Hello, my name is Abcde

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Millennial parents are creating tongue-twisting names for their children

When 24-year-old Rachel Siu was looking for a name for her son, she went to Greek mythology for inspiration, searching through names of gods and emperors for something “bold and different”.

The mass communications student’s online search led her to the Greek god of flowers, Dianthus, whose spelling she modified to Dyanthus for a twist. She, her husband and son currently live in Perth, where she is studying.

The name is supposed to be pronounced Dee-an-thus.

“But most people mistakenly call him Die-an-thus,” she says. “His grandparents and my husband’s Chinese-speaking side of the family also prefer to call him Chengkai, which is his Chinese name.”

The two-year-old boy is also having a little trouble saying his own name, but his mother has no regrets.

“His name is a conversation starter and I’m sure he will grow up to appreciate it. Rest assured, I’m going to name my future kids something unique as well,” she says.

For many millennial parents, “unique” is the magic word when it comes to naming their children.

Drawing inspiration from diverse sources such as the hit HBO fantasy series Game Of Thrones and popular celebrities, and freely mixing up the spelling to create tongue-twisting, phonetics- defying new words, these parents want a name that no other kid would share in the playground.

So goodbye to John and Jane, and hello to Matz, Ckash, Zoen, Zeremy and Abcde (pronounced Ab-si-dee) – which are not typographical errors, but the tricky names that Ms Sherlyn Chan, 28, a teacher at enrichment centre The Learning Lab, has encountered in her young students.

Having worked for five years now, she is used to these creative new names.

“Some names are trickier to pronounce and I usually double- check with the child to make sure I get it right,” she says. “But ulti- mately, these are also the names that leave an impression. I guess that’s why parents give their kids such unique names in the first place – they want their children to stand out.”

More people around the world are giving unconventional names to their babies. In a report about millennial mums released by Goldman Sachs last May, research showed that fewer babies are being given “popular” and “traditional” names.

In 1940, the top five male baby names accounted for 20 per cent of all male babies born in the United States. In 2014, that figure dropped to four per cent.

The report attributes the change to “greater diversity among parents” and an “appetite for more differentiated and unique brands”.

Some parents adopt “special” names wholesale.

Ms Rosemary Chiang, 31, a personal assistant, decided to name her son Rhaego (pronounced Rah-he-go) after a Game Of Thrones character because she was drawn to the warrior-like strength of Rhaego’s mother, Daenerys Targaryen, on the show.

“Prince Rhaego does not survive long on the show, but that doesn’t really matter to me because I’m not superstitious at all,” she says. “I was more intrigued by how unique the name was and the fact that on the show, he was the son of my two favourite characters. That was quite special to me.”

Other parents choose to modify a traditional name by changing a letter or two because, well, a Rozze by any other spelling would smell just as sweet.

For four-month-old Zyeaad (pronounced Zi-yad), his housewife mother Farah Tan says she was drawn to the Arabic name Ziyad, which means abundance.

“To keep things interesting, we changed the spelling to Zyeaad so that it looks unique,” she says.

Despite a parent’s best intentions though, children do not always love their special names.

University student Annastassha Evangelis Dodwell, 20, whose name was inspired by the name Anastasia and supermodel Linda Evangelista, remembers disliking her name immensely as a child and asking often to have it changed.

“I’ve grown to love my name now, but I really didn’t when I was younger. Not only was it difficult for people to pronounce, I also thought it was just too long and troublesome to write,” she says. Her father is Sinhalese and her mother is of Malay-Chinese parentage.

Digital marketer Ailsa Khee, 28, was sick of people mauling her name with weird pronunciations, so she asked her friends and colleagues to call her by her Chinese name, Hui Jia.

Her name is of Scottish origins and pronounced A-li-cia. She says: “People stumble over my name 99 per cent of the time, often calling me Elsa or Ali-sah. There have been so many variations of my name that I’ve lost count.”

Still, some children have owned their stand-out names with pride.

Take musician and actor Zephyr Khambatta, 28, who says that his consonant-heavy name has given him a slight edge in the cut-throat entertainment industry. That said, his name is at least a real word: Zephyr (pronunced “zair-fur”) means gentle breeze.

He says: “I am so used to correcting people’s pronunciation of my name.

“But as a musician and actor, I see the benefits of having a unique name and surname. People remember me and my work, thanks to my name. It has become synonymous with my personal brand.”

avarma@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on March 6, 2016.
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Monday, March 7, 2016 – 06:30
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