(Xanthe, daughter of Oceanus, by Barbara Cooney.)
Last year I received a birth announcement from a friend's daughter announcing the arrival of her new baby girl; Xanthe Alexandria. The correct pronunciation of this is Zanthee, which I only discovered after a conversation with my friend.
In Greek mythology, Xanthe was a sea nymph, one of the Oceanids, the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. In ancient Greek, Xanthe means 'golden one', which has also been interpreted as blonde-haired. More likely than not, little Xanthe will be the only child in her class with a name beginning with X. So too, by the time she starts school, she will probably be used to telling people how her name is pronounced.
The Romans had an expression nomen est omen, or "name is destiny." A name is part of a person's legacy. It will be recorded in history. You will say it thousands of times during the course of your life. It will be written on class lists, read out loud amongst throngs of others at graduation, spoken with portent on your wedding day, printed on business cards. Above all, rightly or wrongly, a name often conveys an image, an assumption about the person. It creates an impression.
Psychology professor, Albert Mehrabian, tested a host of names to see how people viewed them. Some names immediately aroused images of beauty or intelligence, others of popularity or kindness. Yet others were seen as artistic, nerdy or odd. On the whole, people judged to have more traditional names such as Rachel and Robert did extremely well. More alternative names scored badly. Breeze, for example, was viewed as being a poor student and business risk. Mehrabian feels that parents who choose or create bizarre names for their children are ignorant, arrogant or just plain foolish.
Some celebrity offspring names are perfect illustrations of this case in point: Moxie Crimefighter, daughter of Penn Jillette and Emily Jillette, and Spec Wildhorse, son of John Cougar Mellencamp and Elaine Irwin, are but just two of a whole litany of bizarre names created by celebrities. The newest to add to the weird and wacky list are Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, whose newborn daughter faces the world with the moniker, North West. Poor wee soul ... it's all south from there.
Alaska's Sarah Palin, that Western avatar of traditional values, rather paradoxically named her children, Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig. Perhaps there is a hidden part of her which yearns to be more artistic, less conservative, that is solely reflected in the names she chose for her children.
For many parents, picking out a baby name is like choosing the perfect nursery décor or baby accessories. It comes with a great deal of thought, reflection and personal taste. Some choose to name after beloved family members, sports legends, or heroic figures. (I named my oldest son, Nicholas, after my much loved maternal grandfather.) Others pick names which are trendy, popular, current. Some go the biblical route, or take a page from their favourite novel, movie or historical era. Yet others give nod to family tradition or their ethnic roots.
My four grandchildren have fairly unusual names. It is my personal policy to never get involved in any way in the naming of grandchildren. I had my turn. Now it is my children's right, and their joy to choose names. The agreement between my second son and the mother of their children was that he would choose the boys' names and she would pick the girls' names. They have two sons. My son picked both their names from the NHL (National Hockey League) roster. (Seriously!) Regardless of my own private personal opinion, my response to the announcement of each grandchild's name has always been the same, "That's lovely! I really like it. You've chosen something unique and strong/beautiful." And so it is, as I have grown to love each child's name as part of them.
I think that names perhaps have a greater significant influence when that is the only thing you know about a person. In time, people give personality and definition to their own names, good and bad. As Shakespeare said in Romeo and Juliet:
What's in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Xanthe's relative obscurity (not ranked in the top 1000 names), will take a bit of determination to make it work. She will stand out in a crowd of little girls named Emma (top girl's name in Canada for the last five years in a row), and among those bestowed with the tendency towards ever-more tortured, innovative spellings such as Mackenzie (McKynzee), Ava (Aayvah) and Taylor (Taelyr), all of which I have personally seen. In time, though, I have a feeling little Xanthe will come to define her name as a distinctive, interesting, spirited appellation.