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Wednesday, 11 July 2012

How to choose a baby name...democratically

This was written for my personal blog and is reproduced here as it is both promoting democracy and celebrating a new life.


As I've very recently become a new dad, in the next few months or so I might reflect on parenthood more than a little!

I would like to thank everyone on twitter, some who I know well and some less well, for all your kind congratulatory messages yesterday after I announced the arrival of baby Xanthe. 

Somebody noted that "Xanthe is such an ACE name" and inevitably conversation turned to how we picked it.  When I explained how we named her, someone else commented "if that's true, that's almost as cool as the name itself!"  Intrigued?

We were told at our second ultrasound scan that our expected child was a girl.  I've been naturally suspicious of such predictions since my little "brother" turned out to be a little sister all the way back in 1991, so I didn't feel a sudden urgency to have the bedroom decorated pink - but obviously we needed to start thinking about potential names.

Actually, we'd given some thought to names in the recent past.  It would have been much easier for a boy in some respects.  Given my background, I like Gaelic names and eastern European names (my grandfather was Polish) but Anna is less keen on them, especially when she can't even spell Ciorstaidh or Agnieszka never mind pronounce them.  She prefers "pretty" names, although the name meanings are also quite important to her.  Needless to say we found it a bit difficult to agree, although with a little help from a book of names we managed to create a list of 19 names we both liked.

We decided that we would allow our family and some close friends to vote for our baby's name.  Democracy can sometimes produce undesirable outcomes but as we thought each of the names was perfectly good, it seemed an excellent way to have people involved in our child's life from even before she was born.  Additional benefits were also knowing what names people didn't like and being able to share with our child in the future the choices her whole family made for her.  Obvious secondary advantages include the knowledge that if - when she is older - she doesn't like her name, we have the evidence with which to blame Grandad and Auntie Suzie.

Most importantly, we wanted to involve people who are close to us - and not least to make them feel involved.   After all, they're going to play important roles in our child's life, so why shouldn't they have a say?

Of course, questions were raised between us about which electoral system should be used and what the terms of the franchise should be.  Debate raged about whether STV or AV was better (we eventually settled for the preferential system used in the Eurovision song contest, how very me!) and how old people should be before they should vote.  That was settled quite easily: anyone who can write the numbers 1 to 8 is perfectly equipped to vote.  And so everyone in our family aged from 5 upwards was sent a pink ballot form.

I must say that most people were more than happy to take part in democratically choosing the name!  The children seemed far more excited than expected, and indeed some were so thrilled by their first experiences of democracy that they can't wait to vote in a "proper" election.   Interestingly, the children seemed to get the idea of preferential voting much easier than some of their elders did.  They were also very excited about knowing the outcome and analysing the results in astonishing depth (I suspect we have some future psephologists and statisticians in the family). 

We also received some very nice messages from the voters, the highlight I think being this: "How wonderful to allow us to pick your daughter's name...this is a lovely idea and Keanu [6 year old boy] was excited picking names.  All the best." 

As is perhaps to be expected with preferential voting systems, strange and unexpected results can be thrown up.  Names we thought would do well did not, while others we considered to be a bit adventurous and less likely to do well proved very popular.  After everyone had made their choices the most popular six names were:

1) Xanthe   2) Emma   3=) Rebekah   3=) Heidi   5) Aaliyah   6) Charlotte

It wasn't necessarily the case that we would go with the most popular name, especially when there were very few points separating the top handful.  I have to admit preferring Heidi or Emma but eventually we agreed to abide by the express verdict of the voters!

My brother asked me "did you know you've named your daughter after a Greek football team?"  Well, there is a team (and a town) called Xanthi, but surely Xanthe is a much more unique name than Chelsea, Charlton, Everton or other clubs children sometimes share their names with.  Of course Xanthe is a Greek name, the meaning of which is "bright".  I'm pretty sure she'll live up to this in more ways than one.

So, that's the story of how we used democracy to select our girl's name.  The outcome was not what we expected, but it was terrific to have so many people involved and interested - and quite exciting tallying up the points as the forms gradually came in.  I suspect we're not going to carry the democratic principle into every aspect of our parenting though - I'm a liberal, but not that kind of liberal!

3 comments:

cynicalHighlander said...

How to choose a baby name...democratically

I understand what you are trying to say but by using the word 'democraticaly' demeans its true intention. What you have done is linked democracy within a closed family society, Westminster, which is not democracy in the true concept.

What I am trying to get across is that democracy is used very flippantly within the UK and outside as if by voting once or every few years that that is democracy which it is not.

You and your partner were either very brave or not to fussed in the outcome as long as the answer fitted within certain parameters. Democracy?

Congratulations by the way and trust all is well.

For info only.
Liberal Democrats For Scottish Independence

Andrew said...

Firstly, thanks for the link to that group!

As for what "democracy" is - well it works on both small and larger scales. In this case about 50 or so members of our family and friends were asked to make a decision, but it was about more than that. We WANTED to involve them, for them to FEEL involved, and for us all to come together to do something for our (as then) unborn child. In one sense it was purely symbolic and the act of having everyone take part was more important than the outcome. That active involvement, at least, is something we want to continue to be the case throughout our child's life - made more important by the fact that a lot of our family live long distances away from us. We were sending out an invitation (as well as a signal that we welcome our family and friends being an important part of her life).

I'm not sure how I'm linking this in any way to Westminster, any more than I could be said to be linking it to Holyrood, or local government.

Of course all families are closed to a point and I was not suggesting that I was establishing a model that parliamentary democracy should follow! Similarly, it would have been ridiculously inappropriate to have extended involvement in choosing our baby's name beyond people who were close to us. That would have demeaned what we were trying to do.

I agree with you that democracy is far more than voting in an election, and that our societal appreciations of what democracy is are sadly deficient.

Of course democracy is more than making one choice every once in a while. It is about empowering people to have a greater say. In that respect, I hold that this was a pretty "democratic" thing to do and its objectives went beyond simply achieving a collective decision. As for "parameters" - well, ask 50 people what name they like without them and you'll get 50 different responses!

Anyway, don't take this too seriously! It's just one of my eccentric things I often do that I decided to share with the world!

cynicalHighlander said...

Anyway, don't take this too seriously!

We keep getting told daily by MPs and the MSM that we live in a 'Democracy' which gets my goat and when people use it to justify their actions I am inclined to jump down their throats, so accept my apologies for your well intentioned actions.