What’s in a Name?

There is a family in northeast Pennsylvania who wanted the bakery at their local ShopRite supermarket to make a cake for their son and they were upset that the store refused to put their child’s name in the frosting. They went public thinking that they would get some sympathy–all they wanted, after all, was for their son to celebrate his birthday as other children do–but the compassion wasn’t forthcoming. Clearly this is one of those stories that necessitates an understanding of ALL of the facts. So here they are:  the child’s name is Adolph Hitler Campbell. (Pictured in the photo is JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, Adolph’s younger sister, and the father.)  Keep in mind that “Adolph Hitler” is just a name; nothing more than a unique vocalization that creates a sound that others can recognize as descriptor for, in this case, another person. But most of us don’t look at it like this particular name because attached to the sound of Adolph Hitler are some very dark associations.

This reminds me that Adolph is one of those names that has been pretty much stricken from the list of options in all but white supremacist communities. It used to be a pretty common German name, and a nice one at that.  But the actions of one man ruined it for all of the future Adolphs of the world.  Osama is another, unless you run with certain crowds. And while many Hispanics name their boys Jesus, how many English speakers refer to their son by the same name as the being who Christians consider to be the “Son of God”?  “Come up here Jesus and clean your room like I told you.” That sounds like the start of a good joke.  Why does that somehow work in one culture but not another?  Nobody thinks twice about Jesus the Mexican taxi driver or Krishna the Indian waiter.

Like the fish that can’t comprehend the water that is all around it, most of us miss the chance to see the funny and ironic connections between names and meanings in our own culture.  If I said that Bulgarians are prone to naming one another after trees and that Oak, Maple, Hickory, and Pine were particularly popular, most of us would think this odd since we don’t do it in our culture.  But 19th and 20th century English speakers in both North America and Great Britain commonly named their children after flowers such as Rose, Violet, Daisy, Lily, Iris, and Hyacinth.  And along with old school names like Hazel and Hannah and Emma, little girls are once again receiving such flowery monikers.
So below is an article on the unique names that many Zimbabweans give their children.  Their creativity is reminiscent of Native Americans and names such as Huata (which means Carrying Seeds in a Basket) or Kaliska (which means Coyote Chasing Deer).  Both are from the Miwok Tribe — who appear to be particularly creative as compared to people who name their children Bob and Bill and Sue.
I guess I’m struck by how many names have some deeper meaning that has been lost along the way, and how often do we find things of other cultures funny and strange when we could see the same phenomenon in our own way of life — if we were interested enough to look.  Check out the article and then reflect on how often you find the names of others odd.
Samuel, by the way, means “one who is heard by God.”


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  • 1st Amendment says:

    So, I’m surfing the blog for responses to write about when my eyes stick to two particular words at the top of the page, Adolf Hitler. I’m guessing I had the same reaction as most when I thought, “Whaaat!?” After reading the story, I learned that two parents from New Jersey had named their child Adolf Hitler. When they went to buy a birthday cake for the little boy who was turning three, the supermarket refused to personalize the cake with his name on it. I mean, it’s bad enough for a kid to be named some strange name, but to be named after a man that’s considered the essence of evil–that is nothing but cruelty on the parents part. They can have their beliefs, but don’t let the children suffer because of them. It just shows the parents stupidity, if you ask me. What were they thinking? Hoping to get on Jerry Springer? The sisters of this boy have names almost as bad, JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell, SMH! Assumptions are going to be made about this child until he is old enough to legally change it, which I’ll bet money that he will as soon as he can!Now, I’ve heard of celebrities giving their children absolutely insane names. In fact, there was even a show on VH1 called “Awesomely Wacky Celebrity Baby Names” dedicated to broadcasting the most outrageous and ridiculous celebrity baby names. But now the trend has extended to middle-class Americans too? In my opinion, the trend of crazy celebrity baby names all started with Gwyneth Paltrow naming her daughter “Apple” in 2004. Everyone was so shocked that she would name her child after a fruit. The madness had only just begun, I’m afraid. We’ve got Nicole Kidman’s child, Sunday, Nicholas Cage’s son, Kal-El (it’s a bird. it’s a plane!), and Jason Lee’s son Pilot Inspektor. Oh and I forgot about Michaels kid BLANKET, WTF?! Sure, these people are weighed down by their pocket-loads of money but shouldn’t they also be weighed down with the guilt of naming their own flesh and blood these horrific names? I honestly think that these celebrities are trying to outdo each other now. So, who takes home first prize in this messed-up contest of who can name their child the most ridiculous name? None other than Sarah Palin. She takes the cake with the naming of her five children. Track, Trig, Bristol, Willow and Piper. I feel so sorry for these kids. At least they’ll have body guards to protect them from the bullies that will pick on them because of their stupid names.