What's in a Name?
I shall have to sue Nicole Kidman for copyright, regrettable and unpatriotic though that seems. She has named her new baby girl Faith and I’m afraid it is taken. It is my nine-year-old daughter’s name. She is my article of Faith and I never had any wish to convert anyone to my newfound belief system.
Our little bit of Faith was born the month following 9/11. The morning after the twin towers were knocked in like New York’s two front teeth, our first daughter, Harriet, looked at me dejectedly when I came in to get her up. ‘Hugs and Kisses Elmo no more’, she mourned. She thought it was Sesame Street and everyone on it that had been annihilated.
I already had my doubts about bringing children into this apocalyptic world. Sure babies have always faced all manner of famine and strife. It is their suffering that most acutely presages our own helplessness in the face of these cyclic convulsions of ruthless cruelty.
Here in the West it is our conceit that our babies will be ‘part of the solution’. I think future projections on climate change have rather thrown that baby out with the bathwater. Anyone who has joined the dots on Black Saturday and this summer’s floods and cyclones, carries a rueful regret and an unshakable dread around the children they beget.
Even before the towers were felled I had been expressing my doubts to their Dad. How can we bring children into this world, I kept asking him, as the Iraq invasion, the East Timorese crisis, the Chechen war, the Eritrean-Ethiopian war and the second Intifada bled into one expression of merciless malevolence. I genuinely wanted an answer. I still think all mothers are owed that answer.
But it is there in the ineluctable daily existence of our children. If we really gave up on a future it would be children that we would first assign to the past. As nation-builders, eugenicists and assimilationists have frighteningly asserted, our children are the future.
But that doesn’t mean that children can make their present. That is entirely our responsibility and the principle of ‘intergenerational equity’ is daily undermined by those of us who invest only in the present. The ever shortening habit of hourly news consumption and the obsession with daily indicators leaves little time to consider the times we will bequest to our children. I’ve never forgotten the contempt my young friends in Berlin held for the war generation, who, when I was there, were their frail elderly.
All of these thoughts are embodied in our Faith. No wonder she’s a rather irascible little girl. As it happened both of our girls have namesakes who are women that devoted their lives to furthering their people’s unanswered claims for justice and freedom – Harriet Tubman and Faith Bandler.
Although they have Sri Lankan heritage, it is colonial Dutch Burger, so having enslaved and colonized heroines as namesakes is the sort of pretence that rightfully belongs on the Stuff White People Like website.
Children’s names are the first imposition of our own dreams and aspirations over their malleable little bodies. No wonder they are such a cultural flashpoint for contestation and dispute. The recently published Things Bogans Like devotes its best pages to the misspelt alliterations spawned on the newest McMansion housing estates from Jakxsen to Jorja. The authors describe it as the bogan’s constant quest for self-actualisation.
But when it comes to children’s names we are all guilty. We all feel a little riled when we hear our child’s carefully chosen, unique brand shrieked across the public swimming pool. Given the absurd load of cultural baggage I have already assigned to entirely other people, even if I did make them, it seems uncouth to argue for Faith no more.
That would make me ye of little Faith would it not? It would be in bad faith to disparage Nicole’s act of faith. Faith can move mountains and no doubt they have some earth moving planned in renovating the new nursery. But they will need to keep a constant check on her eyes, for as Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘When faith becomes blind it dies’.
If Nicole and Keith are also hoping to bring a little more Faith into the world, who am I to object? It’s the thousands of Fayths, Phaeths and Fyeths that will undoubtedly follow that I’m really worried about. And all of them born into a world barely able to keep the faith let alone spell it.
This article first appeared on Online Opinion, 22 February 2011.