A media feeding frenzy concerning Jamie Oliver and Juliette Norton’s decision to call their fifth child River Rocket has appalled me, and made me think, yet again, that we, as a race, should be learning – and teaching – tolerance!
Why, oh, why, are people so spiteful and judgemental when it comes to the naming of children not their own? I am truly at a loss on this one!
Would we prefer the sort of system the French used to have, whereby there was a list (whether written down or transferred via the Oral Tradition) of acceptable, one assumed Good Catholic, names, from which one was allowed to pick one’s limited choice?
No! Surely it is better to be a bit quirky and different! To push the nomenclature boat out a trifle! To extend the human range a tad! Isn’t it?
Names have their moment of astonishment and shock, their days of being seen as eccentric or weird or plain unacceptable – and then they disappear into the mainstream; They float – and I had to say this! – down life’s variegated river of Proper Nouns.
Nobody bats an eyelid at a Kylie these days – but I can remember a time when the Chuntering Classes got into cat’s-arse-mouth states of indignation that anyone should be foolish enough to give a baby that moniker.
Isn’t it better to be inventive than to revert to the Johns, Marys and Janes of yore?
What, some people will argue, about the difficulties a child with a strange name is certain to undergo at the hands of its peers?
Er, get into the real world, would be my response. Children are not angels and they will pick on one another about all manner of things we adults think too silly and trivial for words. Names represent just one small part of the bullying tendency. In any case – and I can attest to this from thirty years as a teacher – perceived weirdness of character brings the vultures of bullying far more quickly than the oddest of names. And the most normal name can still attract nastiness and deliberately offensive pronunciation if its owner is seen as subnormal, possessed of a speech impediment or ‘posh’!
The other side of this, however, is that the vast majority of children also have a kind and empathetic side to their natures, and can be far more accepting and tolerant than their more hide-bound elders. Parental prejudice sticks, like super-glue, to the growing minds of the youngsters – and adults banging on about the way celebrities name their children is far more likely to attract a bullying response from the younger generation than the actual name itself.
Do not forget: For little children, the world of words is new, exciting and magical; they take it in their stride and do not judge, unless they are being brought up to do so by their parents.
Why, I ask you, is ‘River Rocket’ any worse than, say ‘Archibald Wilfred’? I love the sound of the word ‘river’ myself – and, while I didn’t choose to call my own child by this name, I do not question another person’s right to do so.
I, as you know, have a highly unusual name – and, yes, I was bullied as a result; but one of my siblings, who had a perfectly normal name, was also got at by others. I am proud of my name now, and I love it. I would not wish to be called by a more conventional, or common, moniker.
If little River Rocket came from a Native American family, his name would be totally acceptable and revered. Why should we condemn his parents for following a very old tradition of naming just because they are not indigenous to the Plains, and Reservations, of America?
Surely the most important part of parenting is the love, the nurture, the positive life lessons taught, isn’t it? Different does not mean wrong. Unusual does not mean cruel or stupid. And one couple’s choice of what to call their offspring is as personal, and individual, as the loving bond which exists between them.
Perhaps such spite comes out of a deep hole of envy. I do not know. Not for me to say really. Maybe the online nastiness is more about the fact that this celebrity couple are famous – and, one assumes, wealthy – than them exercising the right all parents should have: To name the children they have created, and given birth to, whatever the hell they like!