Monday, June 13, 2016

The Name Therapist

The Name Therapist / Duana Taha
Toronto: Random House Canada, c2016.
368 p.

I recently raced through this book by 'name therapist' and Lainey Gossip Blog columnist Duana Taha. I have to admit I hadn't heard of her previously but have now checked out her online hangouts, as I thoroughly enjoyed this read.

The Name Therapist is a look at, well, names obviously. Taha is fascinated by names and all their implications -- what do we choose to name our children, how do our names affect our experience of our own lives, is it better to have a common or unusual name, how do cross-cultural understandings change the power of a name -- these just some of the themes she discusses. And does so with great aplomb. She's funny, relatable, and knows a lot about her subject.

She starts out by explaining her own name, a mixture of her mother's Irish side (though that is a bit debatable when she discovers as a young woman that Duana is not such a common Irish name as she had believed) and her father's Egyptian family name, Taha. Having such an unusual and culturally mixed-up name has played a part in her lifelong fascination with the topic.

Any of us with the same kind of fascination may recall our interest in names from a young age; as for myself, I made up plenty of names for the class lists and even all the teachers in the 'playing school' habit that my younger sister and I had. I read baby name books as a teenager -- thankfully nobody seemed alarmed by it. And I had picked out names for my children which kept changing, but that didn't last as long since I knew fairly early on I didn't actually want any. That doesn't reduce my absorption in the subject, though. This book fed into all those years of obsession and was absolutely entertaining.

Do names affect the way we are perceived? Taha says that some names carry connotations that may hold us back, or give us a leg up. For example, Crystal could be considered the ultimate 'stripper name', a subset of mineral or beverage influenced names that don't carry much weight in the work world. On the other hand, names that suggest upper class, East Coast origins seem to give a person a boost. Taha's exploration of the socioeconomic factors implicit in naming was done lightly but with a clear eye.

There is also the factor of popularity. Names surge and dwindle in their own eras, as we all know, and part of that seems to be the desire to fit in, to be complicit with social norms and fashions. While there are always outliers, there are also hundreds of Jennifers or Jasons to reflect their decades of birth. And there are also those Melanies - a name she does mention - leading to a great deal of personal satisfaction since we do tend to like things and people sharing our own names, another little fact she throws in. Also, it kind of makes up for all that time waiting for the Romper Room lady to say my name at the end of her show....a theme that comes up surprisingly often in her interviews!

This was a light read and yet had a lot of solid content. It was full of those fun facts that are helpful at dinner parties ;) I recommend it as an entertaining summer read. It's very Canadian, but the ideas will appeal to name nerds everywhere.

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