I recently read that Manchester United footballer Wayne Rooney named his son Klay after Cassius Clay, who is better known as Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay was Ali’s birth name). Although Ali was a great heavyweight champion whose boxing style was to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee,” his constant bragging was a turnoff to many.
Most namesakes are like that: They’re mixed blessings, and many contemporary namesakes have the additional downside of having incomplete biographies. Here’s a brief list of contemporary celebrities whose public images (once stellar) have taken a turn for the worse: Britney (Spears), Paris (Hilton), Lance (Armstrong), Alex (Rodriguez) and David (Petraeus).
It can be risky to name your baby after someone whose “biography” is incomplete. Think about Miley (Cyrus) or Justin (Bieber), who seem to be off to good starts but whose biographies are in the “early innings.” As they age, their “squeaky clean” images are likely to change.
So, if using contemporary celebrities as “famous namesakes” is fraught with danger, whom should you name your child after if you want to name him or her after someone famous? Consider historical, biblical, sports, military, science or literary figures* whose biographies are complete and whose lives you think are worth emulating (even if they were imperfect).
My mother picked my middle name, Bruce, because she admired Robert Bruce (aka Robert the Bruce), a Scotsman who was defeated by the British many times but who never gave up his desire to lead Scotland to regain its status as an independent nation. That name has served me well. Many times, when I’ve been “knocked down,” I’ve been inspired by my namesake to try again.
Instead of looking for names based on their trendiness or uniqueness, why not consider a name with a famous bearer who can serve as a namesake to provide inspiration and be a positive role model for your child? Keeping in mind that all humans are flawed and that not everyone has a positive opinion of the people listed below, here are some famous namesakes you might (or might not) consider as role models for your child:
-Joan of Arc (a great French military leader, and a martyr during the Hundred Years War)
-St. Francis of Assisi (a pious priest whom Pope Francis used as a namesake)
-Robert the Bruce (a great Scottish warrior who battled England to regain independence for Scotland; according to myth, he never gave up when his prospects appeared to be at the lowest ebb)
-Winston Churchill (a great British prime minister who helped the Allies prevail in World War II)
-David (ancient Israel’s first great king, who bravely slew the huge warrior Goliath using only a sling and a stone)
-Billie Jean King (a great tennis star who won even greater fame by beating Bobby Riggs in a tennis match that the media billed at the time as “The Battle of the Sexes”)
-Martin Luther King (a great American civil rights reformer who was named after Martin Luther, a leader of the Protestant Reformation)
-Abraham Lincoln (the 16th president of the U.S., he lead the country through the Civil War; in the process of which he abolished slavery and strengthened the country)
-Nelson Mandela, (after being imprisoned for 27 years, he was the first black president of South Africa, and the man who ended the cruel and dehumanizing apartheid system )
-Golda Meir (Israel’s first female prime minister, known as the “Iron Lady”—long before Margaret Thatcher earned that nickname—and the grandmother of Israeli politics)
-Jesse Owens (an Olympic hero who won four gold medals in track and field at the 1936 Summer Olympics)
-Ayn Rand (author of “The Fountainhead” and a “high priestess” for many conservatives)
-Paul Revere (an American revolutionary patriot who warned the colonial militia that “The British are coming!”)
-Jackie Robinson (the first African-American in the Major Leagues; a great ballplayer and role model)
-Theodore Roosevelt (a great environmentalist and a fierce fighter against corruption)
-William Shakespeare (perhaps the greatest writer in the English language)
-Gloria Steinem (a founder of Ms. Magazine who helped raise America’s consciousness of feminist issues)
-Margaret Thatcher (the longest-serving British prime minister and the only woman to have held that office)
-Leonardo da Vinci (the quintessential multitalented Renaissance Man, and the inspiration for the popular cable TV series “Da Vinci’s Demons”)
Of course, you can name your child after a ballplayer you enjoy cheering for or a movie star whose films you enjoy watching. But think about this: If you name your child Bruce, will you tell him he was named after Bruce Wayne or Bruce Lee or Bruce Willis, or will you tell him he was named after Robert Bruce, who fought for Scottish independence and never gave up?
*You’ll find lots of helpful lists of famous athletes, politicians, military leaders, scientists, writers, actors and artists of all kinds in most of my baby-name books.