Thursday, September 15, 2016


In another episode of "What You're Doing Wrong (But I Mean THEM, Not You)," there is the issue of people naming girls Brooklyn. Have any of these folks ever seen Brooklyn? Seen much of the great and appalling variety Brooklyn has to offer? At best it might be the equivalent of naming the kid Pizza. People like Pizza, but everyone has different ideas about it.

Place names make lousy names anyway, unless they are also name names. Like, you could name your kid after Lincoln, Nebraska, but they'd think you named him for the president; no one would know. Unless you made his middle name Nebraska. Which would be silly, but I'd applaud it. Especially if your last name was Towncar.

Lincoln N. Towncar, Attorney at Law -- has a nice ring.

A lot of my family members grew up on Brooklyn. Not all of us. None of us made it to Manhattan as a residence, but we polluted the outer boroughs pretty well. And all of us can speak a fluent Brooklynese.

But even there, you have so much variation among Brooklyn neighborhoods that it's hard to say there is a genuine Brooklyn accent anymore. African American dialects predominate in some areas; Spanish (and Spanglish) in others; Yiddish is still very popular; Italian neighborhoods speak STFU; Korean is heard in former Irish/Scandahoovian strongholds. In Park Slope they speak Pretentious Yoyo, which is known in most major Western cities but not in every area of the borough itself.

An elderly acquaintance of mine grew up in the Bushwick section. He likes to say, in all sincerity, "If you should ever have an opportunity to go to Bushwick, you should decline as quickly and as forcibly as possible."

But most people who grew up in Brooklyn have a strong, almost unreasonable attraction to the place. And many, many people grow up there; Kings County is the most populous county in New York State, more so even than New York County (which is Manhattan). If the five boroughs had not come together to form a unified city, Brooklyn would rank as the third largest city in America, after Los Angeles and Chicago.

I'm not saying that there is not a lot to love about Brooklyn. I believe those who tell me there is. The thing is that if you're going to name your kid after a place, you can't have just been there. You can't even have just lived there. You have to have grown up there, and not as a child of privilege. You don't have to be Francie Nolan, but you can't have an experience of a place if someone's greasing the skids for you, or is waiting in the wings to pull you out if you get jammed up. You need to have the experience of growing a life there. If you have not seen a place in those conditions and love it anyway, it's not love; it's only like.

Like is fine for Facebook. It's a lousy basis for the name of a child.

I do see the appeal of the name Brooklyn; it combines two popular girls' names (Brooke, Lynne), and its Dutch roots as Broken Land are sooo drama. But everyone's going to think of the borough.

On the other hand, there are plenty of perfectly pleasant places that would make terrible names for your baby, even if you grew up there, even if you loved it. Places like:

Loon Lake, Washington
Intercourse, Pennsylvania
Hell, Norway
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales

Just don't do it. Think of the children!!

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