At Large

Naming Children in the Digital Age

Isn't it better to be called 4Real than John Doe?

By 6.27.07

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From New Zealand comes the saga of a family who idiosyncratically decided to label their new child with the tag of 4Real. When they attempted registry of the birth certificate, the government rebuffed them on the quaint grounds that numerals are against name rules.

Granted spelling is not their 40, granted they have a 6ense of humor, granted they will have forgot10 3ason for this impulse be4 long, granted the kid will turn ver1,000,000 every time he sees his name on paper, these parents have 1 the right 2 name their own offspring. I5 learned anything in life, it's that if you can bear 2 bear them, if you are raring 2 rear them, you are entitled 2 entitle them. 4 the government 2 come 2 the table as a J1y-come-l8ly with their satur9 disdain 4 creativity has got 2 make you 1der. What makes them think it7 their business? Haven't they more w80 matters 2 attend 2?

Putting aside for the nonce the specter of the ruling scepter's overreach, let me share with you my theory of the relationship between distinctiveness and distinction. And I promise to enumerate the ways without any more supernumerary distractions.

I ask a simple question. Why are there no famous people named John Doe? This was always the symbol of a name most common in a quantitative sense. One might expect statistically that there would be so many authors and scientists by that name some special number system would be required for sorting the files. It seems to be, much as we hate to admit it, that somehow such a name becomes seen as common in a qualitative sense, too. To the extent that the bearer thereof tends to become ensconced in a stifling anonymity. (Oy, the poor Editor, when oodles of John Doe letters angrily pour in.)

Case in point, the Jones Brothers. They are not a blood fraternity; one is a yankee-doodle dandy and the other is a Curacao islander, but they have played together with excellence on the Atlanta Braves baseball team for a decade. Here we are, a century of baseball in the history books, and no one named Jones hit 300 home runs until these guys. Their first names? Chipper and Andruw with a single-u before the double-u. In the '70s there was also a star player named Jones. First name, Cleon. Smiths also, named Lee and Ozzie. No Jim Jones, no Tom Smith. Too prosaic to shine.

Then again, the real wacko-tobacco off-the-beaten-track off-the-reservation out-to-lunch names tend to saddle their wearers with an overblown sense of alienation, making it hard to connect to society at all. Sure, Van Lingle Mungo had a baseball career, but it fell well short of stardom. For a song it was unbeatable, and songwriter David Frishberg never produced another one quite so popular. Even in a business as goofy as rock music, those kids named Moonbeam and the like never went mainstream.

The moral of the story, if morality and not utility is our subject, is that there is a nominal fee for your birth certificate -- you pay a price for that name. Jane Does, odds are you will never be odd woman out. Tabitha Worcestershire, your best shot is to go with the spiky hair and lots of piercings. Wanna be a star? Isadora Duncan sounds about right.

It seems unlikely that Mr. 4Real will be on the short list for the Nobel Prize in Physics anytime soon. I see him as a caddie driving old men in 4somes on the golf course by day, getting high behind the bunker at night. Eventually he might meet a sweetie named 2tsie and they will see if there is chemistry to go with the mathematics. Maybe he will have a song written about him someday, preferably by folk-ster Arlo Guth3.

Still, the government of New Zealand is way off base. Let the number crunching 4bears multiply in their own way and keep the registry division out of the equation. Regimes look ridiculous when they enforce such arbitrary silliness; they should get smart and stop acting like the bureaucrats in Get Smart. Speaking of which, 86 is sadly no longer with us, but 99 is still going strong.

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About the Author

Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator.