Once upon a time, Hestrie Cloete inspired me to write a piece for the Sunday Times Lifestyle supplement. She and her husband, Jurie Els, had invited Huisgenoot into their home to view their new progeny, a little girl. They had bestowed on the poor child the ghastly moniker of Chrizette. She would have to go through life sounding like a brand of paper serviette.
(Huisgenoot offers a rich vein to mine for those who, like me, seek the rare and transcendent joy of happening upon a truly appalling name.)
Hestrie and Jurie are not alone. It has not escaped my notice that for some reason, Afrikaans speakers tend to have a weakness for names of no formal provenance or meaning; this practice seems to be associated more with girls than boys. Also, they are fond of combination names that reflect those of both parents. The French accent aigu is horribly abused, and stuck almost everywhere (as it happens, my laptop can’t insert accents so you’ll just have to imagine them plonked willy-nilly over every innocent passing e).
Thus, in a recent issue of Huisgenoot, it was reported that a couple were in a legal battle with the surrogate mother of a child they proposed to name Leoret, a combination of Leon and Doret. (The surrogate mother wanted to name the infant Dene-with-an-accent-on-the-e, so the child is truly between a rock and a hard place.)
A few of my more recent finds include:
Old favourites include such gems as:
The endless fecundity of the awful made-up name meme is the fact that it is so simple: all you need to do is combine one of a few basic prefixes — Al, An, Liz, Dor, El, Ri, Han and Chan or Dan being common — with a few basic suffixes, usually -ize, -aan, -ette or the ubiquitous e-with-the-accent-on-it. And, voila, you have your formula.
The authors of Freakonomics delved into this subject in their chapter linking preferred names to social class. In the US, names can be strong markers of race, too. There, men called Andre, Bernard or Tyrone are almost always African-American; invented names such as LaTonya or Roshanda are, as the Freakonomics article describes them, “super black”.
The point made in Freakonomics is not that a name in itself is predictive of success in life, but that it is indicative of other factors that influence outcomes. Thus, names that are strongly black are associated with low socioeconomic status and poor education levels.
I am not aware of any study of class associations with names in South Africa, but it would be interesting to understand the significance of this phenomenon. Does a truly horrendous name preclude its bearer from becoming, say, a professor of mathematics? Does it doom a girl child to a weakness for Neil Diamond covers by Steve Hofmeyr, thatch lapas and paintings of sad clowns?
That’s a fate too horrible to imagine. Somebody should put a stop to the abuse.