Dilemmas: Why do my friends have to steal my child's name?

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Graham's called his first baby Clementina after his mother, who died the day the child was born. Now his best friends are to call their new baby Clementina too - after an aunt. When he objects, they virtually say, `Like it or lump it. There's no copyright on names'. Is he silly to feel hurt?

What's in a name? Much, much more than we think. After all, some women still change their names on marriage to show a fundamental shift in their relationship to the world. In the Seventies, when dozens of friends joined religious cults, I always got confused when jolly old Julia suddenly shipped up as "Manjana" or goofy young Rodney reappeared as "Vishnu". And when anyone's given a peerage they whiz from being John Smith to simple "Norwich" or some such. There's even some kind of fortune-telling that involves names, numbering all the letters, dividing them by something else, and coming up with a figure that predicts the future.

The naming of a child often involves a religious ceremony. You're named in the eyes of God. Of course names are important.

But clearly not to Graham's insensitive friends. Obviously, if his mother had an exceptionally common name - Emma, or Anne - he'd have no justification behind his hurt feelings if his friends had christened their daughter the same. There's no copyright on names, but Clementina's a fairly out- of the-ordinary one, and even if they'd called their child Clemency (a lovely name, given to an aunt of mine) it would have been a bit more tactful and, indeed, original. Sure there would have been the playground problems, with two "Clems", but just the knowledge of the different endings would have separated them. Graham's friends should be asked how they think Paula Yates would feel if a close friend called her own children Fifi Trixibelle and Tiger Lily. I think they'd agree that she'd be pretty cheesed off, and rightly so.

In some cultures it's considered nice and cosy if everyone's named pretty much the same (how many David Jenkinses are there in Wales?) But in England we like to use first names to keep us apart. There's some woman tearing around London with a first name and a last name identical to a close relative of mine, and I always feel enraged when I meet her because I feel she's stealing some of the feelings of respect due to my relation.

But what Graham's friends really lack is sensitivity and kindness following a bereavement. They knew what this name meant to him; copyright or no copyright, they should have made it taboo for their baby.

So I don't think the name's the issue here. Graham's friends could argue that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and his little Clementina is totally special in her own right. They could say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But no. "Like it or lump it" is what they appear to be saying. Perhaps Graham should go round to see them and ask, with genuine puzzlement, what dreadful thing he has done to make them hurt him so much? Please would they tell him, so he can put it right? If they are getting back at him for something he's done, they'll tell him. If not, his emotional blackmail may make them feel uncomfortable enough to reconsider their choice of name.

But whatever the outcome, I can't see how the relationship will ever be without bitterness in the future.

Don't ruin the friendship

The name "Clementina" will never have the same connotations for each set of parents, even if, to all intents and purposes, it is written and pronounced identically. Why ruin a "happy event" over 10 letters to which all but a tiny percentage of the world's population will be oblivious? Stop worrying; hold on to the good memories of your mother, and make the most of this birth of your daughter.


Grenoble, France

What lies behind this name?

Wow! Freudian or what!

Graham names his daughter after his dead mother and then worries that his friends are going to use the same name. I'm sure that the ancient Greeks had a play with it. Graham should ask himself whether he wants a daughter, or some kind of living memorial to his mother. When he favours the living as opposed to the dead he will realise that a name is just a name and, yes, it is pretty silly to feel so hurt.


These girls will have a bond

It is no great joy for a child to have a name no one else has heard of (as I did - after all, who had heard of "Superman's girlfriend", back in the Fifties when I was a child?)

These little girls are likely to grow up enjoying a natural bond that may help them to become close friends in their turn.

Added to which, these Clementinas (with the help of their other friends) will sort out for themselves what each girl should be called.

Lighten up, Graham - and rejoice in having friends who are so clearly compatible. Content yourself with congratulating them on their impeccable taste.


Rowlands Castle, Hampshire

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I'm a single parent with two children. A year ago I met a wonderful man who loved me and adored the children, and didn't want any of his own. He took us on fabulous holidays and was kind and understanding. We got engaged. But from the start I've been moody with him, losing my temper for no reason. Whenever that happened he went away, but if I begged enough, he'd come back. But this last time he finally turned on me and said he hated me. He tore my ring off and threw it away, packed up and went, though I begged him to stay. All I've had is a letter saying he can't cope with me any more. What's awful is that his first wife was like this, and he's always said he only wants a quiet life. My friends say I'm mad to have driven away this lovely bloke. When I look back on it, he was a saint. I spend my time crying, ringing him up, but he won't have anything to do with me. How can I get him back?

Yours sincerely, Connie

Anyone with advice quoted will be sent a bouquet from Send letters and dilemmas to Virginia Ironside, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182; or e-mail dilemmas@independent.co. uk, giving a postal address