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FIVE TESTS FOR BABY'S NEW NAME


When some parents name a baby, they don't think much about their choice beyond how it'll look on the birth announcements or how their in-laws will react to it. But, that name will be an item of business between the child and the rest of the world for an entire lifetime.

Naming a baby is like selecting the perfect title for a book when you don't even know what it's about. It is a tough assignment. To help you weed out some of the wrong choices, here are a few tests for the names on your short list. Most of these tests aren't deal-breakers, but they should give you something to think about.

1. The Playground-Taunt Test. Little Claire might like her name just fine until her classmates learn to rhyme it with "bare" and "underwear." And Melanie might become a different person after she's been called "Melon-head" a few times.

Don't bother trying to figure out the trouble a name can cause; consult an expert who has daily experience in the field. Any fifth-grader can identify the freshest kid in the class. That's your consultant. Give him five bucks to work his magic with your likeliest names.

2. The Practicality Test. Remember what names are for and don't give a child a name that won't be used. This happens routinely when a boy is named after his father. To avoid confusion, the family will not want to call the boy by his dad's name. So a tradition has developed of giving the kid a silly, juvenile name that is meant to be temporary.

I know a Chester Jr. who is called Chip, a Russell Jr. called Rusty, an Anthony Jr. called Skippy, a Martin Jr. called Butch, a Richard Jr. called Bobo, a George Jr. called Buddy, a DeForest Jr. called Buster, and several Joseph Jrs. who answer to Jojo. Folks, these are dog names! And often as not, the unlucky guy is stuck with his subhuman nickname long after the old man has gone to his reward.

3. The Front-Porch Test. Take the name you're considering and yell it from the front porch as if summoning a child for dinner. As a rule, one-syllable names don't have the summoning power that two-syllable names have. They have a tendency to sound like a bark or a hoot or a hiss instead of a name. Do yourself a favor in this regard, and don't name your child Mark or Ruth or Seth.

(You should also run this test before you name your dog or cat. It'll help you select a name that you won't feel foolish yelling to the neighborhood. For example, a family on our street found an abandoned pup on Whiskey Lane and named him Whiskey. Now, whenever he gets loose and Mom, Dad and the kids wander around calling him, they sound like they have a more serious problem than a lost dog.)

4. The Followup-Question Test. Don't give a child a name that will require a follow-up question or discussion every time it is given. Life contains hassles and snags enough without building a million little ones into your child's life.

This applies to names like Steven/Stephen, Michelle/Michele, Rachel/Rachael, Ellyssa, Auda May, Alec, Rebekkah or Carole. While Anne is still haggling over her final "e," Mary has already gotten down to business. (Too bad her name rhymes with "scary" and "hairy.")

5. The Are-We-Looking-For-Trouble Test. Try to picture the kind of person who would be named what you want to name your child, and then try to imagine the parenting of such a person. (That's why I turned pale and backed away from giving one of my daughters the pleasantly alliterative name of Eve Epstein. It just sounded too sexy.

A long time ago, I was on a city bus in Tucson, Ariz., sitting beside a pretty 16-year-old girl with an ugly scar on her forearm. She struck up a conversation with me because she, like me, believed her life story to be too rich a treasure to be kept private.

Besides telling me her age, she said that a couple of years before, she and her boyfriend had run away from home. They had hitchhiked east as far as Oklahoma when the boyfriend "got in a fight" with one of their benefactors and fired a shot at him. The bullet missed the driver but went through the girl's arm, which ended their adventure and resulted in their return to Arizona.

Besides the scar, the girl had another souvenir of their adventure Ė a baby who'd been conceived on the run. She named the child Freedom Rose.

The court awarded custody of the baby to the mother of my young bus companion. Apparently Freedom Rose's grandmother applied the Are-We-Looking-For-Trouble Test and had the court change the baby's name to Helen. Who thinks that was a bad idea?

These are the tests, carefully compiled to balance the interests of parent and child. Use them, teach them to your friends, and soon our land will be filled with happy, well-adjusted children who run

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