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.






How Madison Rose from a Movie “Joke” 30 Years Ago to Top-Ten Popularity

Kevin Polowy’s article on Yahoo Movies tells the entertaining story of how the name Madison started as a joke in the movie, “Splash” starring Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah as a mermaid.

“Splash” was released 30 years ago on March 9, 1984. According to baby-name expert, Joal Ryan,

Madison was nowhere on the radar as a girl name until 1985 — a year after the release of ‘Splash.’ So, there definitely seems to be a connection there, especially since there’s no other major female Madison, either real or fictional, who was out there as a role model.

The name took off as soon as the movie came out. It showed up in Social Security Administration popularity statistics in 1985. By 1990, it was ranked at #216. By 1995, it had zoomed up to #29. And by 2000 it was the #3 most popular girl’s name in the U.S. The popularity of Madison ranked among the top-five girls’ names from 2000 until 2008. And in 2012 Madison was still among the top-ten names for girls, ranked at #9. Madison is one of the most classic illustrations of the effect of movies (or mass media) on baby-name popularity.

Now that you know how the name Madison was launched by Darryl Hannah’s character in “Splash” and how popular it has become, here’s how Hannah explains the “joke.”

The whole point of me choosing that name was because it [was such a] silly name. Obviously everyone knew it as the name of the street [Madison Avenue]. No one really saw it as a first name and that was a joke. And now, of course it’s not funny at all. It’s just like, Oh, what a beautiful name!’ … It was funny at the time and now it’s not even ironic.

As I write this post, I’m aware of the fact that I advise parents against giving babies “joke” names, because it’s highly likely that the joke will be on the baby (and ultimately, the parents who will have to pay for the child’s therapy). Madison proves that some “joke names” can turn out well for the child (and the parents).