The Penguin Classic Baby Name Book is probably my favorite baby name book. Not that we would actually use many of the names that are found in it, but it is fun to peruse and think about the works of classic literature from which the names were culled.
For instance, I can’t see myself naming Child #5 Caspar. When I think Caspar I think “friendly ghost.” Not exactly the first impression I want Child #5 to make. There just aren’t that many people who are going to think, “Caspar, yes, he was the stalwart American courtier of Isabel Archer in Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady.” I’m afraid that Child #5 would never forgive Susan and me if he was stuck with the nickname Boo.
Or, Giocondo. Doesn’t that sound more like a description of Florida real estate than a baby’s name? Oh, and just in case you have forgotten where that name comes from, Giocondo in Latin means “cheerful” and the name is that of a knight of surpassing beauty in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. Pretty good so far, huh? But there is this part of the story; “He catches his wife in adultery and witnesses King Astolfo’s wife cheating on her husband. Giocondo and Astolfo then go off together to try to fathom the faithlessness of womankind. They ultimately share a girl, Fiammetta, who manages to cheat on both of them simultaneously by bringing a third man into bed with them when she thinks they are sleeping.” Just try to explain that to your four-year old when he asks why you named him Giocondo.
I could select from this book a name from the first “big” book I ever read, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer — Huckleberry Stilley. That might be beneficial for someone trying to get a job at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., but otherwise it might be a bit of an obstacle to success. Do you remember how much trouble Mike Huckabee’s name gave him when running for President, and it just sounded a little bit like Huckleberry. I think that Mike Huckabee would be the first to say that naming our Child #5 Huckleberry would be just plain Hucka-silly.
Mixed in with Nimrod, Hrothgar, and Vulcan you will find more common names like Ralph, James and John (but no Tom, Dick, or Harry). However, those names already appeared on our radar and were shot down by heat seeking missiles (aka. the wife).
So, if I don’t think this book is much help in finding a name for our baby that is coming in September, why is it my favorite baby name book? Because, it is fun. Working through this book in the quest for a baby name allows me to interact in a slightly different way with Shakespeare, Balzac, Sophocles, and George Eliot. I get to have new conversations, metaphorically speaking, with some great old author friends, metaphorically speaking.
So, get a copy of The Penguin Classic Baby Name Book, but don’t name your baby Oedipus.