The Tuesday Tussle

Oct. 13 - I was wandering around the internet yesterday when I stumbled into someone insulting me—a blogger who'd apparently seen the article about Danish naming laws in Friday's Times and given it a little thought.

Greg Nagan and Trine Kammer were presumably chosen as the anecdotal victims for this piece, but the fact that they wanted to saddle their poor child with the name Molli Malou because it sounded 'cute' is precisely the reason why they shouldn't be allowed to ... (they got away with it in the end anyway).

I dealt with this immediately, as you can see on Moron Abroad (and related comments), but there are a few other things I need to address before I close the book on this one.

First of all, in case you didn't follow the link above, I should point out that the author of the text cited above was a perfect gentleman and his insult was largely unintended. In any case it's been apologized for and his apology has been accepted.

But then he had to go and write, "On the other hand, however, I don't think the Danish regulations are a great imposition on personal liberty, and I still think there's a case for trying to limit frivolous name-changes in defense of philological tradition."

Now I can get out of this personal stuff and into some riotous speculative blather.

The most important word in that sentence is the word "frivolous," and it demonstrates precisely why I don't think the government ought to be involved in this kind of thing.

Why is "frivolous" the most important word? Because without it, Mr. Allport would be saying "there's a case for trying to limit name-changes in defense of philological tradition." By tossing in the innocuous modifier "frivolous," Mr. Allport has already (and, I think, correctly) backed down from the notion that the government ought to try to limit every name change in the interests of philological tradition. That would have been a difficult position to defend. By his lights, then, the government may have a case in shutting down some name changes, but not others.

And that's where I have my problem: someone's going to have to draw that line. Someone, some clerk, is going to have to sit down and look at birth certificates and say, "that's different but okay, that's different but okay—whoops! this one's different and frivolous!" It's fine to say "the government ought to have such-and-such a power" when we're speaking about a competent, efficient, friendly, and therefore entirely hypothetical government. When we're speaking about governments as they exist, however, we're talking about fallible human beings—people whose competence, efficiency, reliability, and judgment can by no means be assumed adequate to every demand we choose to place on them. People who can become suddenly vindictive or capricious. People who are, after all, people.

That's one line of argument.

Another line of argument has to be directed against the notion of "philological tradition." The logic breaks down on contact. If "philological tradition" were a legitimate criterion for disapproving name changes, all men would be named Adam and all women would be name Eve (for the Judeo-Christian-Islamic), or all men and women would be named various grunting sounds (for the evolutionarily inclined). Because that's what the first parents were called, and deviation from their names would have represented a break with philological tradition. I realize this is stretching the idea of "tradition" to its breaking point, but there's no point in fussing around with intermediate steps in this kind of argument. If something's to be defended solely on the grounds of tradition, then we have to trace that tradition back to its inception to examine the history of its implementation. After all, there had to be a first Abraham, a first Agamemnon, a first Tutankhamen. Like everything else, even traditions have to begin.

So if we try to play it soft, we're leaving it all up to the whims of government bureaucrats; and if we try to play it hard, we end up with a paradox.

On the other hand, I can't believe I'm actually defending the notion that parents ought to be able to name kids whatever they want. Coming tomorrow: do people have the right to clip their own toenails? I say yes! You won't want to miss that one!


One-hundred-and-one years ago today, on October 13, 1903, the Boston Red Sox beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first ever World Series.

We're one down in this year's pennant after last night's 10-7 loss to the pinstripes. C'mon, guys...

* * *

October 13 is the birthday of Nancy Kerrigan (1969), Jerry Rice (1962), Marie Osmond (1959), Paul Simon (1941), Lenny Bruce (1925), Margaret Thatcher (1925), Nipsey Russell (1924), Art Tatum (1910), and Molly Pitcher (1754).

Happy Wednesday the 13th!

2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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