“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
There’s your cultural lesson folks- Shakespeare has Juliet utter these lines, among others, as she contemplates the meaningless nature of a name. In this case, we know she is focused on the name Montague. We also know how that story ends because apparently, names do mean a whole lot if you happen to be a Montague’s or a Capulet.
No feuding here, just some interesting baby names that have come up at work lately. Three in fact, that have the potential to carry weight for the little people who possess them.
The medical system that I am contracted with serves a diverse population. We have large numbers of Hispanic families. We have equally large numbers of families who are Muslim. We have Latin families. The surrounding community houses a growing number of families from Russia and the Ukraine. We serve numerous Asian families, with the largest numbers being from East and Southeast Asia. Each time that I meet a family with any of these ethnic backgrounds, I try to tuck away in my head some of the specific cultural formalities they often follow regarding naming their babies.
Mother’s surname is often combined with the babies father’s surname, but depending on the culture, it must be in a very specific way. Some babies are named only after a specific number of days have passed after birth. Some babies will be given a surname different from either mom or dad. It’s complicated and when I come to feel that I’m finally getting a handle on some of the patterns an entirely new one pops up.
Babies given name isn’t always predictable. I’ve had parents literally make up the spelling of a common name just to give their child a unique, and often impossible to spell, first name. I am learning not to make cultural assumptions either. I meet a mother and father from Ukraine who are named Yuri and Lyudmila, and expect to hear a baby name that somehow reflects their background and culture. I am not surprised anymore when those parents choose to name their son Thomas, or their daughter Amber.
With that in mind, I really wasn’t surprised today when I screened Celine Dion.
Mom and dad are from Vietnam. Their English is actually quite good. In fact, dad jumped right into spelling names for me without my even asking. We came to babies name and from across the room I heard “C-E-L-I-N-E.” Because I was trying to listen closely and double check each letter as he spoke I really didn’t register the actual name he had just spelled for me. As I began to speak each letter back to him for verification he quickly added,
“Celine Dion, you know like the singer.”
I smiled and thanked him because I assumed that he was just trying to help me make sure I understood babies new first name. I entered babies last name and then asked if they used or planned on a middle name for baby. Mom and dad both looked at me with an odd expression and said simultaneously, “Dion, D-I-O-N. Celine Dion.”
“Oh… Oh I see, I thought you were just trying to help me understand her first name, but she is actually named Celine Dion?”
“Yes, yes, just like the singer!”
I swear that I kept a straight face, because that’s what professionals do, and we just moved forward with the hearing screen. About 15 minutes later, while I was charting in my office, Becky the nurse rolled Celine Dion into the nursery for a test. As she passed me, and with a sly smile, she asked if I had learned babies name. Still being the consummate professional hearing screener that I am, I said that yes I had, and Celine Dion had done well on her test.
“Did they tell you the older girls name?” Becky asked, although this time her smile went from ear to ear.
“No, she was cranky so dad took her out during the screen,” I said.
As Becky rolled the baby into the other room I learned that I had also had the privilege of meeting Angelina Jolie that morning.
This next story, given the fact that I’ve talked in the blog before about our large number of opiod addicted mothers/families, is really nothing but sad, at least initially.
We had a baby in the NICU for many days. Mom and her partner (who believed himself to be the babies father, but who actually wasn’t) were both heavy abusers of opiods. They were told many times that they would not be taking the baby home. They did visit though, almost always high, and also in complete denial that the child was going into foster care. After numerous rounds of antibiotics and morphine for withdrawal, the day came that we could finally screen this little boy.
Most babies who spend a long time in the NICU, and are named, get cute little signs to hang near their isolette. We never have much information, so it’s heartwarming when we can at least record the babies name. In the case of a baby who is being surrendered to CPS we are only allowed to use “Baby Boy” or “Baby Girl” with the birth mothers last name. The birth family does not name the baby.
I was working on the day this little guy was eligible to be screened. When I started, I was unsure of his discharge status. Some parents, who are in treatment, are allowed to take part in some aspects of babies life. Because I had seen the parents in and out of the NICU I thought that perhaps they were being allowed to be involved somewhat. In that case, I asked nurse Alex if baby had a first name for my database.
Alex turned in her chair, and deadly serious with a glance toward a small construction baby sign near the bassinet, said to me, “Bunny Rabbit.”
I don’t think that I have the ability to convey my reaction adequately in this blog post. I know that I just stared at her as she repeated, with another nod toward the sign, “Bunny Rabbit.”
My head began to shake back and forth and I think I actually uttered, “NO WAY!”
“I’ll be using our standard Baby Boy in this case,” I said while I looked down at a precious boy with an IV coming from his head. Alex and Peggy began replaying some of the events that had led up to the naming of this boy by his heavily addicted and clearly incompetent mother. Legally, thankfully, she lost the right to name this child.
Some names make me smile. Some, in their uniqueness, make me laugh once I leave the patients room. Some make me cringe. Some names given to these little humans leave me wondering who they will grow up to be and how the choice of name will influence them, if at all.
What will Celine Dion and Angelina Jolie think about themselves, and their parents, as they grow up? When will the awareness of their famous names become apparent? How will others behave or treat them?
Who will the tiny boy, who has endured so much already in his early life, become? Will he ever know the woman who wanted to name him Bunny Rabbit because she thought it was cute and completely appropriate? I have to say that I hope not.
What is in a name, as Juliet asks? A mere label, or something much, much more…