Q&A: Can a provocative or controversial baby name be abusive?
Can parents go too far with provocative baby names? Are some baby names abusive?
In 2007, a judge in Wellington, New Zealand came to just that conclusion and made a nine-year-old girl a ward of the court to protect her from her given name: Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii. The girl admitted to feeling embarrassed and humiliated by the name, and would only disclose herself to friends as K. “It makes a fool of the child and sets her up with a social disability and handicap,” the judge pronounced before ordering a name change.
But you don’t have to travel far to hear extreme baby-naming tales. In December 2008, a local ShopRite turned down a New Jersey couple who wanted to buy a birthday cake for their son. It turns out there was more behind the supermarket’s refusal than a new order for frosting. The Campbells had named their three-year-old Adolf Hitler. Adolf had siblings—a nearly two-year-old sister named JoyceLynn Aryan Nation, and a baby sister named Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie (after Heinrich Himmler). The Campbells eventually got their inscribed cake from a Walmart in Pennsylvania, but they also got a truckload of negative publicity and drive-by shouting. In defense, dad Heath Campbell said, “This is America. They say it’s free. You have the right to name your child what you want to name your child, no matter what.”
A month later, the Campbell children were removed from their parents’ Holland Township, New Jersey home and placed in state custody for reasons that had nothing to do with the name controversy and everything to do with all the fighting and yelling in the house overheard by neighbors. “They’re raising their kids with hate,” one neighbor observed.
The moral of the story? While it may be true that “A person makes a person—a name doesn’t,” as Campbell insists, it’s also true that a name can bring plenty of grief to a person and his parents, never mind the cake. All sorts of feelings and emotions can be churned up by a word, a name, or a symbol. Conscientious parents will tread carefully and strive to give their children names that are not just personal and unique but considerate. If a name is offensive, if it incites hate and racism, or brings misery and woe to its bearer, then it has failed the test of good parenting.