P.M.Lawrence, who comments from Australia, often flagging what he views as American biases and misconceptions, jumps ahead in the line of waiting Comments of the Day with this brief note. It raises an issue that I have thought about often in the past, and argued about with friends and others. What is the ethical obligation of Americans to use foreign spellings of proper names when writing about places and things for domestic readers? The particular example at hand was my using “Labor Party” to label the British organization which calls itself “the Labour Party.”
I’ll have a rebuttal after P.M.s Comment on the post, Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/30/2018: A Petition, A Career-Killing Joke, And Priestley’s Play , and am very interested in what others think.
A minor point: the original spelling of proper names should be used out of respect, even if that is different from your own usage of the words involved. Just as it would be wrong to write “National Inquirer”, so also it is wrong to write “Labor” when writing of the (British) “Labour Party” – even though it is right to write “Australian Labor Party”, for the very same reasons. It gets trickier with groups like our Australian DLP (“Democratic Labour Party”) that have chopped and changed over time; I incline towards using whichever spelling was in place at the time of the reference being cited.
This is all part of the Rectification of Names.
Rebecca Brass, who who works with victims of sexual assault, was stunned to see an alcoholic beverage called “The Willie Pickton” on the drink menu of a British Columbia restaurant called “Surrey Wings.” It wasn’t the drink itself, which contains blue curacao, blackberry, melon, orange juice and cranberry and sounds yummy, that troubled her, but the fact that the name honored local serial killer Robert “Willie” Pickton, currently serving a life sentence at Kent Institution in the Fraser Valley.
Though Willie was convicted of killing only six women, the remains and DNA of 33 more were found on his farm. He also confessed that he had murdered 49 women total, many of them Vancouver prostitutes. Brass, in her role as a sexual assault counselor with Women Against Violence Against Women, personally knows people with family members murdered by Pickton. Continue reading
Today’s saga: this jaw-dropping query from Emily Yoffe’s “Dear Prudence” advice column in Slate:
“My husband and his first wife named their son Adam. Their Adam is 25 and lives across the country from us. Now we are having a son, and Adam is my late father’s name and grandfather’s name. I always wanted to name my son after my dad. My husband says I can’t do that because of his firstborn son, and he can’t have two sons named Adam. But mostly, because it would upset his ex-wife. I don’t think I should have to forgo naming my son after my dad because of this. We rarely see his older son, so I don’t see what the problem is. My husband got to pick the name for our daughter and it meant a lot to him. This means a lot to me. His son said it would be all right with him, but his ex is livid at the idea.”
Emily, in her response, states the obvious, which can be loosely translated as “What the hell is the matter with you?”, though I would be happier if she stated it in more ethical terms. The heck with the ex-wife, what about the older son? What about her son? Who wants to have the same name as a sibling, half- or not? Have the words “Golden Rule” never entered this silly, self-absorbed woman’s consciousness?
Come to think of it, “What the hell is the matter with you?” says it all.
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Giving one’s children ridiculous, bizarre or otherwise perverse names is the height of parental arrogance and narcissism, an abuse of power in which Golden Rule considerations evaporate in the desire to place a distinctive mark on the child of one’s creation, like a brand or a particularly garish tattoo.
There is some weak historical evidence that an oddball name can point a child to leadership or other kinds of singular achievements by isolating him or her from peers. A number of U.S. Presidents have had rare names, with four using their middle monickers to be more distinctive, and one, Lyndon Johnson, being specifically named by his mother so he “would look good on a ballot.” But there is also evidence that strange names are handicaps, and no doubt at all that they risk making children a lot more miserable than calling them Ed, Elizabeth or Frank.
Over at Deadspin, Drew Magary has harsh criticism for the apparently rising trend of wacko names, and all power to him. He combed through a Parents Magazine survey of the names favored by 13,000 people, and arrived at the horrifying conclusion that “Americans are somehow getting even worse at naming children, and they show no signs of correcting themselves.” Among his trenchant commentary on the names he discovered: Continue reading
"Be proud of your name, little Adolf! It has a nice ring to it--sounds like someone important! And tell your little friend Joe Mengele that HIS name is fine, too. What's that? Well, sure we can go to Poland for your Spring Break! What a novel idea!"
I couldn’t resist this one, since I needed a hammer to close my mouth after I read it, because my jaw locked. The opinion is ridiculous, of course, but the comment is still enlightening: this is what happens when essentially good and virtuous instincts blind logic and common sense. The number of unethical, or just plain stupid things that occur when this happens is one of the tragedies of life. Or, to take a more charitable view, such a comment is what happens when someone has an essentially ethical position but picks the most inappropriate platform for it imaginable, and in trying to squeeze an important sentiment where it doesn’t belong, ends up discrediting an otherwise valid point. (Don’t do that.)
Here is Allan’s Special Bonus Comment of the Day, on Naming Your Kid After Hitler: 100% Legal, 100% Child Abuse. Hold on to your jaw: Continue reading
Moon Unit Zappa: Only in America!
Site quotemaster and resident pedant Tom Fuller comes through with a rare comment of his containing no quotations whatsoever! (Tom is, among other things, a contributor and researcher for The Yale Book of Quotations.) He adds some useful perspective on the issue of naming children, in his Comment of the Day to yesterday’s post, “Naming Your Kid After Hitler: 100% Legal, 100% Child Abuse.” I must point out that “Choo Choo” was not the 1962 Mets catcher’s real name, any more than Red Sox pitcher Dennis Boyd was really named “Oil Can.”
Here it is Tom’s comment:
“This is a good illustration of how America’s concept of free speech is such an unusual legal and cultural norm. In many countries, including Germany, a child’s name must be legally approved in advance (in Germany, by the Standesamt — office of vital statistics).
“By German law, a child’s name has to meet two conditions: (1) it must reflect the sex of the child, and (2) it must not endanger the ‘well-being of the child.’ No “Moon Unit” Zappa, no “Choo Choo” Coleman, and — especially — no “Adolf” anybody, unless the local office says “OK”.
“According to wire service reports, hundreds of Algerians wanted to name their babies “Scud” during the 1991 Iraq war, but the local officials nixed the idea.
“My point? Only that Americans are often more likely than those in other countries to regulate speech and behavior in ways other than by prior legal restraint — like ethics, which is what this odd corner of the Web is all about. Sadly, as history has shown, when ethics fails, many people turn to the law to fix things. It doesn’t always work.”
Ironically, HIS parents wanted to call him "Stinkface Frankenstein-Poopiebottom," but thought better of it.
Not surprisingly, a New Jersey Court has found Heath and Deborah Campbell innocent of child abuse charges for naming their children “Adolf Hitler” and “JoyceLynn Aryan Nation.”
I agree. The law can’t limit parents’ rights to determine their offspring’s names, which come squarely come under the category of free speech. Unfortunately, these names say “Hate me,” “Shun me” and “Beat me up.” It may be funny to hear a song about a father who names his boy “Sue” to make him grow up tough, but inflicting these names on helpless children is no laughing matter. It is child abuse, there’s no question about it. It is just child abuse that the state has no way to stop. If parents don’t have the sense, fairness, compassion and decency to avoid burdening children with names that virtually guarantee that they will be outcasts, miserable and severely maladjusted, there is no law that can force them to do it. And since parents who think it’s dandy to name a child after Der Führer by definition don’t have common sense, fairness, or decency, the kids are out of luck. Continue reading