The Magazine

What's in a Name?

If it's Rhiannon, quite a lot, actually.

Dec 18, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 14 • By JOE QUEENAN
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By contrast, in the case of a white woman named Rhiannon, the American people would be reluctant to accept her ascendancy to chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or chief CBS White House correspondent not because of the distressing pop cultural connotations but because the name Rhiannon smacks of the occult and the druidic, both of which are verboten in a Judeo-Christian society where people justifiably fear sorcery at both the state and federal level. Inevitably, it would lead to whispers about the Illuminati, the Freemasons, and the Knights Templar: the whole Da Vinci Code complex. This does not play well in Peoria.

Why should the plight of a victim named Rhiannon concern the rest of us? Partially because we are compassionate human beings and understand that a child named Rhiannon or Brooklyn or Skyler will spend the rest of his life fending off ridicule from thugs named Cheech the Mook. There is also concern that one of our sons could enter into a morganatic marriage with a femme fatale named Rhiannon, vastly increasing the likelihood that our grandchildren will be named Mordred, Banquo, or Xena.

But there is another, far more selfish, reason why we should be concerned about the proliferation of astoundingly stupid names. Suppose a few decades down the road the president of the United States is forced to choose between two candidates for chairmanship of the Federal Reserve. As luck would have it, the woman named, say, Rhiannon Cougar Mellencamp, is far more gifted than her rival. But because the president fears that he will be mocked if he chooses a Fed chairman named Rhiannon, he opts for the safer choice: Brandi or Tiffany.

The nitwit he selects immediately raises interest rates, triggering a housing market collapse and a devastating global depression. All because someone, somewhere, decided to name their child after a Stevie Nicks song. Dreams unwind, love's a state of mind.

Purists may argue that previous generations also had ridiculous names like Elmer, Caleb, and Purvis. But these were real names, not synthetic ones. And the people who named their children Elmer were probably doing their level best under difficult circumstances; they had hogs to feed or a bad case of rickets. What should concern us is that each generation of stupid names encourages the next generation to be even stupider. It was Anson that begot Heath. It was Morgan that begat Kyla. And one day Rhiannon will beget Clytemeghan or Zugwah.

So if you're reading these lines, and you have an unnamed child on the way, I implore you to heed the words of Fleetwood Mac themselves: Don't stop thinking about tomorrow / It'll be better than before.
But not if your kid's named Rhiannon.

Joe Queenan is the author, most recently, of Queenan Country: A Reluctant Anglo phile's Pilgrimage to the Mother Country.