Bully Phobia And Baby Names

bully-free-zoneOnce I was listening to a video on How to Choose a Baby Name on Parents Connect. One of the video’s suggestions is to try to think like a 5th grade bully when choosing a baby’s name. While I enjoy Parents Connect, I must respectfully disagree with that specific advice—at least in part.

The premise behind the advice I agree with—school is not always wonderful and kids are not always nice. Unfortunately there are some kids who will get teased no matter what, even if named something fairly benign like John. And then there are kids who are untouchable, who others wouldn’t dare tease. Nothing sticks to these teflon kids, not even a name like Belcher.

It’s completely unfair, but allow that life-fact to absolve you of agonizing over every name’s remote teasing potential.

Naming cruelty isn’t something I condone, but my list of truly cruel names is reasonable. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few names that are too susceptible to teasing, and you probably can too.

In case you are wondering which names are on my too-cruel list: one is the name of an infamous dictator, another is that nickname for Richard, and another one is a planet in our solar system that isn’t even used much as a given name, but I saw it on a baby name website. Perhaps any name that includes “anal” or “anus” should be avoided. This list isn’t necessarily inclusive, but generally unless the teasing potential is obvious, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

With that said, concern about bullying is understandable, considering the news media has reported extreme cases of school bullying in recent years, often blamed on social media. In light of technology giving bullies increased opportunities, considering a baby name’s teasing potential can be conscientious.

But bully phobia can drive well-meaning parents crazy, causing these parents to cross-off some otherwise great names. In most cases, parent’s fears about these types of names are unwarranted:

  1. Some Commercial product names,
  2. Names with potentially unpleasant, yet non-transparent meanings, and
  3. Names that possibly rhyme with an unpleasant word

Bully Phobia 1: Commercial Product Names

When it comes to commercial product names, I suggest avoiding anything that is only associated with a product and/or doesn’t have any other name-like qualities, such as Xerox. I would also avoid anything that creates a product name when combined with the last name. Therefore, Dunkin Donuts wouldn’t keep me from naming my child Duncan, but having the last name Hines would. While the Dunkin Donuts connection is a stretch, the “Duncan Hines” combination is simply too blatant and comical.

As a general rule, as long as the name has a history that predates the product or sounds like other given names (such as Moxie, which is a soft drink, but also sounds like Molly and Roxie), commercialism alone shouldn’t keep parents from using a name they love. I have written in-depth about commercialism and baby names. My belief is that parents need to reclaim wonderful names like Allegra and Avis for their kids.

Bully Phobia 2: Unpleasant Meanings

Many people are curious about their name’s meaning. Maybe if you’re expecting you might imagine your future child looking up the meaning of his/her name. It’s only natural that you fear your kid could get disappointed. Perhaps you’re worried the school bully might discover a name with a less than perfect meaning.

The problem is, with the exception of modern meaning names, many names don’t have literal meanings. In many cases names have disputed meanings. Various baby name books and sites have attributed different meanings to the same name. And in some cases, a name’s meaning is simply unknown.

I’m not suggesting parents who care about name meanings should completely forget about them. A great meaning can be an added bonus. And looking up names that have a certain meaning for sentimental reasons is certainly wonderful. Yet I wouldn’t eliminate an otherwise wonderful name just because the meaning is less than wonderful.

Persephone is a good example. This is one of those names that seemed off-the-wall until recently now that Greek names are becoming more fashionable. And the name sounds very similar to 80s hit-name, Stephanie, giving it some mainstream credibility. Yet many people are hung up on the alleged meaning, “to destroy” or “murder”. This is for naught, because these meanings are uncertain.

Therefore, while Parents Connect warns against accidentally giving your baby a name that means “ugly baby” in Swahili, unless you believe you could move to one of the few African countries where people speak Swahili, I wouldn’t stress over that. Most bullies I’ve known weren’t smart enough to know Swahili.

Bully Phobia 3: Names With Funny Rhymes

I don’t think Cooper is cruel because some snotty kid will discover it rhymes with “pooper”. Yeah. If you think long and hard enough, you can find a bad word to rhyme with almost anything. Matthew, which ranked at #12 in 2011, and was in the top 10 for nearly four decades (from 1972 to 2008), runs the risk of Fat Matt. Even Mary, the queen of all girl names for decades, rhymes with “hairy”.

The Takeaway

A general rule of thumb is to avoid any name with blatant teasing potential, but ignore a name’s remote teasing potential.

Blatant teasing potential includes a handful of truly unflattering names, such as the examples already mentioned, initials that spell something suggestive or the first and last names that combine to sound ridiculous. I don’t condone any of those practices.

A name has remote teasing potential when you have to think too hard to find it or if no one else would have noticed it until you brought it up.

Now seems to be a good time to make one thing clear: I’m not one of those people who takes the indifferent, “kids will be kids” attitude towards bullies. Bullying is completely unacceptable, and if I can be blunt, I hate bullies.

But I believe obsessing over a name’s teasing potential is only a band-aid approach to bullying that doesn’t deal with the cause of the problem. And I don’t believe avoiding names with remote teasing potential even protects a kid from bullies. If that bully wants to find something to mock, they will find something—anything.

My stance on this issue doesn’t stem from a lack of sympathy. I am definitely not speaking as a former bully, but rather as a former bully target. I don’t even remember why I was picked on, but I do remember I wasn’t picked on for my very safe name.

Like many other kinds of people, bullies can’t be taken at face value. When I say I don’t remember the reasons bullies picked on me, what I really mean is, I don’t remember the reasons bullies gave for picking on me, because I don’t think bullies give their real reasons. I firmly believe the real, unspoken, reason bullies picked on me was because I feared bullies.

Instead of trying to find the safest name possible for your child, encourage your child not to fear the bully. Granted, that’s not easy to do—especially when you still fear the bully.

Readers: Which name is the biggest target for bullies?

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