Friday, December 19, 2008

A Hitler by any other name is preferable

My daughter, an English teacher, says that every possible permutation of the human condition has been addressed by William Shakespeare. She's probably right. I just don't know if he had poor little Adolph Hitler Campbell in mind when he wrote, "What's in a name?"

The child with the unfortunate name, age 3, is at the center of a brouhaha in Holland Township, N.J. His parents wanted his entire name (again, Adolph. Hitler. Campbell.) inscribed on his birthday cake. The Shop Rite bakery near their bunker refused.

This wasn't Shop Rite's first introduction to the Campbell clan. For the last two years, the bakery has declined their request for cakes decorated with swastikas.

Shop Rite offered to sell them an uninscribed cake so they could write whatever they pleased but the parents - surprise, surprise - contacted the media instead. Turns out they also have toddlers named JoyceLynn Aryan Nation and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie. Good grief.

Thanks to the immediacy of the Internet, the story has spread world wide. By Thursday morning there were over three quarters of a million Google hits for the child's name. Again, good grief.

My first reaction to the article was disgust. Naming a child is a sacred responsibility. Other cultures incorporate fasts, prayer rituals and clearly defined cultural expectations into the naming of a baby. In Iceland, one must choose from a list of approved names and any deviation requires consent from a government committee.

Here, sleep deprived new parents fill out a couple of forms and that's it. I'm convinced that's how I ended up with a pesky second "s" in my first name. After 22 hours of difficult labor, my mom just wasn't thinking clearly.

If you look to the upper right-hand corner of this Opinion page, you'll see the text of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. For you online readers, here's a refresher: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

That's what gives parents the right to name their children anything they please, no matter how stupid, insulting, racist or disgusting. And I'm in total agreement with that. No matter what, you just don't mess with the First Amendment.

But wait, I have an idea. It's none too well thought out and fueled by 6, but it's an idea nevertheless. I think names should come with an expiration date. How about if names were good for, let's say, 18 years? Then you would have to fill out a revised birth certificate, either confirming the name you have or selecting another. It could become a new life cycle event like birthdays, Bas Mitzvahs, QuinceaƱeras and registering with Selective Service.

Let's call it Name Day (hey, remember, it's 6 a.m. and I'm working with a deadline breathing down my neck.) Parties would grow up around it. There would be a whole new line of Hallmark cards ("You chose WHAT?" and "P. Diddy will be SO proud.")

Of course, some 18-year-olds have the judgement and maturity of, well, an 18-year-old, so you'll end up with a lot of Britneys, Beyonces, Bella Swans, Flava Flavs and Eminems. But at least it'll be their choice. I, for one, would drop that second "s" like a hot brick.

Armed with the new Name Day legislation, in 2023, if little Adolph Hitler Campbell so decides, he can become Filbert or Robert or Rasputin, for that matter.

I guess he could even decide to retain his name. After the indoctrination he's receiving that may be a distinct possibility. And a crying shame.

Originally published in the Gainesville Times, December 19, 2008

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