Dear Bruce: Do You Often Hear “It’s in the Bible” as a Justification for an Awful Name?

Dear Bruce,

Do you often hear “It’s in the Bible” as a justification for an awful name? A relative of mine named a daughter Tierza Joy. Tierzah is a biblical name. What do you think of it?


Dear B.P.,

“It’s in the Bible” is used as a justification for good names and awful names every day of the week! Some of the best names ever and the worst names ever are “in the Bible.”

Tirzah (not Tierzah) has a Hebrew origin and means “she is my delight.” In the Bible, Tirzah is the name of one of Zelophehad’s five daughters who went to Moses to ask for their rights of inheritance, which he granted. Nice story! But saying a name is “in the Bible” is a dubious honor. Zelophehad, the name of Tirzah’s father, is also in the Bible. Jumping Jehosaphat! (also a biblical name) what an awful name.

Although Tierzah (or its root name, Tirzah) is a “strange” name that will be confusing to spell and pronounce, combining it with Joy as the middle name turns it into a private joke. “Tears o’ joy, get it?” her parents will say, smiling as they let friends and relatives in on the joke.

But friends and relatives might not think the name is quite so funny. They may have watched Kanye West on the “Tonight Show” mentioning to Jay Leno that he was thinking of naming his daughter North (West). The audience smiled nervously as they wondered whether West was just kidding or if he was really insensitive enough to give that joke name to his daughter. Turns out, he was. And the joke turned out to be on Kim and Kanye for picking the name that was voted “the worst celebrity name of 2013.” Unfortunately, the joke was also at baby North’s expense, because she’ll have to live with it.

Likewise, the name Tierzah Joy is also likely to make friends and relatives uncomfortable because the “joke” is initially at the expense of the baby girl, who is likely to be embarrassed by the name as soon as she is old enough to know what “embarrassment” means. She’ll want to change her name. Happily, her middle name, Joy, gives her a lovely fall-back name. But she might be so mad at her parents she throws both names out and starts over as Abcde (pronounced AB-seh-dee). Which is why using a name to document your wit is not a recommended baby-naming strategy. At first, the joke may be at the expense of the child. But eventually it may wind up also being at the expense of the oh-so-funny parents.






12 Popular Biblical Names for Boys from Pamela Redmond Satran; Halleluyah!

Wow! I can hardly believe my eyes. An article about the 12 most popular biblical names that provides relevant and interesting background information about 12 great names likely to be a plus for boys. There’s not a weird or off-putting name in the bunch! I strongly recommend this article to you. I found it on Huffington Post, but I’m sure it’s on, too.

Has Pamela Redmond Satran gotten tired of reading my recent (critical) blog posts? Has she made a late resolution (one month into the new year)? It’s too soon to tell. So, I’ll restrain my celebration until I read her next few articles—to see if she focuses on charming, appealing names or goes back to recommending what she calls “unusual,” “never heard of” or “forgotten” names likely to annoy, embarrass, or subject children to teasing.

(I could never figure out how recommending weird, off-putting names could possibly be a successful strategy for her or Nameberry. Eventually her readers are going to turn elsewhere for better advice; and media like Huffington Post and daily newspapers will turn elsewhere for content that’s beneficial rather than harmful to children.)

Here’s a quick list of the biblical boys’ names she discusses in detail in her article: Jacob, Ethan, Noah, Michael, Daniel, Matthew, Elijah, James, Benjamin, Joshua, Andrew and David.

I hope you”ll click on the link I’ve provided to read her article. I also hope you will strongly consider these time-tested names for your baby. Keep in mind that biblical names provide positive role models for children and create the impression that they have strong values.

If Satran is going to be recommending great names (instead of questionable names), I’ll switch from criticizing her work to praising it. (I hope you realize that my criticism has always been focused on the questionable value of most of her recommendations.) I admire the books Satran and Rosenkrantz have written and assumed I would love their articles. I tend to like most of Rosenkrantz’s articles, but how wrong I was about Satran’s articles.

Satran seemed to be under the impression that she could search for “rarely used” or “abandoned” names and than announce to expecting parents that they were suddenly “cool”  or “worth considering” because she had mentioned them in an article. When you think about it, if she didn’t give the unwanted, abandoned names a “makeover” by changing their spelling, they would still have all the unattractive qualities that had caused 99.9% of American parents to reject them.

Writing about Satran’s attempts at “alchemy” has turned out to be both enlightening and entertaining for my readers–if not for hers. So if Pamela Redmond Satran has really “turned over a new leaf,” I’ll be happy to praise and promote the wonderful new articles she’ll be writing.

Should Parents Be Encouraged to Name Their Children Messiah or Christ?

Ed Stetzer, writing in Christianity Today, offered evidence (in the form of survey results) to support the following claims:

-“Three out of four (74%) of Americans say parents should be able to give their child religious names – including Messiah.”

– “A similar number (75 percent) say a judge should not be allowed to change a child’s name for religious reasons.”

–  “53 percent of Americans strongly agree and another 21 percent somewhat agree” [that] ”parents should be able to name their child Messiah or Christ.”

This research was conducted by Lifeway Research, of Nashville Tennessee, to demonstrate that Americans opposed the ruling of Tennessee judge, Lu Ann Ballew who held that parents could not name their son Messiah because “The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ.”

Unfortunately, Stetzer’s article did not provide any information about the sample surveyed, so it isn’t clear whether the “Americans” surveyed were a broad sample representative of American adults or were limited to Christians of certain denominations living in certain counties of the south (which are commonly referred to as “the bible belt”).

I have no doubt most Americans support the idea that parents should be able to name their child whatever they like, including spiritual names like Faith or Grace and biblical names like Joseph, Mary, Jesus, Abraham and Rebecca. Having a spiritual or biblical name is a daily reminder of the importance of caring about spiritual and religious values. I’ve conducted research that suggests spiritual and religious names create a positive impression for the people who bear them—because people with those names are expected to have a strong values.

As you may know, Judge Ballew’s ruling was reversed, so the right of parents in Tennessee to name their children Messiah or Christ is not, currently a burning issue. But I doubt most Americans would think it’s a good idea for parents to name their children Messiah or Christ (even if they support the parents’ right to make those choices). To be clear, this new question wasn’t included in the survey conducted by Lifeway research.

Permit me to state the new question clearly: Should parents be encouraged to name their children Messiah or Christ? Or, should they be advised against it? I think most psychologists would argue against giving children names that might encourage them to believe (and act as though) they really were a messiah or a savior. Many Americans are treated for this confusing psychological condition—usually with a combination of drugs and therapy. And, with the name Messiah currently ranked as the 387th most popular boys’ name in America, we can expect a lot more boys to struggle with this confusing condition.

This isn’t a religious issue, per se. It’s a practical and psychological issue. It doesn’t make any more (or less) sense to name children King, Queen, Prince, Princess  or Perfect than it does to name them Christ or Messiah. Since the children aren’t, in fact, royalty, charismatic religious figures or perfect human beings, having names that foster those illusions is a questionable practice because:

– The names don’t reflect the truth. They aren’t realistic.

– The names foster unrealistic self-images and are likely to promote unrealistic, unhealthy behavior.

I’d be very interested in seeing research conducted on a large representative survey sample to find out what Americans think about this new question. If asked to speculate about what such research would find, I’d expect most Americans to question the practice of giving children names that could foster unrealistic illusions and lead to unhealthy behavior. But, again, I’d expect most Americans to support parents’ right to pick any names they like–except names that can be demonstrated to be harmful to the child.