Noelle McCarthy: Social ridicule for life in one easy step

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Poor old Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii. What a handle. Easy to pull off if you happen to be, say, the onboard entertainment on a Pacific Island seniors cruise, less so if you're a 9-year-old girl from the 'Naki.

The colossal self-indulgence that inflicted that eight-barrel shocker on little Talula was enough to tip a Family Court judge in New Plymouth over the edge this week. He attacked the parents in question for making a fool of their daughter and setting her up for a lifetime of social ridicule.

The intellectual titans in question deserve his censure and his scorn. They saddled their child with a name you wouldn't give a Barbie doll, and in the process have shown themselves guilty of, at best, a chronic lack of foresight, at worst, a level of stupidity bordering on the criminal.

Of course we're more or less inured to outlandish monikers nowadays. For this, as for so many other things in life, we have our 21st century obsession with celebrity to thank.

They take up large tracts of our time and attention with their endlessly fascinating, perpetually knickerless exploits, but they give so much back. We learn so much from our favourite stars. They teach us the right jeans to wear, and other important things, like how the genocide in Darfur is bad and how to wear slogan T-shirts to stop it.

Stars also set the example when it comes to giving mad names to children. The practice had its apogee in the early 90s when the combined efforts of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore resulted in a Rumer, a Scout and the original Tallulah. The first Tallulah was minus a Hula though; she came with a Belle.

In saddling their brood with a brace of crazy Christian names, Bruce and Demi were simply following a long-cherished Hollywood tradition as the likes of Dweezel Zappa and Satchel O Sullivan-Allen can attest. The latter, a son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, now goes by the name of Seamus.

Over the Atlantic, the practice of nutty naming was spearheaded by Bob Geldof and Paula Yates, latterly assisted by one Michael Hutchence. The work of this triumvirate means it is no longer possible to turn a hair when introduced to a Fifi-Trixibelle, a Peaches or a Tiger Lilly of the genus Heavenly Hiraani. The first two names have lately been shown to set young women up admirably for a career in falling over fences and passing out publicly, if the British tabloid press is anything to go by.

Which would seem to be Judge Rob Murfitt's point exactly. We do not simply name children to ensure they come when they're called. We name children to give them an identity.

There are a myriad of different rituals and traditions associated with naming. In some African cultures the name is first whispered into the baby's ear, secretly, because a newborn should be the first to know his or her name. In other cultures, young people don't get their names until they reach puberty and the naming marks the transition from childhood to adult life. In the Jewish faith, a boy is named officially when he is circumcised on the eighth day after his birth.

In Chinese cultures, names are believed to reflect the character of a person and great care is taken to choose wisely when naming infants. Not so many Benson and Hedges there then.

When I was growing up in Catholic Ireland, saints' names were mostly the go, unsurprisingly. Which was fine in most cases for the Thomases and Kierans and Thereses and Brigids, but less salubrious perhaps for the two Assumptas and one poor Concepta we had at our school.

That is not to say that names aren't a matter for serious consideration among secular folk as well. One of the sweeter things about being surrounded by pregnant women for the past few months has been the jealous and careful way in which the mothers-to-be have guarded "their" names. They'll tell you maybe, if they really trust you, or if they want a second opinion, but mostly they keep it to themselves until the baby arrives and they can introduce the world to a new person with a new name. And mostly, that name is chosen for maximum good fortune and immediate impact.

Of course, the thing about impact is it's getting more difficult to make one. The Apples and Suris and Shilohs of the past few years have raised the bar on unusual children's names. And who doesn't want their child to be special? You can't blame parents for wanting their little Macksyne or Diesel to stand out, and for some people, throwing an extra "y" or a "k" into the mix, or even calling the little fella after an agent of combustion, might seem like a good start. But how can you not pity a little girl who's so embarrassed by her name that she keeps it secret from her friends for fear of being mocked and teased?

There's a Johnny Cash song that should be compulsory listening for parents like Talula Hula's (or "K" as the poor thing prefers to be known). It concerns the fate of a boy who went by the name of Sue ...

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