Monday, October 15, 2012

Yes, My Kid Has a Funny Name. Wanna Throw Down?

Yes, my kid has a funny name.  No we are not crazy hippies.  No, we didn’t combine three names to come up with this one.  No he’s not adopted from a foreign land (I mean he came from a foreign land but I carried that lump around for 10 months!) No, we didn’t pull his name from the back pages of an obscure baby-name book.  I found our child’s name just like everyone else – by searching the pages of a celebrity gossip mag.  Yes, it is “interesting.”  Yes, I will spell it again.  Yes, it is difficult.  But it is his name and he deserves the respect of you doing your best to pronounce it.  Those of you with regular names who have never had to correct or assist people with the pronunciation of your moniker might never understand.  But those of us who’ve been though it are a bit more sensitive.

Shocking as it may seem, The Midget is not his real name.  I know, this is a scandalous revelation to many.  His name is Teoman (tay-oh-mon).  His name is also not Ted.  Nor is it Montel.   It is not Tailman and it is not Tenmin. (I mean come on people, these are not even names.  Are you even trying?)  It is not Cale (Because a child named after leafy greens is cool but my kid’s name is weird?) And it is not Caleb.  If he likes you, he’ll let you call him Teo but he usually reserves that for family and people under 4 foot.  He’s fickle.  That happens to kids with funny names.

As with many things in a bi-cultural relationship, naming offspring is a rough business.  Do you go with an uber ethnic first name to match the uber ethnic last name or try to split the difference and give him a common and easily Americanized first name?  We didn’t have much of a choice in naming our little half-breed because he was born in Turkey. Turkey, like most nations, is filled with a plethora of arcane and absurd laws to govern the everyday life of its people and those who marry them, one of those being that any child born in Turkey to one or more Turkish parent must have a Turkish name.  A child cannot hold Turkish citizenship without a Turkish name.  Can’t come up with a Turkish name?  Don’t worry, the government will do that for you.  Mehmet for boys, Aysa for girls.  You have five days after giving birth to sign the register acknowledging your child’s birth at the government office in his/her family city.  If you don’t make it, they register the child as Mehmet.  Mehmet teamed with our last name sounds like a Dr. Seuss character, so there was no way I was allowing the Turkish government to name my child.

Choosing a name for a baby is rough but doing it in a second language is ridiculous.  I didn’t want to be too trendy, or too weird.  I didn’t want something that had religious affiliations or geographic  limitations (think someone in Boston naming their son Jethro Bodine) and God forbid I give him a solid Middle Eastern name that 30 years from now is associated with a tyrant (re: all those Turks named Hussein, Genghis and Attila).  Then there is the risk of unknowingly giving him a nerd name like the Turkish version of Herbie or Melvin.  So I limited my name search to areas which I felt might be free of nerds, religious zealots and would-be tyrants – soccer teams and pop music. 

Teoman the musician
We ran though hundreds of names from drummers to goalies. Mustafa (too Lion-King), Burak (too Barak), Emre (too close to Emory – my first bus driver with the giant, hairy ears), Gokay (too close to my husband’s name and no one can ever say his name) Ozcan (too geographical) Serdar (I had a brat with that name in my class – clearly the name was cursed), Tolga (too close to toga) Erhan (no one would ever pronounce it in America) Tuncay (beautiful in Turkish – ugly in English), before finally returning to my first choice – Teoman.  Teoman is a rock god in Turkey known for pushing the boundaries of decency.  More than that, Teoman is a straight-up classic old Ottoman name.  It’s rare but very recognizable to Turks.  My husband, lover of all things Ottoman, was on board with the classic association and I of course was getting to name my child the Turkish equivalent of Elvis.  What a win-win!

However, it has not been easy-peasy.  The difficulties with the Midget’s name began before we even left Turkey.   People were shocked to learn that the blonde toddler with the big blue eyes was saddled with such an old-school Turk name.  They were impressed that he babbled along in Turkish but still confused by the little half-breed. 

Upon returning to America we attended our first library story-time while at my mother’s in Missouri.  Though I repeated it five or six times and spelled it as well, the kind old library lady was absolutely certain his name was Montel.   She introduced him to the other kids as Montel and I was so busy trying not to laugh I was unable to stop her. 

When I accepted a job at a boarding school, the Head of School announced to the entire staff and school board via a serious of memos that I would be arriving with my husband and my son Tailman.  

This fall he arrived at his new school to see his name plastered across the classroom on cubbies, desks and in circle spots as Tenmin.  Jackson, Levi, Sophie, Sadie, Ada, Cooper and Tenim.  His response was simple, “Really Mom?  Really?”

Countless playground episodes have gotten us to Cale, Caleb, Tom and Timmy.

And last week as I dropped him off at his Tuesday Book Buddies group , upon seeing him, the librarian clapped her hands and exclaimed, “Oh Ted!  Welcome back!  We missed you last week.”  Seeing the contorted look on my face she added, “His name is Ted right?” 

“Um no.  His name is Teoman.”

“Oh my goodness.  Why didn’t he say something? We’ve been calling him Ted for weeks!”


Poor old Ted.  I guess by this point, he’s just tired of it all and having the name of a dead Kennedy or a serial killer was better than trying to correct someone’s pronunciation one more time.  

Perhaps we just have to accept that even though we see his name as beautiful and classic, filled with individuality and strength, a constant reminder of who he is and that like his father, his life began in a land far away, in a culture as old as his name, he might not feel the same right now.  He is a Turk and he will always be a Turk but maybe sometimes, when you’re a four year old Turk in America, you might just want to be Ted.  And for that, I love him even more.   

But though he is a Turk, he’s still got half of my genes and those genes will one day be the reason he says – “Yo Lady, my name is not Ted.  My name is Teoman.  T-E-O-M-A-N.  Get it right or I’m gonna screw with your name.  Dig it?”  And trust me, it will happen. It's only a matter of time.


  1. I wonder what episodes my granddaughter will have with her name Aislin. Of course, Sarah & Russ pronounce it the English way & not the Irish because they felt people would never get it right. And then if Rob & his wife ever have children, their children most likely will have Puerto Rican names. And you know people already get confused about the way Hispanics do surnames so there will probably be many episodes with them. But I hope they see the humor side of it like you do.

  2. His name is beautiful and I love the meaning behind it. I named my daughter Anna Lynn, Anna after my m-i-l Jo Ann and Lynn after my mama Sheri Lynn. I hate it when people just call her Anna. I always correct them but I wish I would have combined the two some other way.

    1. Thank you! I hate when people shorten his name too but I'm sure eventually we'll both be doomed when they decide to shorten it on their own. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I'm so glad you wrote this. I love to hear how people named their kids. I'll be honest, some make me roll my eyes, but names with stories, named after good, strong people with national ties are wonderful. I am so intrigued/amazed by some of the laws in other countries. The country gives your child a national name if you don't? Wow.

    1. Ah yes, there are many more wonderfully odd laws there as well. It's funny because it seems so odd to people here but it's just the norm for us now. I join you in the eye roll - every time we get a new preschool class I look at some of the nametags and think - "Seriously? You know she's going to be a stripper right?" Or my favorite, when there are 15 kids of the same name.

  4. "serious of memos that I would be arriving with my husband and my son Tailman."

    I think my cut and paste gadget was not working???!!! "Teo" was a rock star on campus and we miss him!

    "That Head of School!"

    1. Nice! We forgive you. Miss you guys. Hope all is well!!!!

  5. I fail to see how anyone could get Montel, Cale or Caleb from Teoman. If you say it too fast, I can see how it would be mistaken for Tailman.
    I myself would have guessed Tee-oh-man, since I've never understood "man" being pronounced "mon". (unless you're Jamaican).

    1. Well, how do you say Hellman's, the mayonnaise? Hellmon or Hellman?

  6. Ahh names. I used to think the more unusual the name, the better. I was going to name my kids all kinds of crazy names. And then I became a teacher. And I saw what happens when ignorant adults refuse to try to say a kid's name and eventually, the kid gives up and says "yes, it's John" when it's not. I try realy hard to say names correctly, even with the accent of their mother tongue, if I can. But I hear kids and adults alike calling Mateus Matthew and Joao Jon and it just kills me. I ask kids about it sometimes and they just shrug and say they don't care.

    But I care. I truly believe that your name is your identity. You have this identity with your family who can say your name right and then you go out in public and everyone just ignores it and either comes up with their own version or just never really says it quite right. It has to mess with you a little bit. Someone needs to do a research project on names and what happens to you when someone says your name wrong.

    My name is fairly simple but people are forever leaving off the last syllable. FOr YEARS I never said anything. Now, it's so automatic for me to correct people, I don't even know I've done it. Some people say they are sorry and try again. Others just shrug and say it's close enough. Well, no, it's not close enough. It's not my name when say it the wrong way.

    So, encourage Teoman to start now. Start correcting people, nicely, when they say it wrong and learning to be assertive about it until they get it right. OTherwise, he will just be Ted and that's just wrong!!

  7. Thanks so much! I know what you mean about the simple name with a twist - mine it the same. - Very easy to mispronounce and for some reason since I was a kid, the minute someone mispronounces it I cringe. It is infuriating when people don't even try- or worse, they comment on how ridiculous it is. "Well that's silly. You should just go by ____." ARGGGG! Thanks for stopping by!!!!