Friends of mine who lived in Zambia often joke about the names some people give their children, not the traditional ones — every culture has names that people of other cultures may find strange — but the ones derived from English words, such as "Motorcar" and "Paraffin." Mwizenge S. Tembo, a sociology professor at Bridgewater College in Virginia, wrote about this a few years ago:
What if you heard about or actually knew someone whose real first name was Because, Clever, Shame, Financial, or Trouble? You would probably conclude that these are nicknames, imposed somehow on unwilling individuals. Or perhaps the names were chosen by people who did not know English and were therefore ignorant of the words’ true meanings. You might even be tempted to think that they were imposed by callous parents who wanted their children to be easy targets for teasing on school playgrounds. All these assumptions would be wrong.
Such unusual, strange, or outright funny first names are willingly chosen, cherished, and celebrated among most people of the southern African country of Zambia. Why do Zambians accept these names? This is one of the many consequences of social change both in Zambia and Africa as a whole. [Link]
Finding a good name for a baby isn’t always easy, as I wrote in my column Can’t Stop Fighting Over Baby Names. Some couples try to be too original, which often backfires (no offense to Backfire Tembo). My parents gave me the middle name Singstone, which, my mother says, was a combination of her elder brother’s name Rajasingh and Livingstone (the Scottish missionary). Singstone isn’t a name I’m proud of, but I guess I shouldn’t complain. They could have called me Livingraja.
Before settling on a name for your baby, you have to remind yourself that he or she is going to be an adult one day and will have to live with that name for a long time. (Yes, even after he’s dead, your son’s name might appear on a tombstone: "Here lies Clearance Sale Banda.") If you think about that, perhaps you’ll resist the temptation to be as "creative" as Pat and Sheena Wheaton of New Zealand, who named their son Superman, but only after their original choice, 4Real, was rejected by the government registry. 4Real!
Mr Wheaton said he came up with the unlikely moniker after seeing the baby for the first time in an ultrasound scan and realising their baby was "for real".
However, the family has refused to let the law or good taste get in the way of their choice, insisting they will continue to refer to their two-month-old son as 4Real.
In the meantime they plan to officially name him Superman.
"No matter what, its going to stay 4Real," Mr Wheaton told the New Zealand Herald newspaper, "I’m certainly not a quitter". [Link]
The linked article includes a list of wacky names celebrities have given their babies, including Jermajesty (Son of Singer Jermaine Jackson), Kal-el Coppola (Son of actor Nicolas Cage), and Pilot Inspektor (Son of actress Beth Riesgraf and actor Jason Lee).
Come to think of it, Singstone isn’t too bad.