Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Let's stop being judgmental about what other people call their kids

Imagine a world where people who liked chocolate icecream assumed that all of the people who preferred strawberry were more likely to be criminals, or a world where people who liked mint were considered more likely to fail at school. Where butterscotch icecream shouldn't be eaten because it was common, and choosing vanilla means you'd make a good politician. No? That sounds silly, right? Most of us simply accept that different people have different tastes, and move on. Why, then, do we throw judgement like that around when it comes to naming our children? 

I used to have so many secret judgmental thoughts about what other people called their kids, I'm lucky the judgy-pants didn't give me a permanent wedgie. "You called them what?" I'd think. "You used what spelling? Isn't that far too modern/trendy/weird/popular/boring? What are you thinking?" At some point, though, it dawned on me that I was at the receiving end of as much judgement as I dished out. My daughter has a top-10 name that is often called too "popular", and my son's name is so unusual 95% of people we meet have never heard it before. If I'm to believe everything people say on the subject, my daughter will go through life resenting that she is one of a dozen girls in her year with her name, and my son will never get job interviews. Apparently I've also committed a cardinal sin by using alliteration, and a middle name that is technically a "nickname" rather than a "real name". I realised that I was the judgee as much as the judge, saw how ridiculous it all was, and decided to discard my judgy-pants for good. 

Since seeing the light and reforming my judgmental ways, I've become even more aware of how downright mean people can be about names. When we judge other people's naming choices, what we're really saying is "everyone should be like me!" Or, we see other, different naming choices as some sort of criticism of our own decisions.  Which is silly, really. If you like strawberry icecream and I like chocolate, it isn't personal. It just means we have different tastes. 

There are also nasty undercurrents to the judgement which is often thinly-veiled racism or class-ism in action.  If my son's curriculum vitae is rejected when he's older because of his name, that's saying more about whoever is reading it than him as he has a Maori name, in recognition of his heritage. If people who aren't English are made to feel scared to give their children names in their native languages because they may not get jobs one day, that's only the tip of the iceberg of a wider problem. 

When we meet new adults, we don't usually give much thought to their names. It's not like when I'm introduced to a Marlene, my first thought is "I don't think we can be friends, because I know what all Marlenes are like. That's a naughty name.  If your name was Magda, on the other hand, I'd totally give you the time of day. That's a good name for a lawyer or doctor." Why, then, do we make these judgments about children? All children are different, and have many different facets to their personalities and identities. It's unfair to make a set of assumptions about a person's being based on a few syllables, and we as the adults ought to take the lead here. So, let's stop the judgement, and respect other people's naming decisions a little bit more. Or, at the very least, be more consistent with the judgement and start getting into a tizzy about people who chose a different flavour of ice cream to you. 

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