Whatever happened to Baby Jane?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012, 07:25

The Office for National Statistics of the United Kingdom informs us that “…More than a third of the babies born this year could receive a 100th birthday message from whoever happens to be on the throne in the second decade of the 22nd century. On occasion, the said Monarchy has been known to send greetings to Maltese persons too; so I live in hope for these children.

Think of a person who gets a Marilyn Monroe tattoo in his twenties – if he makes it to fourscore and ten, the lady will probably have lost her original proportions. In the same way, when we are long dead and gone, Malta will be populated by a clutch of doddering ladies going by the name of Shenika, Suleika, Saratoga, Shansia, Shandrika and dozens of their permutations.

There was a time when you could safely say “Anyone called Antonia or Raymond is about fifty years old; anyone who is called Doris or Charles is nearer sixty. Philip is from Żebbuġ, and Grace is from Żabbar.” Of course there are people who regret ever being called Patience, Chastity, Concord, and Temperance.

Names seemed to come in clutches – Charlene and Su’ellen date from Dallas Days, and most teachers of local schools will tell you that Di-lahns ruled supreme when Beverly Hills 90210 was transmitted from Italy, and parents insisted that Dylan was the sound of a bell, or Bob’s surname, not a name. For a time, it was also fashionable to add “Lee” to a boy’s name, or “Marie” to a girl’s name.

Since when I was a child, I have had foreign friends. None of them, except perhaps Rajis, had a “different” name. But she was from South Africa, where her name, she said was not unusual. Even friends who had one foreign parent had ordinary names like Annabelle, Jennifer, Richard and William It was Maltese children who had names like Salome, Solange, Maronna and Madion.

There only concession to uniqueness, for some parents, was selecting the foreign version of an ordinary name – selecting Jürgen instead of George, and Jan instead of John. Parish Priests were known to refuse to even consider names like Godwin and Josefa, because they were, according to them, “made up” – and yet, at least one set of parents got away with “Wendy” because they added “Anne” to it, this appeasing the celebrant.

But these days, parents are not content with having their child be one of the five Marijas in a class. In any case, when the future of the child in the audio-visual arts is already mapped out, it makes perfect sense (according to them) to call the child a telescopic version of two names – Melissandra or Isabellanna. Some give their children’s names weird spellings (Izmeglia and Lorehdana) just to make them stand out from the crowd.

It is not a simple matter of naming a child after a gem – Amber, Opal, Pearl, Ruby… or after a flower – Daisy, Astrer, Dahlia, and Rose. You have to make your mark by going for foreign names: Zbignew (to get rid of anger, in Polish); or Farida (unique, in Arabic).

The chances are that in the first week after school and parish catechism lessons begin, teachers compare notes – not about how fast and furiously they will be going through the syllabus this year – but about how many children have ordinary names.

It is a pity that we are allowed to foist names on children just because we are their parents or carers. It was, to a certain extent, understandable that at a time when old Uncle Arthur’s legacy of £3,000 to the first nephew or niece who named a grandchild after him would be a great temptation to pip all your cousins at the post. But when it came down top brass tacks, didn’t that make you out to be an avaricious person?

There are several things to keep in mind when naming a child – yours or anyone else’s. Just because a celebrity pair’s child is named after the place she was conceived, it does not mean you ought to emulate them. And yet, Brooklyn it was for some children who will probably be called Chewing Gum in the playground.

Consider what you tell people when they ask how you came by that name. Oh, she was so beautiful so I just had to call her Isabella probably will be understood to mean that you had seen Twilight.

Some parents think it is cute to give all their children names beginning with the same letter. They only have to wait until the postman brings just one single valentine card addressed to “B”. Apart from that, this trend is bound to confuse grandparents – as is evidenced by the number of them who call radio stations to dedicate records to said children but admit they do not know how to say the name properly.

Some children – Kayleigh and Marijja – have to correct their names each time someone writes them down badly. This does tend to get annoying. Incidentally, it pays to write down the initials of the first and second names, as well as the surname, before registering the name. S.A.D., B.U.G., D.O.G., and F.A.T. are not really attractive acronyms, are they?

Hippies made a point of naming their children after inanimate objects – for “who needs patron Saints?” after all? It was par for the course, some years ago, to hear of a girl called Xemxija. Whether the parents hoped she would have a sunny disposition is anyone’s guess.

One singer was ribbed because his name was the surname of a football player – these days, he is just one of a clutch of people whose parents do not even realise their own goal.

Or perhaps they do.