Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Irish-American Nomenclature

When my wife learned she was pregnant with our second child about forty weeks ago (thanks, EPT!), she hoped that we'd have a girl. There were two main reasons for this: 1) We already had a boy. 2) She already had picked out a name for a girl. Those seemed like good enough reasons for me, so I backed my wife despite my misgivings about having to raise a girl. BACKGROUND: I had six sisters, five of whom at one time or another had been a major pain in my neck. The prospect of having to raise a girl of my own frightened me silly.

When the ultra-sound indicated the presence of a penis on the fetus, I was relieved beyond words. The problem arose of having to find another name for a boy; the result of our search may turn out to be the biggest mistake of my son's life.

We wanted another strong Irish name like our first son's; we came up with Cullen. We didn't settle on it right away; we needed a good middle name to go with it. We decided to emulate my parents' example; they gave my younger brother my father's father's name for his middle name. Cullen Terence it would be. We very soon thereafter had to reconsider it.

I haven't exactly been living under a rock, but when I found out about Edward Cullen (et alia), I felt like maybe I had. [I offer here a preemptive apology to all of you "Twilight" fans: I'm sorry I don't share your enthusiasm for it.] My wife and I were pulling into a parking space at one of our local national pharmacies; I spotted a bumper sticker on somebody's rear windshield (?) which read," WARNING! I drive like a Cullen!" The reference was totally lost on us; I had to inquire of the driver just what it meant. The teenage girl riding shotgun replied, with just a hint of disbelief in her voice, "Edward Cullen. You know, from Twilight." She offered no further explanation, and I didn't ask for any, which has left me still wondering what it really means to drive like a Cullen.

I had heard some buzz somewhere about a lot of hype for and interest in some novels and movies in a series generally called "Twilight." My understanding was that it involves vampires and/or werewolves and/or some such other crap that fails to pique my interest in the least. [I reiterate my earlier apology.] It is not that I lack the literacy or the imagination for it; it just doesn't work for me. When I realized that I was about to give my son the same name as some niche pop culture hero (or something), I was devastated.

I knew then that I could not possibly go with "Cullen" any more. In my sick and twisted mind, I figured we might just as well name our son Vlad, Lestat, Nosferatu or Count Chocula. To me, it was no matter that the name had been established for centuries before its unfortunate bastardization through its inclusion in vampire stories. The deliberation then began.

I did not want my son burdened with a name that became trendy in America because it was in a somewhat popular movie. I envisioned him enduring no end of teasing about it. I hadn't had the same reservations about naming my first son Brendan, after my brother, because it was good and Irish. Even though Brendan had just recently cracked the top 100 most popular (boys?) names, it was not because of a vampire story. Besides, Brendan Fraser is a much better actor than, say, Nicholas Cage and Keanu Reeves, combined! (and at least mummies really exist). I had to find an acceptable alternative.

My wife suggested Riordan; we both rejected it because it sounded wrong (or gay, even though we both know and love people who are homosexual). I suggested that we use one of the traditional Gaelic spellings of Cullen, such as Chullain or Chulain or Chulainn. We rejected that idea because of the confusion it might cause; we did not want our son to be lumped into the same category as "Lemonjello" (pronounced Le mon gel o) or "Asshole" (Ash a lee) or "La-A" (La Dash Uh). We thought about it some more and concluded that we should not let what other people might think interfere in naming our son. Riordan could be acceptable, as could Cullen. We opted for Cullen because it was our original choice.

The reason I'm writing this post is to get it down on the record that my wife and I did not name our son after Twilight's Edward (or any other) Cullen. If anyone ever tries to claim otherwise, my son can use this as proof. However vivid my imagination may be, I can't make this kind of stuff up.

Epilogue: When my wife called to schedule Cullen's first post-natal doctor's visit, she found out how prescient people like me can seem, when we constantly point out the obvious and almost always get it right. The receptionist said, "That's--Cullen?" then added, under her breath but audibly, "Like the vampire." My wife bristled, "WHAT???" The receptionist replied, "You know, from Twilight." My wife retorted, "NO! I don't know!" The receptionist tried to save face by saying something about her coworker was just saying how everyone's naming their kids Cullen and how it's a good, strong Irish name and how it's gonna make the top 100 list...


Dana said...

I'm kind of oblivious to celebrities generally. When I chose Cameron's name I had THREE primary concerns - that it went well with James (my father's name and Cam's middle name - that it have the potential for a decent nickname (he can go with Cam or CJ) and that it NOT be a name that could be given to a boy or a girl (transgender?) as I grew up with one of those names and HATED it. Lo and behold, Cameron Diaz. I think I *was* living under a rock!

Lieutenant Ilia said...

I would have suggested Cian (pronounced Key-an) had I known you were looking for another strong Irish name. Cian is what my coworker in Ireland named his son. So, if there's anyone out there in Captain Corkyland who is looking for *another* strong Irish first name to use for their incoming (outgoing?) kid, there you have it.