This week was Pet Peeves Week (which I think only exists on the Internet), and several bloggers took the opportunity to get a few of life’s little annoyances off their chest, including Ebony at Babynameobsessed.
Many name bloggers say that they started out with some naming peeves, but that continual blogging about names tended to dilute or even reverse their irritation, leaving them with a great sense of well-being and peace. Maybe a couple of years ago they couldn’t stand matchy twin names, boyish names on girls, or attention-seeking celebrity baby names, but now they think Doris and Boris as twins is cool, Frederick is actually kind of spunky on a girl, and some minor celeb calling their kid Gusty Glock requires only an amused and tolerant chuckle in response.
To an extent I can relate, but to an even bigger extent I can’t, because while blogging about names may have finished off some of my pet peeves, it has given me a whole new bunch to get annoyed by. After some twenty months of blogging, I have got quite a few things that now grate on my nerves beyond all endurance. I’ve cut it down to only the top five though, in order not to grate on yours too much.
1. Reborners who call their reborn dolls “babies”
In case you don’t know, reborn dolls are baby dolls which are incredibly lifelike in appearance – so much so that they can be mistaken for an actual baby (and have been). Reborners are hobbyists who make and/or collect reborn dolls. I don’t any problems with reborn dolls, or those who make or own them. However, I do have a problem with calling them babies. Reborn dolls are not babies. They are dolls.
Each day I ask Google to trawl through the Internet for me and bring me information tagged with the word baby, and each day I get a stack of threads from reborn dolls forums or entries from reborning blogs.
People call other things their “baby”, and it doesn’t seem to bother me. If someone writes, I’ve been riding my baby all day, I somehow immediately understand they are referring to a motorcycle, and if someone says, My poor baby had to be locked outside, I get an automatic picture in my mind that it’s a dog they’re talking about. I skim past and go on to the next item.
But when I read, I sold my first baby on eBay!, My baby’s leg fell off and I can’t reattach it, or I just rooted my baby’s head (if not Australian, check slang guide as to why that’s so disturbing), I practically have a heart attack. Even knowing they mean a doll, I can’t stop the racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, nausea, and instinctive need to phone the police I’d feel if it was a real baby I was reading about.
I’ve asked Google to eliminate the words doll and reborn from the search, but of course, they don’t call their dolls “dolls”, they call them “babies”. Unless a baby poos, wees, needs to be fed, and wakes you up in the night, it’s not a baby, it’s a doll. Call it by its correct name.
2. Celebrity pregnancy stories in the media that go nowhere
When a story appears in the press announcing that a celebrity (or celebrity’s partner) is pregnant, I add them to my watchlist and ask Google to e-mail me when the baby is announced. Then months and months go by, and no baby story appears. Half the time I have to stalk them on Twitter to find out what the baby was called, and often I end up in a dead end.
I can’t see the point of teasing us with a celebrity pregnancy if we don’t get to find out if the baby is born and what its name is. I don’t know why they do this, but it’s very annoying. Follow through on celebrity pregnancies, newspapers!
3. The notion that baby names need to be short and simple, otherwise they will be too hard for children to spell when they reach school-age
This advice is constantly handed out, by parents on forums and even on professional baby name sites. It has to be the most depressing advice ever. Your poor baby isn’t even born yet, and already you are being told it will probably be too stupid to reach normal literacy levels by the age of five, and you’d better dumb its name right down.
I notice with further despondency that names for boys seem to be especially prone to this line of thought. Apparently girls can handle having a long name like Anastasia or Penelope, but a boy named Demetrius or Sebastian won’t be able to cope, and it’s better to call him something like Max or Liam.
We’re always being told that boys tend to lag behind girls in communications skills, and urged to make more effort to get our sons interested in reading and writing. Children tend to perform to expectation, and I can’t help but wonder if setting low goals for them while they’re still in the womb is the way to improve things.
Short names are great. Short names can be spunky and cool. If you choose a short, simple name for your baby, fantastic – as long as you do so because you love the name, and not because you think that’s all your idiot child can manage.
4. The father-son rule in Australian Rules Football
The AFL has a rule that the son of a senior player can be immediately recruited to the same club his father played for. The good news is that when a star player has a baby boy, it’s cause for enormous celebration and congratulations. The bad news is that when he has a baby girl, it is, at best, a big “meh”.
So often the names of footballer’s babies are not announced in the press, and when that happens, I know in my bones he had a daughter. Sadly, this always turns out to be true. If the media isn’t too interested, fans can be positively vicious to a newborn daughter of a man without sons.
Often the kindest comment you will read in fan forums is Better luck next time. I have read, not once or twice, but again and again, What a waste of good sperm, Throw it away and try again, If it has a [profane word for female genitalia] we don’t give a [profane], and the chilling, Maybe we can still breed from it.
I have found myself in tears of rage at these revolting comments; I can’t imagine what the parents’ reactions would be, and I hope they never read them. There may be many benefits to the father-son rule; frankly I don’t really care as the results of it are so sickening. Celebrating boys shouldn’t have to mean ignoring and denigrating girls.
5. Writers who pick bad names for their characters
Not everyone on a name website is looking for a name for their child – many are just interested in names and language in general, and there are lots of budding authors who want advice on picking character names.
Unfortunately, most of the time the way they pick character names is terrible. One of the most common clangers they make is to ask for a name “that means something”. I’m writing a story about a ballerina, and I need a name that means “dancer”. So her parents deliberately gave her a name meaning dancer, to make her become a dancer, and then it happened? If it worked that way, we’d all be calling our kids High Court Judge or Lottery Winner.
Another no-no is a character name which gives away what’s going to happen. I’m writing a fantasy story about a boy who ends up being able to control fire, what’s a name that means “fire” or “flame”? It’s not going to come as a huge shock to the reader if the character is basically called Mister Fireball, and then, amazingly, he turns out to be able to spit fireballs at will. It would seem pretty unlikely that a parent would give their kid a name with a particular meaning, and then by some astounding turn of fate, their name is what they become. Seriously, how many boys named Aidan do you know who possess a mystical power over fire?
My biggest peeve is probably when the character’s name is an obvious description of their personality, usually with protagonists given names meaning “kind”, “innocent”, “brave” and so on, while the bad guys end up with names meaning “cruel”, “evil”, or “slimy”. What parent would give their child a name which means “evil”? They would have to be so sick that if the person did end by going a bit wrong, you could only sympathise with them and put it down to the burden of being named Devious. If the heroine is called Pure Sweetangel, and her childhood pal is called Creepy Nastypants, any normal reader is going to be expecting that Creepy will turn out a bit of a rotter.
That’s the problem with naming characters – they shouldn’t look like an author named them, they should look as if their parents named them. Because that’s how people get named – by their parents. In other words, if your heroine is a sweet, simple girl, but her parents are pretentious jerks, then she won’t have a sweet simple name, but a pretentious jerky one. If she doesn’t, then you’ve got to explain why not (sweet simple godmother picked the name, family name handed down to every third daughter that’s left-handed, whatever).
Name your character the way a person is named, and then your character will seem like a person, not a character. Because no good reader wants to read a book peopled by characters. And you should only be writing for good readers. Bad readers have enough authors writing for them already.