Ebenezer

To what extent does having an unusual name effect a person’s approach to life, politics, and “identity”? I imagine it is quite significant, and (in the 21st century) quite positive.

Following my post regarding names and over-achieving name-alikeys, a correspondent of mine writes:

I wanted to call my son Ebenezer. I wanted him to have a unique name, and I don’t know any other kids called that. When he grew up, he could shorten it to ‘Ben’ if he wanted, or if he fancied something a bit more street, he could call himself ‘Ezey’, like if he was a DJ or something. It would be a good stage name. It would look good on a book jacket. Everyone he met would remember him. He would be talked about. People would say “Do you know Ebenezer?”

But my wife wasn’t having any of that. She said that kids at school might bully him. So instead we named him John, after my Dad. My son John, who must now compete for attention with the billions of other Johns out there.

Earlier this year, sitting on a bus winding through the hills of Sri Lanka, I met a British couple who were expecting a baby. He was a Scotsman, while she was of Sinhalese Sri Lankan parentage. They were discussing what name to give the baby. Part of the discussion was to find a combination of first and middle names which acknowledged their disparate heritage. Would the child take on the father’s monosyllabic Scottish surname, it’s mother’s polysyllabic Sri Lankan second name, or a hyphenated tongue-twister which combined the two? I wondered to what extent the origin of the name would affect the child’s relationship to the world around them. In those weeks before a decision was made, the baby had as much chance of being named Christopher or Angus, as being named Dilip, or Hasantha. Born into the twenty-first century UK, he would not, I hope, suffer any prejudice, had his parents chosen the latter moniker. However, it would serve as a constant reminder of his heritage in a far-off continent. What effect would this have on his approach to life, his politics, his “identity”? I imagine it would be quite significant, and positive. EbenezerJohn’s father clearly agrees… as did Johnny Cash when he wrote “A Boy Named Sue”.

Or; Would Cassisus Clay have won as many fights as Muhammed Ali?

6 thoughts on “Ebenezer”

  1. I don’t think Johnny Cash’s Boy Named Sue found much that was positive in being given that name. If he had a son, he said he’d call it any damn thing but Sue. I think cross-gender naming is another matter altogether.

    And as for Ebenezer, how cruel to want to name your child after the meanest, most unpopular man in all England. What is *that* about? To have the kind of father who wanted to name you after Scrooge, I imagine would have just as great an effect as being given the name.

    I think the wife’s argument on the other hand wasn’t terribly strong. Children don’t get bullied JUST because of their name. They may get teased, but it’s how they handle it, together with everything else about them that determines whether or not they get bullied. And parents can have a big input in that department. It’s not like his father wanted to call him “Emily”.

  2. Yeah. I guess it was more “The Boy Named Sue’s” dad in the song that thought that it would be a good name.

    I’m not so sure that Ebenezer is such a bad name though. Its Old Testament in origin, so Dicken’s Scrooge isn’t the only reference. And of course, Scrooge’s story is one of redemption and leaf-turning, no?

    I think it is perfectly possible to make some form of reclaimation of a name. Witness Homer from the Illiad, and now Simpson’s fame.

    Although I noticed it was Ebenezer and not Adolf.

  3. Good point. Personally, I can’t decide what to call my child, out of the folllowing options:
    Goliath, Judas, Herod, or Icarus. Or possibly Gollum or Darth Vader. Then again, I’ve always liked the name Pol.

  4. Hmmm. Having an unusual name does have an impact but I wouldn’t describe it as positive. I have a “foreign” i.e mediterranean surname, but I look english. I get very tired of the “Could you spell that for me please”, followed by the inevitable “Is that Italian” ? question which follows the majority of name check situations.
    One of the positive things I noticed first about the US is that it never happens, they just write it down, they seem to know how to spell it, and they couldn’t care less about its origins. To me that is multiculralism, at a relevant, social level. Accepting a different culture as part of your own means just that, accepting, not drawing attention or making a big deal of it.
    If I was overtly sensitive I would find the English approach racist – I mean would you ask someone called Smith if it was an English name ? It goes without saying that asking a black person if their name was African would have the PC police on you like a ton of bricks (yes I know being a visible minority is different, but the principle still holds, where someones name origiates is irrelevent, and drawing attention to it as unusual is an act of marginalisation). Not being especially sensitive I just find it tiresome, and it does have the advantage that my name is rarely forgotten. However, I’m not convinced that seen on a job application form, it isn’t a disadvantage as preconceptions of “foreign” types are still alive and kicking.

  5. It’s not my real name – its actually the name of a famous crooner from the 1950s/1960s (sang the theme tune to the Italian Job among others) . Perhaps I’m paranoid or perhaps my ego isn’t that large but I never put my real name on the internet (partly because it’s unusual). It also prevents preconceptions creeping into readers perceptions of my postings…….

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