Thursday, June 21, 2007

Should New Zealand Couple Be Allowed to Name Their Kid "4Real"?

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
- From Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Walter (Gib) Gibson (John Cusack): Elliot? You're gonna name the kid Elliot? No, you can't name the kid Elliot. Elliot is a fat kid with glasses who eats paste. You're not gonna name the kid Elliot. You gotta give him a real name. Give him a name. Like Nick.
Alison Bradbury (Daphne Zuniga): Nick?
Walter (Gib) Gibson (John Cusack): Yeah, Nick. Nick's a real name. Nick's your buddy. Nick's the kind of guy you can trust, the kind of guy you can drink a beer with, the kind of guy who doesn't mind if you puke in his car.
- An exchange in the 1985 film "The Sure Thing," written by Steve Bloom and Jonathan Roberts and directed by Rob Reiner

According to a Yahoo!/AP article I read today, authorities in New Zealand have prevented a couple, Pat and Sheena Wheaton, from naming their baby "4Real." After recovering from my explosion of laughter, I thought to myself, "Where do I come down on this?" (other, of course, than concluding that people in New Zealand clearly do not have many real problems if they are spending time on this issue).

On the one hand, the First Amendment supporter in me feels like the couple has a right to express themselves however they want. If parents can name their children "Hope," "Faith" and "Chastity," what is the problem with "Real" (with a "4" in front of it)? It's not like they tried to name the kid "War," "Douchebag" or "Dick Cheney."

Little 4Real would join a rich pantheon of crazy names that have entertained me over the years. As a child in 1980, I couldn't stop laughing and telling everyone I knew when I heard that basketball player Lloyd B. Free had legally changed his name to World B. Free. I learned the tough lesson that name changing could be bad when 1970s Nebraska running back I.M. Hipp announced he wanted to be known as Isaiah. Sure, it was his real first name, but to take away the enjoyment of hearing the name I.M. Hipp on broadcasts from a child like me was just cruel. While not his actual name, running back Rod Smart supplied the only positive thing to come from the WWE's XFL when he put He Hate Me on the name space on the back of his jersey. And, who could forget the mother of all baby names, George Costanza's desire to call his yet-to-be-conceived offspring "Seven" in honor of Yankee great Mickey Mantle.

Of course, baby 4Real is not a professional athlete or fictional, so odds are his ride would not be as smooth as those enjoyed by Free, Hipp, Smart and the unborn Costanza child. First days of school would be especially interesting: "James Walton. Do you prefer James or Jim? Timothy Weir. Do your parents call you Tim? 4Real Wheaton. Sweetheart, do you like to be called 4Real or Four?" Not to mention on the playground, when the other kids would undoubtedly say to him, "Are we going to beat the living daylights out of you today and every other day for the rest of your school life? Yes, for real."

Then again, it's not illegal for parents to set their children up for a tough life through the names they choose. It's not like a stripper can sue her parents for deciding her future by naming her Destiny, and a junior high school boy named Nimrod cannot seek personal injury damages from his parents for the brain trauma brought on by excessive beatings by his classmates.

The use of a numeral in the place of a word does pose a problem for me, since I bemoan the loss of appreciation for the language showed by parents in naming their kids. Poor Dwyane Wade, the Miami Heat basketball star, has to go through life with his first name misspelled. And I have no patience for the one-"T" Brets (like Poison lead singer Bret Michaels), one-"N" Glens (like country singer Glen Campbell), and last-letter-"I"s (singer Nanci Griffith, actress Kelli Williams and singer Danni Minogue, to name three) running around in the world. These variations to traditional names are not cute or unique, they're typos.

The 4Real situation poses an interesting dilemma. It's commendable that the authorities in New Zealand would look out for little 4Real Wheaton's health and welfare, but then again, are we doing him any favors by sending another Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Ethan or Matthew into the world (the five most common baby boy names, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration)? (In case you're wondering, the top five girls names are Emily, Emma, Madison, Isabella and Ava.) Talk about a confusing situation on the first day of school, or even the potential for danger. I can see the headline now: "Teacher Trampled to Death in Classroom," with the subhead, "Rookie instructor made mistake of asking 'Jacob and Emily' to come to her desk."

Maybe the answer is a waiting period, like when you buy a gun. Give the parents a few days to make sure they really want to start screwing up their kid's life in the first days after he or she is born, rather than waiting until the kid can actually engage in cognitive thought (like most parents). At the very least, it would give time for any legal or illegal substances clouding the parents' judgment to wear off. Because there is no doubt in my mind that the Wheatons know how to use hallucinogenics to enjoy their down time.

Apparently, for now, the dye has been cast. The Wheatons will have to find another name. I have a suggestion: They should use Seven, not for Micky Mantle, but for New Zealand rugby captain Richie McCaw. I'm guessing that in rugby-crazy New Zealand, even stoners watch the national team. And based on the Wheatons' choice of 4Real, it's safe to assume they would say that Richie just doesn't cut it. Seven is the answer. All they have to do now is fight off Costanza for it.