These times of ours
I recently read a newspaper article that summarized many of the complaints I hear about contemporary baby names. Too many parents are naming their kids after movie stars, or making up "weird" names without meanings. The new names are unfamiliar and impossible to pronounce. The traditional, beloved names of past generations seem to have disappeared overnight.
One woman quoted in the article, marveling over the names of her own nieces and nephews, said she was glad she didn't become a teacher: "I am struggling to pronounce the mere six 'weird' names, imagine my plight as a teacher calling out at least thirty odd such names everyday." A name expert claimed that parents today are determined to be unique and "believe that a name should have an identity as well as an ability to be exceptional among others."
And the author of the article wistfully concluded that the common, classic names of her youth were long gone. "Kusumas and Chandimas will never stand a chance with the present generation of Shanudhas and Sathsaranjanis."
Oh, did I mention that the article was from Sri Lanka?
This lifestyle piece in the Sri Lankan Sunday Observer was an uncanny mirror of attitudes in the United States. The details may differ -- celebrity names come from Bollywood rather than Hollywood, grandparents despair that names are selected without consulting astrological charts -- but the core concerns are the same. Some of the causes, too, sound the same to me. Globalization comes up again and again, from the cultural clout of the Indian entertainment industry to the possibility of migration to the West. Names, as usual, reflect the changing world around them.
A coda at the end of the article, though, puts the whole thing in perspective. Three terse paragraphs summarize 2000 years of Sri Lankan name history: from the short ethnic names of the early kingdom, to the later blending with Sanskrit, to 450 years of shifting European-based styles as first the Portuguese then the Dutch then the English ruled the country, to the past century's gradual ascension of Sinhalese names in a series of changing styles.
So those old, familiar names that are disappearing were often one-generation wonders themselves. In an ever-changing world, "traditional" is a relative term.