name regret

Michael Newman michael.newman at QC.CUNY.EDU
Sat Oct 15 07:36:29 UTC 2011

That's true of course. The Vietnamese names Dung and Phouc being great examples, although the first is pronounced /dʒʊŋ/, the spelling being the problem in English. However, there are cultural differences in terms of naming conventions that are not necessarily linguistic confusions and can create difficulties for people bearing names. I met one guy in the DR called Stalin, pronounced of course, /etal˜i/ but named after the dictator (I don't know if his brother was Trotsky), and he is not alone there. This tendency to creativity in naming practices as well as a kind of naive desire for names that are icons of power gives rise, I suspect, to the urban legend (I hope) of the baby named "Usnavy," after some passing destroyer or aircraft carrier. 

On this point, check out this viral video from a few years ago, passed on to me (i should note by some Black students): 

Michael Newman
Associate Professor of Linguistics
Queens College/CUNY
michael.newman at

On Oct 14, 2011, at 11:58 PM, Victor Steinbok wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: name regret
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> There is a difference between being "oddly named" when transcending
> linguistic and/or cultural boundaries (e.g., Bobo would sound OK in some
> African countries, but would be an absolute taboo in South America--and
> this is not a hypothetical example!) and the names deliberately picked
> by parent to be odd. The former is "accidental" oddity (like to
> apocryphal confusion over Chevy Nova). The latter is not. I once had a
> student named Euclid Moon. Moon was not his surname--he had NO surname.
> Of course, this did not stop the registrar or others from using "Moon"
> as the family name. Two years earlier, I had another student whose given
> name was Euclid, but he was from Nigeria. Somehow, that did not sound as
> odd...
> BTW, I don't see what's so odd about Ronald Reagan Jones, especially
> since he has every opportunity to avoid using his middle name with
> regularity (Ronald R. Jones may be uncool, but that's because it's so
> plain). It's no more odd or uncool than name combinations than include
> George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Payne as First+Middle.
> "Uncool" is also relative--both individually and temporally. And it's no
> more dorky to name kids after politicians than naming kids after Madonna
> or any other entertainer du jour, hockey or basketball teams, dead or
> living relatives or inanimate objects. Frank Zappa had the right idea...
> (My sons' middle names are Rembrandt and Jonas with no connection to any
> living or dead people or fictional characters--no, seriously, not named
> after THE Rembrandt, no matter what others might think! Their Hebrew
> names, on the other hand... Let's just say, Trahdyshun!)
>     VS-)
> On Oct 14, 2011, at 6:32 PM, Ronald Butters wrote:
>> What percent regret the dorky name that they gave their children?
>> (E.g., RONALD REAGAN JONES might cause his parents to have deep
>> remorse for inflicting such an uncool name on one who grew up to be a
>> trendy professor of literature at Yale.)
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