible to function if every object were called “thing,” for instance—and yet arbitrary. No object has an inherent name. It is only called what we call it. A name is therefore simultaneously full and empty of meaning.

Juliet Capulet said it famously well:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,

Retain that dear perfection which he owes

Without that title.

Like Dr. Awesome, Romeo was down for a name change:

Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized;

Henceforth I never will be Romeo.

Henceforth The Kid will be known as … Finnegan. Finn for short. This is a double literary reference: James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, one of Steve’s favorite books, and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, one of mine. My father suggested that in movies from the ’30s and ’40s, “Finnegan” was invariably the neighborhood drunk or buffoon. I’m not surprised, considering the long-standing casual bigotry against the Irish throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries (see Millhouse: “Look out, Itchy, he’s Irish!“). But hey—as our genetics counselor established in our family tree, alcoholism is our most prevalent family ailment. Who are we to push against the tide?

This was an easy enough decision to make. I had first suggesed Phineas—which burbled out of me without the Jules Verne association—to which Dr. Awesome said, “Do you want the kid to get beaten up?” I argued that we’d always call him Finn, and the full name would be limited to the birth certificate or if The Kid got into trouble. (“Finnegan Bartoo, go to your room and count how many times I’ve told you not to dip the cat in paint.”) And he pointed out that policy would be undermined on the very first day of every school year, when the new teacher would read out his full name.

But then Dr. Awesome suggested Finnegan. Finn it would be. Fini.

However, his middle name is still up for debate. And here’s where things have gotten tough.

First of all, we have some creativity to make up for, because our own names are so very common for our generation. Our respective parents are perfectly nice folks, but groundbreakers they ain’t. According to the Social Security Administration, which keeps track of such things, Steven was the 15th most popular name in the U.S. in 1968, when Dr. Awesome was born. It lingered in the mid-20s throughout the ’70s and ’80s. In 2007, the last year for which there is data, it ranked #97.

Over roughly the same period, Jennifer was so common it was nearly as viral as the common cold. (The author of The Baby Name Wizard reserves special scorn for the name. “If you don’t choose a name for your daughter,” she warns at one point, “she’ll end up Jennifer.”) It was the #1 name in the U.S. from 1970 to 1984, and didn’t drop out of the top 10 until 1992. Of course, even without the SSA statistics I could’ve told you the same thing, if anecdotal evidence about the preponderance of Jennifers in every freaking school class I ever had is a reliable indication. In 2007, Jennifer ranked #64. Today it’s Emily, Isabella, Sophia, Madison and Olivia who will fight to be the AlphaEmily or AlphaIsabella of their class.

(Finnegan was ranked #653 in 2007. But here’s something uncanny: I just now went to The Baby Name Wizard website for the first time—I have the book—and the featured name on the homepage is Finn. WTF?)

However, we don’t want to be as creative as either a) hippies or b) Mormons. For instance, we recently found out that one of our favorite bartenders, also named Steve, was actually deemed Juniper at birth. He’s a lovely man, so apparently he wasn’t scarred for life by it, but hell no. There will also be no self-naming. Sure, HusbandManâ„¢ can rename himself Dr. Awesome, but The Kid cannot, at age 4, do the same. This happened to one poor child—now an unfortunate grown man—who went to high school with one of our friends. I don’t know what SunKing Steinberger does with himself these days, but I hope it doesn’t involve gunning people down at the post office.

When it comes to Mormon naming practices—well, I had no idea John Smith’s flock was so mindblowingly creative with baby names; the Mormon world remains exotic to me despite my one visit to Salt Lake City (“Look out, Jen, they’re Mormon!“). My sister-in-law Gill enlightened me otherwise via the Utah Baby Namer.

Take a look at this wondrous compilation (culled from Utah publications, obituaries and birth announcements), then tell me: Do you suppose Aquanetta grew up to be a hair dresser? How do you think Iron Rod, Treasure Cocaine and Rocksan Violin spend their free time? Does Jennyfivetina work for the CIA, perhaps with fellow agents Oa, NB, Q, J’l and Hi-D? I imagine Chinchilla Zest loves animals, while Beefea loves to eat them; both Reaka and TaffiLyn need a shower; Abcde is a mediocre speller; Czar is bossy; and VulvaMae and Clitoris are mature beyond their years.

If someone can tell me how to pronounce Desdedididawn, NaLa’DeLuhRay, Phakelikaydenicia or Saunsceneyouray, I’d be much obliged.

But we can, IMHO, also err on the side of uptight safety. Dr. Awesome once suggested Case. “That’s so WASP-y,”  I complained. “I know your grandparents would be spinning in their grave if they knew you married a descendant of dirty Papists, but, I mean, come on.”

“What? I like Case.”

“Ugh. it’s like, I don’t know, ‘Case Winterbottom III.’ ”

At which point Dr. Awesome laughed so hard he bent in half.

There are lots of great names from around the world, and I’d like to pick something that has some resonance for us: a name from a country we’ve traveled to, for instance. Among the options are the British Isles, France, Turkey and Iceland. Finnegan is so superpowered Irish that I want to get off the British Isles. My sister-in-law Delphine is, as you might have been able to predict, French, so going that route has, like, so been done. That leaves us Turkey and Iceland.

Most people don’t know how to navigate Turkish diacritical marks and pronunciation, so we have to find something that avoids the tougher stuff. (Last year in Istanbul we terrified a Turkish friend by telling him that in the U.S. his name would not be pronounced “Du-AHN Sell-jook,” as is proper, but “DOE-gan Sell-cook.” He shivered. “You—you are not serious, are you?” Yes, my friend. Yes, we are.)

I’m also suggesting names from countries I’ve been to on my own, including India, China and Poland, because that expands our options considerably.

The result is a debate that has a lot of ideas but little consensus. One recent IM exchange we had on the subject:

6:53 PM me: middle name: bhai

it means ‘brother’ in hindi

finnegan bhai bartoo
7:33 PM ok, it’s all hippie of me – thinking of him being a brother to all humankind – but it also sounds nice
7:36 PM sinistar: pronounced b’ha?
me: “bye”
sinistar: nooooo
me: why not?!
sinistar: bye bartoo
7:37 PM me: lol, ok
it’s his MIDDLE name. as you’ve pointed out many times, no one’s gonna say it anyway
sinistar: Dagur
7:38 PM me: pronounced “dagger”? do you have to try to make him such a hard ass?

let the kid sort his own testosterone out
sinistar: Eyvindur
sinistar: Margeir
7:39 PM Ragnar
these are all icelandic, btw
7:41 PM me: dude, i HATE the vikings
fucking barbarians
and waaaaaaaay too cheesy metal
7:43 PM oh – and nearly impossible to pronounce for most folks
7:44 PM sinistar: bye
how bout phai
pronounced “pie” cause everyone loves pie
7:45 PM me: everyone’s gonna say “fie”
7:48 PM what does “phai” mean?
sinistar: I’m making fun of “bye”
7:49 PM me: oh
well fine, mock universal brotherhood
you cynic
7:50 PM sinistar: fuck universal brotherhood, how bout some universal goddamn common courtesy
7:51 PM me: so name him finnegan “be nice!” bartoo
7:52 PM sinistar: Finnegan “trying hard not to be a jerk” bartoo
7:53 PM me: Finnegan “so sorry, am I in your way?” bartoo

After this exchange, Dr. Awesome turned to the past: specifically, to Mesopotamia. I wasn’t particularly surprised, because he’s spent the last five months trying to convince me that Enkidu is an appropriate name for The Kid. While I like Gilgamesh‘s pal fine enough (and the idea that he was “civilized” by knocking boots with Ishtar, a view of sex so much saner than the hide-our-shame ways of the Judaic, Christian and Islamic cultures that eventually took root on the same Near East soil) as well as the epic’s view of life, as was so wonderfully translated by Stephen Mitchell—

Humans are born, they live, then they die

this is the order that the gods have decreed

But until the end comes, enjoy your life

spend it in happiness, not despair

Savor your food, make each of your days

a delight, bathe and anoint yourself

wear bright clothes that are sparkling clean

let music and dancing fill your house

love the child who holds you by the hand

and give your wife pleasure in your embrace

That is the best way for a man to live

—the fact remains that I do not want a kid named Inky.

To avoid having to hear Enkidu one more time, a few days ago I handed Dr. Awesome Ancient Mesopotamia, one of my archaeology textbooks. He turned to the index and started reading out the names of long-gone cities and citizens once nestled up to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

This sounds easier than it actually is. Sure, we can all say Sumeria, Babylon and Assyria with relative ease. But the languages that developed these place-names probably used sounds that may have largely have passed out of the human tongue. We don’t know. Nobody really knows how Mesopotamian languages were pronounced because they were rendered in cuneiform, a pictographic language. Same thing as with ancient Egyptian. But my guess is that the phonetics of these languages don’t really persist in the Semitic languages of the region today, namely Arabic and Hebrew.

“Nineveh,” Dr. Awesome said, a finger raised in the air.

“Way too Old Testament. Also, isn’t that a line of skin-care products?”




“Hmm, okay. It’s on the short list.” Other names on the short list, incidentally, are Rishi, Jay (after evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould), Tycho (after the noseless astronomer Brahe) and my favorite—Zeki, which means “clever” in Turkish.


“We need a two-syllable limit. HIs first name already has three syllables. How much name are we going to load up on The Kid?”


“Too much like nipple. Can we call him Ashurbanipal? At least that’s fun to say. And he had a palace. In Nineveh. A very famous palace.”


“Nice code, but no.”

“Well, it wasn’t really a nice code. But it was the first recorded set of laws. And that was a nice development for, you know, civilization.”

“True. But Ashurbanipal. He also had a very famous library. It’s where they found the tablets Gilgamesh was inscribed on.”


And thus go our debates. They always end the same way, with Dr. Awesome eventually throwing up his hands and saying: “Fine. We’ll call him Dave.”