Because both my first and last names are pretty much unpronounceable, I went simple and common when naming my kids: Josh, Tyler, Lily. But for my fourth child, fresh out of boy names, I succumbed to the pressure of living in Utah and just made something up. Well, kind of.
Talmage is a legitimate last name, as in the famous Mormon apostle and writer James E. Talmage. Turns out, it works as a first name, too. That’s the beauty of naming a child. You can write pretty much anything on a birth certificate. That wiggly little thing in the bassinet is powerless to stop you, no matter how dumb he thinks the name Hashtag sounds. Sure, he can go to court later and correct your mistake. But that takes a lot of effort, and a driver’s license, so for the first 16 or so years of his life, little Hash is just going to have to #dealwithit.
It’s worth noting that in Utah, “the court will not change a name to one that is bizarre, unduly lengthy, ridiculous, or offensive to common decency and good taste.” The message is clear: Your folks can give you a ridiculous name, but don’t you dare go trying to give yourself one.
I feel like Utah rivals only Hollywood in terms of creative baby names. Blame it on a high birth rate. By the time parents get around to naming their sixth kid, they may as well just use what the baby will inevitably be called: “Just a Minute.”
Parents, if you’re stumped with baby names, there are so many places to look for inspiration. You can turn to the Bible (Zebedee), automobiles (Bentlee) or your crayon box (Navyee). You can go aggressive and tough — Striker, Hunter or Gunner — or make a new name entirely by taking a common name and changing the first letter (think Katthew and Tark). Paxton, Braxton and Daxton were all in the top 100 most-popular Utah boy names in 2012. Lily, Lilly and Lillian all made the top 100 for girls. (My made-up spelling of Lilliann did not.)
Sometimes in choosing a name you are also predicting a profession for your offspring. I knew a reporter named Ace, and a football coach named Bronco. William Shakespeare was a popular English teacher when I attended Brigham Young University. By far the coolest name I have ever heard is that of my former coworker’s son, Cougar Fox. That kid is either going to be a quarterback or a rockstar.
My own father, in addition to making up bizarre spellings (Elyssa, Emmalie) liked to give his kids multiple family names as middle names. Often this was done during the baby’s blessing (like a Mormon christening) and my mom was powerless to stop him ad libbing with Roscoe, Ernest and Mercy before God and the witnessing congregation.
Because no one can ever say my name right, I did worry about using the name Talmage. When I was pregnant, I met an adult named Talmage volunteering at my kids’ elementary school. I asked him for advice. Grownup Talmage said that it had been hard being a kid with a weird name. At the time, this tall, beefy man was dressed in full-body jester’s suit (it was Halloween, but still) and exuded a certain, um, wackiness that should have tripped a mental alarm or two.
But after giving birth, awash with hormones and under pressure to complete the birth certificate before leaving the hospital, I thought Talmage sounded a lot less weird than Zeus, Josh II or Would You Just Freaking Pick Something?
Besides, if Tal hates his name at 18, I’ll just give him a jester’s suit, the address to the courthouse — and my sincerest apology.