Name calling

Proposed legislation would prevent parents from naming children in a way that could embarrass them.

Zerubbabel 520 (photo credit: Chaim Collins)
Zerubbabel 520
(photo credit: Chaim Collins)
Iknow just one Zerubbabel (or Zrubavel, as they say around here.) He’s not only old, he’s a dinosaur. The gentle giant is a model resident of the beautiful gardens of Jerusalem’s Natural History Museum.
He bears no resemblance I can think of to the man who led the Jews out of Babylonian captivity to build the Second Temple.
It is, perhaps, a strange way for his name to live on, but the original Zerubbabel might have to make do with gestures like this if a bill submitted to the Knesset by MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi), chairman of the Committee for Children’s Rights, passes.
Zerubbabel – the name, not the dinosaur – starred in the headlines of Yediot Aharonot and other news outlets earlier this month when it appeared on a blacklist proposed by the undoubtedly well-intentioned parliamentarian.
The aim of the bill, which has the backing of Yitzhak Kadman, director of the National Council for Children’s Welfare, is to prevent suffering to the offspring of parents who want to give them a name that will embarrass them or make them the source of ridicule.
Under its provisions, the Interior Ministry registrar would have the right to refer such parents first to a panel, including a psychologist, who would explain the possible ramifications.
Then, either the parents would succeed in persuading the authorities that the name is justified, or the authorities would be considered justified in barring them from proceeding with their choice.
Given that Jewish boys are named eight days after birth, I hope the bureaucratic procedure won’t take too long.
Actually, I hope there won’t be action at all – not everything, after all, needs to be regulated and controlled by legislation.
THIS WOULD not be the first country to ban certain names. A few years ago, researching a different story, I came across a BBC report of a couple in New Zealand who were forced to change their plans to call their kid 4Real – because it started with a digit. They reportedly settled for Superman instead.
At university, I was friendly with one of a great number of Claudias from Argentina who explained that the authorities there have a list from which parents can select a name, but since a large number have Catholic connotations, the Jewish families tend to pick from a more limited choice.
Incidentally, today the Israeli interior minister does have the right to reject a name if, for instance, it could be considered offensive or insulting to any religion.
Orlev’s bill (Bill? Does that not ring a bell?) blocks the most outlandish possibilities, such as Hamor (donkey) and even Adolf (after the one whose name should blotted out). This sort of name calling can obviously lead to childhood traumas, although in schools, everywhere, kids get lumbered with worse nicknames no matter the best intentions of their parents. If by some remote chance you can’t think of your own example, take it from me: More thought needs to go into what a name will be rhymed with.
I’m not sure that a law would help in most cases. Perhaps the registrars could be on the lookout for potentially abusive parents in general. The sort of person who calls his kid after an entire soccer team, for example, is hardly likely to show particularly good parenting skills in other fields. I mean the whole team, of course. I don’t think the Clintons had the football club in mind when they named their daughter Chelsea, but there are probably some crazy Arsenal fans out there who could take offense. At least 36 of them were crazy enough, according to the BBC report, to name their own children Arsenal. Given the meaning of the first syllable with British pronunciation, I am almost tempted to say there should be a law against it.
On the other hand, Israeli parents are becoming particularly creative and it does not necessarily harm a child to be the only one with a certain name in school.
When a friend named her daughter Shlomzion a few years ago, many of us raised our eyebrows, but today we couldn’t imagine a rose sweeter by any other you know what.
Some names are a matter of fashion: This is “a generation that knew not Joseph,” as my own son can testify. And what to do with Yoram, once a perfectly acceptable boy’s name and now a synonym for a nerd? Perhaps you can’t have every Tom, Dick and Harry doing what they like with names (particularly Dick, under the circumstances), but it should be a matter of convention, not legislation.
The time is still not ripe for a boy named Sue, like the one Johnny Cash sang about.
Incidentally, my family used to know a Sue who had her own problems when she moved here: The Hebrew letters “samech vav” when she signed her name looked like the number 10 – New Zealand would never stand for it.
If Orlev wants to preserve his own good name, he could invest his considerable skills in more reasonable battles. And, by the way, I know I’m not the first person to note that for an MK with the first name Zevulun to say that Zerubbabel is outdated sounds very much like the pot calling the kettle black.