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12 Mar Written by  Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

A Brief History of Failed Namings

The first child from among my merry band of friends has just arrived. We are happy; making jokes, offering congratulations. Maybe we should also offer condolences to the wife and mother for being saddled with two versions of an impish being, but we want to be politically correct; at least for now. That may change in time.

Now in the spirit of the affability a childbirth is supposed to impose on new parents, I asked that my name be given to the kid. Oris: easy; two syllables; a light load in these heavy times. My friend, forever the effacing imp, said the kid’s grandparents will want to know the name’s meaning.

“Well I can supply you with meaning.”

No response; the first sign of reluctance.

It was time to concede. I’d prefer the kid gets my first name, but I tell him: “In any case, he can have my middle name.”

He murmured something about liking my middle name, Kelvin. But this was his version of passive-aggressive, uttered in his patent style of pacific stubbornness. It won’t happen.

My second concession was of defeat: my name would remain mine, unshared.

Over the last few years, as people I have known— friends, classmates, relations— entered into wedlock, I have lobbied a dozen times for the bestowal of my name on a fresh swaddled newborn. So far, so sour. The responses have been uniformly negative.

And the reasons proffered have been excuses: the kid’s grandparents would object, presumably because an outsider has taken their one (last) chance at vanity; some other relations want first refusal; old girlfriends worry about the unpredictable reactions of new husbands.

Of course these grandparents, relations and husbands are human shields. Fact is my friends, the parent I am familiar with, may not be comfortable acquiescing to the request. Especially in cases where, in the manner of human relationships, yours truly is guilty of some wrongdoing sometime in the past. And as names are by design iterative, how long till calling a kid “Oris! Oris!” recalls an unpleasant memory?

And from memory to renewed grudge isn’t too far a distance.

Philosophers ask, what’s in a name? I ask, what’s in a naming? For as long as I can remember I have tried to nickname a friend. I have failed to do so. Sponsored sobriquets aimed at me have also failed. I think this may be because my name already sounds like a nickname.

Moreover I recognise it as a masturbatory engagement, this naming business.

Done by fathers, upon children, it approaches ithyphallic proportions, and this is why the tradition thrives. In these modern times, with the surge of hyphenated wife names, the hyphen implying an un-crossable bridge, children’s names are the key to a nominal relevance. Hanif Kureishi has said “a child is a cocktail of its parents’ desires”— and the first taste of that cocktail is in what the child is called.

Naming a child may be, also, about a vague notion of immortality, that essence not promised any man. Christianity, in some form, promises it but the allure is different without the inexorable pleasures of flesh. Families with 50 year old Juniors and consisting of Richards III to XXX are examples of this notion.

Even as procreation, perhaps, approaches perpetuity, man knows having a child is different than true immortality. The biological fact is that despite the existence of “spitting images,” a child isn’t the re-creation of a single parent. True immortality is the whole, reproduced; childbearing, by contrast, produces the whole, in combination.

In essence, the child is only half each parent. And to salvage a broken conceit, a certain kind of man adds his name to the new arrival. Vain, obdurate man tries to restore what nature has halved.

On the other hand, a man’s name on another man’s kid carries a different conceit; he is aware his DNA is unrepresented therein. Yet there is, however, a lot to be said for it. It is reward without work; a reaping where you haven’t sown. His name survives a generation and he doesn’t have to clothe its bearer or wake up to its nightly screams. He has escaped the pleasure of seminal emission; but he has also escaped the responsibility of child rearing. In the long run, it is not a bad bargain.

He has hummed his way into surviving into the next generation not by being the fittest but by persuasion, by friendship, by the platonic vestiges of an ancient romance. And while it is another’s DNA represented, it is at least his name the child is called by. It is the lowest denominator, yet he has defeated Darwin.

This is especially true for owners of rare names.

And yet for all of its charms, lobbying, as I have, is work of some kind. There are people who do not have to be in personal relationships to have same. If your name goes into history books, your chance at an immortal name improves.

Take Goodluck, for example. It was always going to be that many children born in this time (that is, the time of President Jonathan) would be named Goodluck, never mind the unwieldy portmanteau-word formation of the name. Fortune, especially unearned, wins every time. Who would want to name his kid Lincoln, if the American politician didn’t successfully brachiate to the topmost beam of politics? No one, I’ll argue.

If we take it for granted that associating a man’s means and his means to that means, means much to Nigerians, then in the next generation many would be, not just Jonathanians but, literally, nominally, Jonathans; Goodlucks. Generation 'G' cometh.

The idea that will make the generation possible is that the man’s given name has contributed to his rise to eminence. That idea is rooted in the Nigerian clamour for luck, our depthless fascination with superstition. Luck, we believe, more than hard work, is important. And we may be right.

No Nigerian would name his offspring something translating into “may-your-reward-to-effort-ratio-be-unity”? Parents want to tip the providence scale from birth by giving the child (to channel a famous Pentecostalism) “sow-like-ant-reap-like-elephant.” Or “may-your-profit-rise-exponentially”— well, that is if an equivalent for ‘exponential’ exists in our languages.

We may be religious, but that isn’t quite the same thing as impartial. We select our heroes. Thus more Christians are named for Abraham— “Abraham’s blessings are mine,” as we sing— than the longsuffering Job. Of course the latter regained his possessions in manifold. But just see the odds stacked against him. And who knows how long our own plummeting faith can hold? It is for the same reason Lazarus doesn’t get many hits in the naming stakes. We are aware a death precedes every resurrection. And we’d rather just live, no matter the undeniable adventure of a resurrection.

Parents want to set kids on their way with a name announcing (and hopefully attracting) wealth: “Yes, he didn’t go to Harvard, but I named him Success.”

Of course this could backfire. I’ll avoid discussing how many female children named Beauty become armed with name-negating physical features and dimensions. Is this occurrence Nature’s way of showily demonstrating the eternal fallibility of human prophecy?

(I could be wrong: after all who says the name isn’t a tribute to inner beauty?)

Because I imagine that, like all babies, Beauty was born nondescript. And then an overreaching aesthete of a family member, having witnessed the ugliness of poverty and aiming to overcompensate, sealed her fate by bestowing the name.

Lesson to be learned here: Aim low, name the kid Mercy and hope Nature grants same.

But we never learn. We strive. I know because I am still striving to get a friend or family to do the right thing, to reverse those words told me again and again:

“Thanks but no, Oris. In this house there’ll be no Oris.”

Dog