28 June 2008

On the Unfortunate Naming of My Heretofore (and Likely Ever) Only Child

My son is named after a mythical Persian folkhero. You Persiophiles (if that is even a word, and a cursory Google assures me that if it isn't, it should be) out there will know who I mean as soon as I describe him briefly: kind of a cad, slept with (and impregnated) the King's daughter; never (literally) around for his son while he was growing up; a tough mother-shut-yo-mouth; loved his horse; saved Persia from the marauding Arabs. Unknowingly killed his son in battle (whoops), leading to one of those classic why-didn't-you-tell-me-you-shoulda-told-me moments mythology is rife with. Yeah, that guy.

Unfortunately I only knew a smidge about this ancient Persian rock star when I chose the name for my son. I was and am a single mom, and so I chose the name unilaterally, but I did choose it out of respect to my son's Persian heritage, and with a nod to his Persia-proud papa. I had Irish and Dutch and Lithuanian and "plain old 'merican" names on the list as well as Persian names, but when he was born he just looked so... Persian. So not-Irish. So not-Dutch. Neither "Willem" (my top pick) nor "Kieran" seemed right for this olive-skinned, black-eyed, black-haired baby.

I also threw out the Finnish names I had considered, for no reason other than I have always admired the architect Saarinens, Eero and Eliel. And I threw out Mathias, a name which had the advantage of being Dutch and having a pseudo-American nickname, and which I liked on many levels, but... my son just didn't look like a Mathias. It has since occurred to me that he does look like a "Mateus" -- the Portuguese version of this beautiful name. It has also occurred to me that I could have named him Mathias, even though he doesn't "look Dutch," but that is a story for another day.

So I threw out the Dutch, Irish, and Finnish names on my list -- the "blond" names -- and I tossed out "John" (my father's name), as well. I didn't want to name my baby Darius or Cyrus or Reza, having known too many of each over the years, but most other classical Persian names sounded too strange to my Western ears. I wanted my son to have a unique name, yes, but not to have to spend his entire life carefully enunciating and then spelling his name. So I chose the name I did partly because of the lore surrounding the name, and partly because of its straightforward spelling and ease of pronunciation. So while it's true that his name is pronounced differently by Westerners than by Middle-Easterners (a slight difference in the vowel sounds, and the syllabic emphasis), essentially the name stays the same.

And I wanted to give my son a name with a positive meaning, or in this case, a good story, which it has in spades. A super-strong warrior-hero who, with his mythic horse, successfully defends his country from foreign invaders against all odds -- what could be better?

Had I realized at the time that naming my son after the Persian "champion of champions" was the equivalent of naming him Hercules (the Greek warrior of warriors), or Cúchulainn (the equivalent Gaelic hero), I might have thought better of it. Who needs that kind of pressure? Who would name their daughter Cleopatra, unless they could know she would be grow up to be stunningly beautiful and exotic? Who wants to name their kid Plato or Aristotle or Socrates, unless they have a guarantee of future high IQ? Isn't that just a burden no kid wants or needs?

Still, my son's name is his name. It suits him; it suits his background and his unusual family situation and, last but not least, his personality. He may not be as large and imposing physically as his namesake, but he has a large spirit and an imposing personality, and I hope that will be enough to prevent him from being weighed down by the name of a champion of champions.

2 comments:

pconroy said...

So what was the name?

Lyralei said...

You can find his name here:

http://www.theshahnameh.com/

(Not trying to make you do extra work, pconroy, just trying to stay reasonably anonymous to Google searches. I guarantee I am the only American single mom living in Germany with a kid with this name.)