Naming Ethics: The Gaylord Affair

My short summary of this ethics controversy is: This mother is nuts.

A woman, 24, is due to have her first child in August, and, she says,  the first born son of everyone from her side of the family has been named Gaylord since the early 19th Century. She is determined to carry on the  tradition, though her husband is horrified, maintaining that to name any boy “Gaylord” is child abuse.

That’s probably overstating it, but just a bit. Gaylord is not a common name (it’s from the Old French gaillard meaning “joyful” or “high-spirited”), but Wikipedia lists 25 famous or accomplished Gaylords, only one of which I had ever heard of, the baseball player on the list (of course). That’s Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry, who won over 300 games during a 21 year career in which he was famous for throwing spitballs, an illegal pitch.  Perry is one of the three Gaylords on the list who is still alive, including a French long-distance runner named Gaylord Silly.

Now that’s child abuse..

But I digress. The mother says she offered her husband a compromise, agreeing that young Gaylord would go by “Gail” in school “so that he doesn’t have to deal with bullies.”


Will someone make this family listen to Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue”? How many boys are called “Gail?” If I had to choose and my objective was to avoid bullies, I think I’d take Gaylord over Gail. Of course, no kid should have to make that choice because his crazy mother insists on keeping a pointless tradition going for no reason other than, well, to keep a pointless tradition going.

The mother claims her husband was originally just fine with naming the boy Gaylord but calling him Gail; now, she says, he tells her he thought she was joking. He refuses to discuss the name further, and his family is now involved, pressuring her to pick  a more traditional name.

“I now have his whole family hounding me and overreacting, telling me it would be abusive even when we’d just be calling him Gail,” she wrote on Reddit. Now the mothers-in -law are fighting about it. Her in-laws even sent over a list of “approved” names, which the mother-to-be says she finds “incredibly offensive.”

What is wrong with this woman? Here are the baby-naming ethics basics:

  • Both parents should be happy with the name chosen.
  • Both parents should have several names that they would accept. Having one name only is unreasonable.
  • The prime consideration should be the child who is going to have to live with the name his whole life. A parent who wants to saddle a kid with a name that is guaranteed to make him the object of ridicule is being a selfish, unethical jerk, whatever the reason. Tradition isn’t a justification.
  • The “Don’t worry, we’ll name him Ishkabibble but he can call himself ‘Ish'” plan is not an ethical  solution.
  • Naming a boy either Gaylord or Gail is cruel, and there’s no excuse for either.
  • The extended family should butt out. There’s an old Dick Van Dyke Show episode about that problem. It’s not one of the better episodes, but even the gag name Rob and Laura’s son ends up with the satisfy the in-laws is better than Gaylord, because it’s a middle name.
  • To reasonable people, that’s the ethical solution to these issues: put the offending name in the middle. If the child likes it for some reason, he can do what a remarkable number of our Presidents did (Ulysses, Grover, Woodrow, Calvin and Dwight), which is to use his more unusual middle name   in place of the  given first name.

Sadly, my guess is that the child is doomed whatever name he ends up with. His problems with this mother are just beginning.


25 thoughts on “Naming Ethics: The Gaylord Affair

  1. Middle name is reasonable (we sort of do that in our family, and avoid “juniors” and IV’s, & etc. which are often misapplied, anyway) Poor Harry Truman wouldn’t have had a very viable option if he didn’t like his first name, though. Some of our earlier presidents had no other option at all.

  2. My surname caused issues at school. All too often with teachers.

    On the other hand, it did spur me on to excel academically, if only to metaphorically give them the finger. At the time, it didn’t worry me too much. Now, in hindsight, it leads to thoughts of tar, feathers, and quotes from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado .Not for the kids, but the “responsible adults” who were neither responsible, nor particularly adult.

    Meh. Worse things happen at sea. Besides which, forgiveness is something you do for yourself, not for the others that wronged you, and I’m now at a stage that I think I deserve a bit of such consideration from myself. Boiling oil is too expensive anyway, and the youngest still living would be in their 80s. If I met them again, I’d instinctively get them a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit. They’re not the people they were, and I’m not the child I was.

    For any prospective teachers thinking of following their example though, I responded academically even better to kindness and encouragement than to derision and scorn. So I don’t recommend it.

    • Some respond positively like you; others not so much. It’s an arbitrary burden placed on the child to satisfy the mother’s ego.

      • In my case, it was the surname “Brain” that was the issue. Hardly a matter of satisfying my mother’s ego.

        In the original post we’re commenting on, that’s another matter, and context dependant. Where and when I was born, “Gaylion” would be uncommon but unobjectionable, while “Jesus” would cause more than just comment, but scandal.

  3. Names are a funny thing. My wife and I entered into very calculated and extensive negotiations about our children’s names. We had our daughters first name picked out before she was born but we couldn’t agree on a middle name until it was almost time to leave the hospital.

    My mom told her uncle that the next boy she had she would name after him. Not dreaming she’d have another one. When I came along, her uncles name didn’t fit in with my brothers names so I got a middle initial only, the first letter of my uncles first name. He was always very happy with that (“hows my namesake doing!”). Give the kid the middle initial of “g” and be done with it.

  4. My parents went to school with a Gaylord Fagerland (pronounced with a short a). I’m not even making that up. A quick search of his name tells me he’s on Facebook so clearly he’s never changed it.

    They could name the kid Gaylord and simply call him by his middle name – whatever that turns out to be.

    I learned very quickly to never tell people what names you are considering for your child because they will give you their opinion. Once the child has arrived, however, what are they doing to say? My (ex) mother-in-law denies to this day that she wrinkled her nose at the mention of our son’s name. “I did no such thing! I love his name!”


  5. I suppose this all depends on geography. Some kids in the south develop nicknames that they use their entire lives such as “Stinky” “Cooter” “Bubba”, “Shug” etc. They usually wind up being the local car dealer or divorce lawyer.

    You don’t have to have an unusual first name to decide to use your middle name. Mine is Paul but I have always been called Chris. I think this was done to piss of the public school teachers who default to first names. When they called out Paul I did not answer because that was someone else. They have to be trained early.

    • I had a childhood friend nicknamed “Puffer”…No idea where that came from. Others had real given names like “Lazelle” and “Calvette”…family surnames transmogrified into given names.

      In Georgia, there are a state park and a state office building named after James H. “Sloppy” Floyd (no relation to George, I assume 😉 ). Both are generally referred to using the nickname. From a history of the building:
      ” While in high school in the early 1930’s, James was described by coaches as an unusually thin football player whose over-sized football jersey was constantly flopping around his gangly frame. So, coaches began referring to him as “Sloppy.” Unexpectedly, the nickname stuck with Floyd for the rest of his life.”

      • Gale Goodrich.

        There was an Acadian/Louisiana family in our parish. The father was the organist at the church. I’m pretty sure one of the kids was named Gay. (Short for Gayton?) I’m not sure anyone made anything of it. One of the first black players in Dade County white basketball during segregated high school basketball was a great player from Archbishop Curley HS named “Johnny Gay.” Nobody made a thing of it. They were too busy trying to defend him.

        I think Gaylord is a fine name. I also think using traditional family first names is very admirable. Is this family from the South? I bet they are. I think the name is more accepted in the South.

        And anyway, isn’t using “gay” as a slur absolutely verboten in today’s enlightened and kind and gentle culture? Where does the fault lie, in a perfectly fine name or in the idea that little kids can abuse each other by calling each other “faggot,” etc?

        And come on, Gaylord Perry was a stud, the original version of Max Scherzer or Curt Shilling.

        • My great uncle was named Ira Brane Dawson. We called him “Uncle Brane,” because that’s who he was. He was from West Virginia and his wife was from Tennessee. She called him, “I.B.” (There’s always initials available for use in the South. The twins in a Flannery O’Connor story: “O.T. and E.T.” My in-laws lived on a coastal island in North Carolina that had its own dialect. Their neighbor’s name was “E.” Short for “he,” as in “Where is he?” The dialect evidently drops every initial “H.” So his name went from a butchered personal pronoun to a single letter.)

          And wait a minute. Gaylord is unethical but we can’t talk about the made up portmanteau or otherwise absurd names so popular among black people? Jarule? Laquan? Jervarious? Those are ethical but Gaylord isn’t?

  6. I would generally support the kid going by his middle name as a compromise for maintaining the family tradition. Charles Burns (AKA “Monty”) pulls it off.

    But then I am reminded of my days as a substitute teacher, and reading the roll call at the start of class. I would die if I so that name on the roll (especially if the teacher didn’t cross it out and put the middle/nickname in), and probably resort to calling everyone by last name.

    Strangely, in my own family, several generations were named after each other, but with slightly different middle names to differentiate.

  7. I never personally knew anyone named Gaylord, but I had a male childhood friend whose middle name was Gale (his brother’s middle name was Dale), and a male college classmate whose middle name was Gayle. Other than those two guys, all the Gales, Gails and Gayles I have known were female. I also knew guys named Kim and Lesley.
    I find it interesting that actor Gale Gordon changed his name from Charles Thomas Aldrich Jr.. Go figure!
    Here in the South, it was not uncommon until recent decades for men to have “women’s” names. Sue Kerr Hicks was a famous Tennessean, who practiced law and served as a circuit court judge.. He is best known for his role as prosecutor in the 1925 trial of John T. Scopes, Judge Dixie Smith was a long-serving juvenile court judge locally and a mentor to me early in my career. I had a male neighbor named Shirley who was a retired railroad engineer. Of course there’s also George Beverly Shea, the great gospel singer.
    Name your kid as you wish, but giving them a name that will require a lifetime of explanations and clarifications is doing them no favors.

  8. Is it only me who thinks going with the French based variation Gaillard sound quite elegant?

    Man, there are lots of solutions to this, why keep insisting on doing the wrong thing?

  9. TV was In B/W. BBC and ITV were the two channels available.

    I remember turning on the TV, waiting the 3 minutes for it to warm up.. then being bitterly disappointed because the premiere of a new show, “Dr Who” was postponed because a guy called John F Kennedy had got himself shot, and the tapes had just arrived by jet from the US, so were being shown instead.

    No satellites then., apart from Telstar 2, only available for 20 mins each 3 hours, and reserved in times of crisis for phone and cable traffic. Telstar 1 having been bollixed up by a US nuclear test in space the year before.

    The past is a different country. Heck, a different planet.

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