Place Names that Tell Where the Baby Was Conceived

Within the broad category of place names there is a very interesting subset: names that reflect where children were conceived. I didn’t know much about this subject before reading an article in the Timaru Herald, a New Zealand newspaper for which  Derek Burrows writes.

In his recent article, Burrows focused on American actor/director Ron Howard and his wife Cheryl whose four children bear middle names which memorialize where they were conceived. They named their eldest son Bryce Dallas, their twin daughters Jocelyn Carlyle and Paige Carlyle, and their youngest son Reed Cross. Three out of the four middle names require an explanation. It’s clear that Bryce was conceived in Dallas. But Jocelyn and Paige were conceived in New York City (in the borough of Manhattan). However, neither of those place names seemed to work as baby names, so Ron and Cheryl went with the name of the swanky hotel where the twins were conceived: The Carlyle. Using that logic, Reed’s middle name should have been Volvo, but that car brand didn’t work as a baby name either, so the Howards went with the name of the quiet street on which the Volvo was parked in Greenwich, Connecticut: Cross Street. (If you’ve never heard of that “celebrity lovers’ lane” before, you’re not alone.)

As you can see, picking the name of the “place” where their children were conceived simplified the middle-naming process a little. But if you consider all four middle names, you probably wouldn’t realize they all referred to “places” because only one was the name of a city. By contrast, one “place” was a hotel in Manhattan, and another “place” was a relatively unknown street in Greenwich that few people outside of the Howards, the residents of that street and the their local postman have ever heard of.

This process functions somewhat like names in Africa, where children are often named after the day of the week on which on which they were born (e.g., Friday) or the location where they were born (e.g. the house at the end of the road).   But it turned out to be more complicated than the Howards might have imagined when they kicked off the “conception place-name” theme with Bryce Dallas.

The Howards probably didn’t consider the fact that as kids grow older they find it harder to imagine that their parents “made out” when they dated and had s*x on their honeymoon (and, quite likely, when they dated). Tell teenagers about their “frisky” parents and you’ll hear them say: Lalalalala!” or “TMI!” or “Don’t go there!” or “Yuck!” Kids don’t like to hear their parents talk about what they did in hotels or Volvos or in the back seat of a stretch limo in Dallas (I’m just guessing here, but that scenario seems to fit the Howards’ M.O.)

In Nigeria, parents don’t memorialize where they conceived the child. They memorialize the day or location of the child’s birth. Notice their focus is on the child. But the place where the child was conceived is more about what the parents were doing in that location. In other words, picking a name that memorializes the place where the child was conceived is a sexual ego trip for the parents. It’s likely to embarrass the children at some point in their lives; but it’s unlikely to produce names that “go well together” for the children (judging by the middle names Ron and Cheryl Howard gave their  kids).

Middle names serve a number of useful purposes: to provide a back-up name in case the child doesn’t like his or her given name; or to honor members of the family or maintain family traditions. But when parents have more than one child, using a theme of some sort (like choosing biblical names or Italian names or names that start with a particular letter) can simplify the naming process (by eliminating all names that don’t fit the theme) and can help parents find names that “go well together.” (To find out more about naming siblings, see my post on that subject.)

Unfortunately, middle names that memorialize sexual relations between parents don’t accomplish most of those functions. And in the case of the Howards, “place-names” would be a unifying theme but Dallas, Carlyle, and Cross don’t particularly “go well together”–even after you find out what the theme is.

It’s hard to avoid reading about celebrities who have picked names for their children which are widely regarded by the general public and the media as “crazy” or “weird” or “outrageous.” Pundits, like me, often attribute excesses like North (West), Moon Unit and Apple to certain celebrities’ “ego-tripping” mindset. I suspect that naming your baby after the place where he or she was conceived is another form of self-indulgence. I wouldn’t call it “crazy” or “weird” or “outrageous.” But I wouldn’t recommend it as a way to come with great middle names, either.

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