What's in a name?

25th September 1998 at 01:00
Tony Elston on the difficulty teachers have choosing names for their own children

Their holiday postcard ended: "With love from Sally, Guy and Claire." "Claire? I thought they christened the baby Emma." "They did," replied my wife, "but that was before Sally went back to work."

My wife explained that, when Sally returned to work after her maternity leave, she took over a Year 6 class including not one but two Emmas. Their atrocious conduct caused Sally to lose even more sleep than her new baby. Worse still, simply uttering her daughter's name and looking into her eyes made her relive her worst teaching moments with the other two Emmas. Drastic action was called for: baby Emma was renamed Claire.

So it was that, a week after the birth of our third child, with no name in sight for her, it suddenly dawned on me why some friends are stumped for a name for their new baby. All these friends are teachers. They pull their hair out searching for names they like that are not shared by pupils they have taught. The problem is not simply those names that drag up horrendous memories of classroom conflict with volatile ex-pupils. Giving your child the same name as any of your past model pupils is, well, creepy; and as for choosing the same names as those of "ordinary" pupils, what parent wants to think of their baby as "ordinary"?

The situation is worse if only one partner teaches. Don't even try to explain to a non-teaching partner why their favourite child's name is a non-starter because a former pupil with the same name used to make your life hell. "But that was five years ago!" your partner will protest, even though to you it still seems like five minutes ago.

Teaching and parenting are stressful enough without the anguish of going bananas over naming a newborn. So, please proffer the following advice for friends thinking about going into teaching and having children: * Your friend has yet to start a teacher training course. Have your children now and name them quickly, before every name that comes into your head reminds you of what you wanted to have children to escape from: the kids in your classroom.

* Your friend is looking for a first teaching post and is thinking of starting a family. Visit one of those clinics which claim to be able to determine the sex of your unconceived children, demand only children of the same sex, then seek jobs in single-sex schools for the opposite sex.

* Your friend insists on notching up a few years' teaching before having children. Address all pupils by their surname only.

* Your friend wants children but already teaches. Get a hypnotist to erase from your memory the names of all the pupils you have ever taught.

Tony Elston teaches in Manchester

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