July 18, 2007

The naming game

Baby names was the topic of a blog entry by Megan Fitzgerald of Career by Choice. She is a "branding specialist" and the post links to a Wall Street Journal article, "The Baby Name Business", which talks about how to "brand you baby for success" by giving him or her just the right name.

Come on....maybe I have been abroad way too long, but this seems over the top to me.

Then again, maybe not. In Italy parents pay (or at least, paid) lots of attention to choosing the right name for a baby, the right saint's name, so that Giovanni or Maria would have that special someone to watch over them -- branded for success in a different way, by giving them that extra supernatural edge. In the past, the child's "namesake day" was celebrated more than the actual birthday -- now foreign ways have won out and only Nonna calls to wish you tanti auguri. We all need a bit of help from our friends and when that help comes from above, why not take advantage?

Giuseppe, one of the workmen who recently renovated an apartment in Trento for us, told many stories over a celebratory dinner on Monday. He is the middle child of a family of 10 brothers who all emigrated from Calabria to Trento when he was a child. Although he speaks with a Trentino accent and has a Trentino wife, his old ways from the South still hold true, including his belief in the power of saints. Every time he buys a new car, he drives over 1,000 km. to San Giovanni in Rotondo (Puglia) to have his car blessed by one of local disciples of Padre Pio -- to have that extra edge, you never know, then he turns around and drives back.

With just the right name, or just the right blessing, we can all be branded for success.

a domani,

You can check out your onomastico on this site. My onomastico is May 11, Sant'Elisabetta, mother of John the Babtist.

Great cross-cultural book:
The Namesake, by Jhampa Lahiri. A delicate and powerful story about the legacy of a name.


sognatrice said...

"In the past, the child's 'namesake day' was celebrated more than the actual birthday -- now foreign ways have won out and only Nonna calls to wish you tanti auguri."

Ooh, not down here in Calabria. It's still a pretty big deal here where we all make out at the bar as the person celebrating buys our drinks (for his birthday *and* onomastico!).

I wrote an article about baby brand names a couple years ago based on a study of the US Social Security index; there were cars, beers, perfumes, fashion designers...quite interesting indeed.

But the most interesting thing I came across in my research was a sociologist (I think) comparing these names to previous centuries' names like Opal and Ruby--parents naming their children after their own aspirations for them.

Now I see a lot of Italians giving their babies rather Americanized names (especially from TV/film...wonder what *that* says.

Elizabeth said...

You mean American parents aspire for their children to become beer or car brands?

I know what you mean, lots of Italians are calling their children by English names coming from the TV/film -- not too many Marias and Giovannis around anymore...What will happen to the onomastico?

Romerican said...

During the whole "Dallas" (TV show) craze here in Italy in the 80s, lots of italians started to use these "american" names like sue ellen, hilary, etc but they italianized them to make, in a way they phonetically transcribed them into suelle, ilari, scion (shawn/sean) etc… But the non-saint name phenomenon had already started even in the 60s with names like mirko and whatnot.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

I loved the Namesake. Wonderful book.

I don't get why someone would name their child after a celebrity.

Elizabeth said...

The saint's name is often hidden between the commas on the birth certificate, like: Mirko, Giovanni, Rossi. The name doesn't show up on official documents, only hidden in the depths of the anagrafe, but it still counts for that special onomastico day.

NY/Carribean girl, I don't get it either, maybe the parents think that the baby will be famous too.

sognatrice said...

Hah, a beer or car no--the status symbol attached (I'm thinking Lexus, which became a very popular girl's name), kind of like the celebrity thing that NYC brings up. Then a lot of parents just want to be different, and want that their children are unique--thus two babies named ESPN, I kid you not.

It's funny because my thought on child-naming is that I *don't* want my child to be unnecessarily associated with something--like, um, the name of his paternal grandfather (yikes!). I don't mind it for a middle name, but I don't like that his identity would be based on it.

Down here, I have to say that I know very few children not named after saints/family members--in fact, I can only think of two (Loris and Taisia). The onomastico tradition is still *very* strong in Calabria--my OH has three nephew under the age of 12 named Salvatore (and called as such) after the grandfather.

Artemisia said...

Just found your blog - very good read.

You probably know this, but the hiring of a baby name consultant is completely nutty even in the states. Strictly a Park Slope phenomenon. I'm in a very pretentious suburb of Boston and I don't know anyone that would do this.

People often name their child after their own aspirations - some wish they'd been born in an old moneyed family and do the last-names-as-first-names thing. The ones who name kids for celebrities hope their children will stand out and get lots of attention. I'd better not tell you what I named my kids....

Elizabeth said...

I even know someone named Paolo di Paolo, just like his father and grandfather! His sons though are Antonio and Andrea.
welcome and stop by again. I bet your kid's real names are not those you use in your site. You are right, my Boston suburb college friends wouldn't use a baby name specialist! There are some strange names going around anyway. Whatever happened to Martha or Abigail?