Thursday 7 January 2016

Small but perfectly formed

We've just returned from a voyage across the sea to England to visit with the rellies. The star attraction was the new grand-daughter, hereinafter called GD2, who was launched into the world a very few days before her great-grandmother slipped out of it.  I'm sorry they never got to smell each other, but at least, through the wonders of Skype, the younger one could be seen from afar. She was given her first name, in the normal Western way, by her parents. In 1800, a dozen given names accounted for almost all people in England.  Mary (24%) and John (22%) were the most common names for boys and girls, but the top ten names were used by 82% and 85% of girls and boys respectively. No child is called Mary or John anymore, and the distribution is much flatter: at The Institute, it's rare to have two people in a lab-section [N=18] with the same name. The fashion now is for names that were unknown 200 years ago: Brett and Chesney; Dylan and Errigal.  At least those sound like the name you could give to a person (or a horse, indeed); celebrities and others seem to give damn-fool names to their children simply to shock their parents: Frou-frou, Tinkerbelle, Plum-duff. They should rather look to the future and imagine how much unwonted attention a really bizarre name is going to bring down on the head of their offspring, as it gets flushed down the toilet at primary school.  For the last 40 years I've been awed by a woman I heard on the wireless years ago, who changed her name to "Veranda Porch" pour épater la bourgeoisie.  And The Beloved's oldest sister did cold-call telephone-selling for a while a few years ago and was advised to pick a pseudonym, so that she could be clearly identified but could walk away from the job at the end of the day.  She chose "Attracta Looney".

ANNyway, back to GD2, who was given a second name a week ago by a couple of Buddhist monks, originally from Sri Lanka. The child's mother was brought up in Northern England in the Buddhist tradition and they have a naming ceremony which has less water than a Christian baptism but an equivalent focus on inducting the newest member into the community. I like the idea that two bhikkhus [those who live attentively, are present, dignified and irreproachable, containing mere desires and emotions, and restfully  patient in all circumstances] unrelated to the child get to choose a 'spiritual' name as an timeless counter-balance to what the parents pick. Sumedhā as you ask: meaning Great Wisdom. No pressure, kidder!

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