What's in a name? A whole lotta hassle, apparently.

Cristen Conger

Ever since Molly and I talked about the modern struggle of naming babies on Stuff Mom Never Told You (folks used to just point to a name in the Bible, and presto!), listener letters have steadily rolled in, commiserating with the challenge of choosing a suitable title for a new child. Take Canadian Angie's tale of picking out a name for her son:

We had to make sure that our kids' names could be pronounced in both languages. For example, I wanted to name my oldest son 'Quentin', but the pronunciation would have been butchered in French. So, we settled for Alexander as a first name, and Quentin for his middle name.

And after all that hard work, the boy just goes by Alex.

We also received a note from Jennifer Lopez -- not Jenny from the Block -- lamenting about her celebrity name twin:

Somewhere between In Living Color and Anaconda my name went from being just boring to being a disaster; I couldn't go anywhere that required making reservations, appointments, using credit cards, showing ID without inevitable oh-so-clever jokes about my pop career, my relationship with Puff Daddy / P. Diddy, or comments about the size of my (her?) derriere. I once had a doctor's office hang up on me when trying to make an appointment for Jennifer Lopez.

But the "weirdness" of names is a matter of cultural relativity, as listener Rachel, who lives in American Samoa, reminded us. Samoans may name their offspring after common phrases, holidays and events and notable people. She writes:

I have known people whose names translate in English to "Thank you, God" and "Loving other People" (which is actually the translation of my middle name!) or Springtimeinparis, Happyvalley, and Showersofblessing...I have known people named "Worldcup" (he was born during the rugby world cup finals), "Laborday," "Tausagafou" (/tao/song/ga/foe/ which means New Year), and "New York Pentagon" (born on 9/11/01)...I have witnessed children named "Amerous," "Demarahyl-cc," "Kidmanshaq," "Utopia," "Happiness," and "Soapy."

Soapy Conger doesn't sound half bad, actually. Although I'd probably end up calling him or her Bath Time or Tub or Shower Gel, and the child might develop a deep resentment for my free-associating nicknaming conventions.

Chances are, I won't pass along Cristen to my (potential) progeny since it comes with some anxiety-inducing baggage, as confirmed by a fellow Kristin:

...when I say "Hi, I'm Kristin" people immediately ask me how I spell it (and twice when I have spelled I got the reaction "ah, that's how my ex-fiance spelled it.") Apparently Kristins/Kristens/Cristens are notorious for being obsessed with the spelling of their name and rightly so. Even though my name is just about as phonetic as words go, people constantly try to change to Christian, Christine, or Christina...I have never met a Kristin who was not completely obsessed with the correct spelling of her name (and some spurned ex-fiances as well, apparently).

Now, I go ahead and spell it for people before they have a chance to botch it. But I realize it isn't their fault for not knowing the unconventional spelling. Like other folks stuck with a user-unfriendly name, I blame it on my creative parents.

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