"If it’s a boy we should call him Nemo,” my husband suggested, referring to the book’s renegade submarine Captain.
Keep in mind, this was two years before the Disney film Finding Nemo, and I’d never heard the name before, but I was smitten. Not only did it sound strong and commanding, symbolising what we wanted for our child (he’ll be an explorer, forging his own path!) but I’ve always been a big fan of unusual monikers.
Call me crazy, but as the only Christina I knew growing up, I revelled in my uniqueness and never wanted my children to be one of five in their class.
Many parents see that as a positive thing—they’ll never get teased, they’ll always fit in—and the protective parent in me totally gets that. But I didn’t want my child to just fit in. I wanted him to hold his own and, if he did get bullied (as so many gleefully assured us he would), learn to stand up for himself and bounce back.
I was here to teach my child strength and resilience, not make decisions based on fear and “what ifs”. Besides, we live in the hippie hinterland of a place called Byron Bay where names like Lotus and Maayan are almost ho-hum.
Cut to three months later and no one we knew bat an eyelid when we named our newborn Nemo. No one, that is, except my mum. It wasn’t so much the name that had her spooked, it was the spelling (it’s ‘omen’ spelt backwards in case you hadn’t noticed).
We promptly changed it to ‘Nimo’ and that was that.
Or so we thought.
Two years later a famous clownfish swam onto our screens and the name took on a whole new resonance. Vocal critics suddenly thought it was “cute!”, our toddler became King of the Kids at kindie and we even appeared in the local newspaper.
Yet my husband and I were aghast. Not only would people assume we’d named our son after a Disney character (the horror! the irony!) but Pixar had irrevocably changing its meaning from commanding to… cute?!
We didn’t see that one coming.
Naming your child can be fraught
You never know how people are going to react or what’s around the corner. There’s a girl at Nimo’s school whose parents must have had the very best intentions when they named her after the mythical goddess Isis.
If, like us, you dare to be creative or original, there’s always someone, somewhere, who’ll scoff and tell you how “cruel” you’re being or how “they’ll never become Prime Minister with that name, you know!”
And once upon a time they had a point. Pre-2009, several highly publicised studies showed that people naturally discriminated in favour of those with common names, both in the classroom and at work.*1
Well not any more, folks. A 2016 study found no evidence that employers discriminate anymore based on names.*2 Thanks to globalisation and the growth of white collar jobs, there’s been a societal rise in ‘individualism’ which means less of us are picking one of the Top 20 names for our kids.*3
Where once we chose names based on popularity, tradition, religion, ideology or aspirations (names like Joseph Jr, William and Grace), we’re increasingly choosing quirky names or, heaven forbid, quirky spelling.
And we can thank the likes of Cameron Diaz, Oprah Winfrey and Barack—who says you need a traditional name to be Top Dog?—Obama. Interestingly, researchers claim the US President has created “the Obama effect”, inspiring more parents to give their babies ethnic-sounding names.*4
The fact is we all have different motives for naming our kids, and it’s this difference that makes society so rich. Whatever you decide on, it should be done with the best intentions, needs to work whether they’re four or 40, and it wouldn’t hurt to choose a benign middle name should you be thwarted by Hollywood or foreign terrorists (Nimo has Jacob to fall back on).
While we chose a more traditional name for our second son, Felix, I wouldn’t change Nimo’s name if I had my time over, but perhaps we should ask the person who’s had to live with it for 16 years.
“I like my name,” Nimo assures me. “People always remember it. Some think it’s cool and some think it’s weird but I don’t really care what they think. I’m just glad you didn’t call me something boring. I like being unique.”
Aye aye Captain!