It seems that a tenth of parents regret the names they gave their children. An astonishingly low figure, considering how many kids named ” ” are cropping up on the playground.
You may have noticed that there’s nothing inside those quotation marks. That’s because, no matter how stupid a name I put in there as an example of a stupid name, someone out there would say, “HEY, we just had that name engraved on 63 baby shower invitations, and besides it was my grandfather’s name, and besides it means ‘God is on our side,’ and besides my husband just lost his job and his left leg, and I have Piblokto Syndrome but we’ve decided to carry the child anyway, and I was just about to come back to the Church, but now I won’t because of you.”
Since I bear enough shame for the way I’m ruining my own family’s chances at salvation, I have only a moderate desire to prevent strangers from meeting Jesus because of my stupid jokes. So I’ll keep this very basic, and if you recognize your precious child’s name here, please just assume it’s a typo that I made because I’m drunk. All right?
Here is how to pick a baby name.
Are you a Catholic Catholic Catholic? Do you stay up at night worrying that someone you met today—the supermarket bagger, for instance, or the man who comes to do one-hour Martinizing for your gallery of squirrel taxidermy—doesn’t realize that you’re Catholic, which means that you have lost out on an opportunity to smoosh their face in your superior piety, I mean draw more souls to Christ?
Girl name: Mary
Boy name: Mary
Alternatives: You may choose from doctors of the Church and 1st- or 2nd-century martyrs, but be careful—some of them were pagan converts who didn’t take a new name at baptism, and you might be welcoming in a satanic taint inadvertently. Do your homework.
Are you 100% Catholic but live outside the compound? You are utterly devoted to your faith, but you adhere to the idea that “If it’s true, it’s Catholic,” and think that beer, jeans and David Bowie are all pretty darn true.
Girl name: Pick one name that sounds good and has nice connotations, and one saint name to cover your behind. In a pinch, some virtues make good names, and you can also do the Jesuitical dodge where you name your child something which reminds you of something which reminds you of Mary, and bingo, there’s your patron saint.
Caveat: This does not go over well when you’re printing out coloring pages for All Saint’s Day, and most of the kids get cool action scenes of people stuck full of arrows or holding up their own eyeballs, but one kid, who has the perfectly lovely and enviable name of Irene, has to make do with “Mary Queen of Peace,” who does not have a good coloring page.
Boy name: Just nothing that would appeal to Gwenyth Paltrow, for goodness’ sake. Google it to make sure it’s not a reality TV star, and avoid anything that brings to mind flitting or floating. No gratuitous Celticizing.
Alternatives: One saint name, one Old Testament name (but not Dorcas or Ham). Very ecumenical, and a good way to get in those extra syllables to make it flow. Also acceptable: pro-life concept names, like Zoe, Anastasia, or Renata. If you are even vaguely Hispanic, you might get away with something clobberingly awesome like Annunziata or Concepción and hit that piously hip sweet spot.
Are you a Catholic who can name everyone in the team of attorneys who are lodging a complaint against the Pope for crimes against humanity, but keep forgetting the address of your local church?
Girl name: Something empowering and possibly devastatingly ironic. One system is to take something that makes Catholics uncomfortable, like heretics or dodgy Marian apparitions, and slyly pair it with something that would make Oliver Cromwell nod with satisfaction—so, like, Medjugorje Louise or Hans Kung Makepeace. Show that you’re resisting oppression and that you went to college.
Boy name: A girl name. Bonus points if you can incorporate Pope Joan.
Alternatives: Something that sounds nice, but is actually the name of a LESBIAN.
Are you just plain stupid?
Medieval occupation names. You’ve miraculously cooperated in the divine work of procreation, resulting in the creation of a new and eternal soul whose purpose in life is to give glory to God, and you’re like, “Let’s name him after that guy who makes barrels.”
Names that will make your priest wince at the baptism, unless you are also offering booze at the reception.
Common names with creative spellings. Nothing wrong with naming a kid Megan, even if there are four other Megans in her class. Everything, however, is wrong with making her spend the rest of her life saying, “No, that’s M-A-E-G-H-Y-N-N-E.”
Phonetically offensive names. The rules of English pronunciation are tricky and varied. But there are rules.