I am obscurely glad to learn from this Times human-interest story that Kansas center Sasha Kaun is from Russia. Otherwise, he is at the age where any parent naming their child “Sasha Kaun” would’ve had to deal with everybody thinking “Sasha Kaun Sasha Kaun everybody Sasha Kaun…” Yes, I am both a Bad Person and a Child of the 80’s.
It’s a reminder, though, of how many ways names can go wrong. This is a question of more than academic interest, of course, because we need to come up with a name for FutureBaby in the reasonably near future (we considered and rejected sticking with “FutureBaby”). I checked a book on names out of the library– it’s got graphs in it, so it feels like science!– and we printed out some names lists from the Internet. I haven’t really put a serious effort into this yet, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about in idle moments.
The Sasha Kaun problem is just one example of the problem of names that sound like other things when said in full. Everybody knows the horrible, possibly apocryphal white-trash examples like “Ima Hogg” and the like, but there are perfectly innocent ways to stumble into the same failure mode. At NIST, I worked with a guy whose surname is Lett, first name Paul. One of his friends from graduate school referred to him as “Paul Space Lett” for the audible pause he always inserted when introducing himself. He said that his mother chose a first-name middle-name pair, and it never noticed what happened with just first-name last-name.
And then, of course, there are the thousands of people named “Dillon” or “Dylan” who named their male children “Robert” circa 1960. Not much you can do about that one.
Happily, “Orzel” doesn’t sound like a lot of other things (we pronounce it “or-ZELL” for the record, though I think the original Polish pronunciation would put the emphasis on the first syllable), and it’s unlikely to be picked as a stage name (it’s down the list from “Humptybert Slaptypants”). There are still some run-together trouble spots. Names ending in “r” might feed into the most common mis-hearing of the name (“Rozelle,” or variants thereof), and names ending in “a” or “o” risk turning into complete mush in the middle when said quickly.
My line of work introduces some problems as well. I imagine that everybody trying to think of a baby name (well, everybody who isn’t George Foreman) has the problem of names picking up associations from acquaintances, but it’s particularly bad for people in education. I see a lot of students, with a lot of different names.
There are some perfectly reasonable names that have been forever tainted for me by students who were complete boneheads. No, I will not give examples. There’s really no chance that I would agree to a name that makes me think “that annoying kid who sat in the back and played with the computers during lecture,” though.
On the other hand, there are also names that have positive associations because of good students with that name, but, that turns into a negative, too. It would create the weird situation of having it seem like we were naming FutureBaby after some student of mine, and that’s just weird.
(Aside: “Bilal” is right out, guys. You can stop suggesting it.)
The other big thing I know about name selection is that whatever we choose, whenever we choose it, we’re not telling anybody. I remember asking some couple of our acquaintance whether they had a name chosen, and they said “Yes, and we’re not telling you.” They explained that no matter what name you pick, there will be somebody who has a bad association with it, and will feel free to tell you all about it before the baby is born. Most people, though, at least those not raised by wolves or Internet trolls, have enough common sense not to say that sort of thing when presented with an actual baby.
So, you’ll just have to wait to find out what FutureBaby’s real name will be.