Wattpad works

22 March 2012

What's in a name?

Not too many people name their children Adolf anymore.

Strange how a figure can come onto the world stage and do something that makes his name forever his. Sure, other people might use it. A quirky parent here and there might name their baby Adolf because they think the kid is ugly. Conversely, Mexico is chock-full of bearded men named Jesus, though I don't think any of those guys can walk on water.

Still, both of these names in most cultures are anything but de rigueur. One name, however, really does seem to have left the lexicon of proper nouns, at least when it comes to mothers having it inked on a birth certificate.

That name is Romeo.

I have never met or even heard of a guy whose name was actually Romeo. I mean, the play about him is over 400 years old, and though popular, it is certainly not ubiquitous enough to merit such a snub to half its namesake. Sure, Romeo is used as a label, a greeting among friends or a taunt, a recognition of actual prowess or a belittling jab for failure, but it is never used as an actual name. What happened?

It occurs to me that some of the reason might be the mixed message inherent in any use of the name. Romeo himself wasn't responsible for the deaths of millions, but he didn't win their salvation either. He was neither all hot nor all cold. First identified as a lover in the play, only hours after he opens his heart to Juliet peering down from her balcony, he pierces Tybalt's with a sword. Murder before matrimony. In that sense, Romeo is a character as conflicted as Hamlet ever was. Do we dislike the name because Romeo is a moving target?

No, that's not it. Like I said, no one names their child Romeo, but I don't think all that many people in our ever-texting, Bachelor-and-Bachelorette-watching world have heard of or care about Tybalt's fate.

Was it just the poignant, shocking end for Juliet and her young Montague? All those years ago, a play that among other things coined the phrase "star-cross'd lovers?" Juliet died too though. Why not equal disregard?

You know what I think it actually is? Through the years, poor Tybalt really has been forgotten by popular culture, because Romeo is identified only as Lover with a capital L. The ultimate lover. Romance personified.

You may ask yourself, to borrow a phrase from David Byrne, why that would result in the exorcising of a name from signature use.

I think it's fear.

Easy as that.

Call a guy Adolf and he doesn't live up to it. Hey, there's room for celebration. Call a guy Jesus and he falls short, well what did you expect? But call a guy Romeo and, well, what if he ends up having red hair? Or a unibrow? Or red hair and a unibrow? That's a fate worse than death, and I'm sure every man would agree. To be set up so and then fall short in that arena is unthinkable.

Ultimately men do figure out women, at least enough that we can fake it, but even the best men don't attain any degree of enlightenment until their late twenties. To be stuck with a name like Romeo all those years, that is a pressure Adolf could never apply.

So name that little boy Jesus. Name him Adolf if you must. But have a little mercy and keep Romeo off the accepted list. It's just too cruel.