Parents follow new rules in naming kids


LaFrances Trotter was talking about how she came to name her daughter.

She always knew a child of hers would be given a name that was unique, a name no other child would answer to when the teacher called roll, or when a friend beckoned on a crowded street.

In her mind's eye, she had an image of a child who would be culturally conscious, and always aware of her heritage.

She turned to some friends from Nigeria, who helped name her baby daughter, Akija. Akija Kalembre.

"I was determined she would have a connection to her African past," says Ms. Trotter, who lives in Sunrise, Calif. "It's like a present from her ancestors."

Names are important. A parent's gift, they establish identity and place, even if the name is too unusual to be found on a personalized dime-store mug.

Dee Cattaneo, a Florida genealogist, says today's parents have all but given up the traditional naming methods of the past.

But none of this is true today, she says. "The way parents name their babies has changed drastically over the years. I feel sorry for genealogists 100 years from now. They won't be able to figure anything out."

Unlike the '60s, which spawned a surge of children named for social and environmental causes, like Harmony and Peace, the trend today is toward names that reflect ethnic roots or economic status, like Maxwell, Winthrop and, what else, Rich.

And while the Bible still remains a popular place for parents of all religions and nationalities to find a name, parents are also borrowing names from their favorite TV characters, or simply making them up.

Daisy Camacho, who is Puerto Rican, named her son Hector, 4, after his father. But her 8-year-old daughter, Christal, was named after the star of a Hispanic soap opera.

In African-American communities, many parents are coming up with African-sounding names for their babies. Some are authentic, some are not.

The trend began during the civil rights and black power movements of the '60s, with black Americans choosing African or Islamic names, shunning the names given to slaves by European masters.

Today, some black parents are going one step further: They are using their imaginations to coin new names.

This practice has been criticized for burdening children with awkward names difficult to pronounce.

For every Helen and Sandra, there is a Saqauela, and a Verlisha. There is Zandra, Tamiya, Shenika, Zakia, Traveta and Ashaunte. There is even a Lakrishaw.

"I said, boy, times sure have changed. Where are the Marys and the Sues?" says Samida Jones who works with teen-aged girls through a civic organization. "The names have been called weird," Ms. Jones says, "but they are just weird to people who expect European names."

Still, made-up names lose something in the translation, she says. "Parents should consider a name's true meaning, instead of merely trying to be different."

Joni Sabri didn't hesitate when she named her two sons. Since her husband, Hassan Sabri, is Palestinian, she gave her sons Muslim names.

"My husband gave me a book of Muslim names, complete with meanings. I liked that they are many generations old, they go way back," says Ms. Sabri.

Her 4-year-old is Ali, "a famous Islamic name, very simple," and the 2-year-old is Khalid.

Ms. Sabri, raised Catholic but converted to Islam four years ago, is Fatima at home and at the mosque.

Muslims are encouraged to give their children certain names, says Hassan Sabri, who has lived in this country for eight years.

Anything containing the verb hamad, which means 'to praise God,' is good. "Mohammed is good for boys, and for girls, Hamida is very popular," Mr. Sabri says.

One of a child's first rights is to be given a good name, Mr. Sabri says.

But the quest for the unforgettable name was not popular several generations back. "Back then, you didn't want to appear different, or ethnic. Immigrants wanted to blend in, you wanted to be a part of where you lived," Ms. Cattaneo says.

"My husband's parents came over from Italy. They named him Herbert, after Herbert Hoover. . . . Later on, they decided they didn't like Hoover. So they call him Dick."

But today it's not as important to blend into the melting pot. People are looking for individuality. For example, libraries are being deluged with people looking for information to help them prove they have American Indian ancestry, Ms. Cattaneo says.

Virginia Osceola, who is a Seminole Indian, named her new baby daughter Courtney. Her 9-year-old daughter Mercedes chose the name after hearing it in a local mall.

Osceola's other three youngsters are Tasha Kelly, Jo-Jo Dakota and Joseph Daniel.

Those, however, are their Anglo names, the names they use to attend public school. But they also have Indian names.

What are they?

"They are only for Indians to know," Ms. Osceola says, taken aback that someone would ask. "They are not to be given out."

Seminoles are not the only people who present their children with two sets of names, one cultural.

In Franklin Tse's household, his daughter Jennifer might answer to Tse Ying Wah, which connotes elegance and gratitude.

"At a Chinese gathering, I would use that name," Mr. Tse says.

Many American Jews are turning back to traditional Hebrew names, like Ari, and Rebecca.

Rochelle Liederman says there is no trick to naming Jewish babies, that it's really quite basic.

"You want to name your first child after a deceased loved one," says Ms. Liederman. "Jewish people always draw names from the Bible, while memorializing the dead."

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