Her name is "Abcde."

On my very first day as a middle school English teacher, I was calling the roll in one of my seventh grade classes in Foreman, Arkansas, and I came to this name: "Melethia Stewart." There was no response. "Melethia Stewart," I repeated. A pretty little blue-eyed, blond-haired girl toward the back of the room meekly raised her hand. "Yes?" I replied to her raised hand. "I am Melethia." At first I thought this was a joke being played on me because I was the new teacher. How could this "Kathy" looking girl possibly be a "Melethia"? Nobody was playing any jokes on anybody, except maybe her parents. Why would anyone name such a vanilla child such an exotic name? Later in the day I would learn that she had an older sister named LaQuita.

Several years ago I had the wonderful experience of teaching high school in San Antonio, Texas. Everyday the attendance clerk would send out a notice of the absent students for our record keeping. Names, names, names. One that stood out from the list was "Cain, Mycole." You see, don't you, that this child's name was Mycole Cain, which when spoken sounded exactly like "my cocaine." Around that same time I had a student in one of my classes named Baby Doll King. That was her name. Baby. Doll. King.

And I've heard those stories, those urban legends, about the woman who just took the name the hospital gave her infant daughter: Female Jones. The story goes that she pronounced it "fe mah lee," but it was spelled f-e-m-a-l-e. And there those legendary twin boys named Lemonjello and Orangejello. You've heard those, right?

Then there's Abcde. We had an employee at the deli who had a little girl named Abcde, pronounced "ab suh dee," of course. Imagine how much fun that's going to be. All. Her. Life.

I've been thinking about names this week while we've been attending high school commencement ceremonies in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Washington, D.C. Upon entering the auditorium, one is handed a program that has a list of all the graduating seniors. At the ceremony in Tulsa, the roster was riddled with variations of Ashley and Nicole and Ashley Nicole. I had to wonder: while they were in Labor & Delivery, did the young mothers of these babies think they were landing on a unique name for their baby girls? Or was an announcement made on the public address system from the nurses' station: "All female newborns will be named Ashley or Nicole or both. That is all." I'm exaggerating a little bit, but not much. There were very few Marys or Johns or Susans or Michaels. There were lots of Mackenzies, tons of Briannas, and a good number of names that I was convinced had to be typos - the kind with apostrophes and such.

The Class of 2013 roster in Washington, D.C., was remarkable as well. The list of graduates reflected the diversity of the community with unusual names like Akena, Hoyoung, Jeenaba, and Our'An. But one stood out to me. Akindelesundiata. That's right.  Akindelesundiata A. Jones. Try saying that five times real fast.

I understand that people have reasons for giving their bouncing babies the names they do. Some of them are family names. Some kids are named after a soap opera character that Mom found particularly attractive. Prospective parents pore over lists from baby name books, hoping to find THE ONE that has the perfect meaning and sounds just right. And then some parents have just one criteria: My baby will have a UNIQUE name. Those kids might as well be named Albatross, because that name will often times become something they must bear, and explain, and spell aloud for everyone they meet. Forever.

Wouldn't it be more thoughtful and kind for the parents to consider letting their child's personality and unique combination of traits and characteristics be what set him/her apart from all the other Timothys and Tiffanys at school?  After all, that name is just the cover of the book, maybe even the title page. But it's what's beyond the name that makes the more important and lasting impression. 

I don't know though. I'm still thinking about the name Akindelesundiata. That one's going to stick with me for a while.


  1. I am a teacher/librarian as well. I know from whence you speak. Parents need to think long and hard about the names they attach to their children. It can scar for life.

  2. Maybe Mycole Cain wasn't about drugs, but was a creative homage to the actor Michael Caine??

  3. You know, overall, this sounds massively judgmental and snotty. Let me tell you - people are so poorly educated these days, you're going to wind up having to spell most names for them anyhow (especially last names), so what difference does that make? Why should people have to have ordinary names?

    You know what huge advantage these kids will have? They'll never have to put a number after their name in their email address.

    1. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  4. yikes... Growing up as an Abcde is pretty interesting lol


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