My name is Marlene. That’s pronounced Mar-lane-ah, as in Marlene Dietrich.  Over the years, I’ve cursed my non-phonetic name when I’m ordering pizza, or coffee at Gloria Jeans. In their defence, my parents were schoolteachers and didn’t want to use the name of any memorable kid they’d taught over the years.

At least Marlene is a real, bona-fide name. According to a study* of over 4000 kids in Perth, this name protected me from serious childhood illness. Not surprisingly, there was a strong correlation between Nomenclatural Adventurism and rate of admission from ED to the kids’ ward.

(And yes, before I get howled down, it’s unlikely to cause ill health. But who ever let truth get in the way of a good statistic?)

Do parents realise that doctors, nurses and teachers collect bad baby names and trade them later for laughs? Like Meadow Lea, and Anarchy Reign.  Though at least those are actual words, if not real names. My absolute favourite non-word, non-name is Abcde. It’s pronounced Ab-si-dee. Uncurl your toes now.

Interestingly in Australia and NZ, you can’t use numbers in names. Which is lucky for baby Number 16 Bus Shelter, whose name was rejected. One wonders whether the parents’ inspiration was similar to the parents of baby Midnight Chardonnay? And perhaps the parents of Kiwi twins Benson & Hedges were romantics, inspired by a post-conception cigarette they’d shared.

But if you think laterally enough – which is not a virtue, by the way – you can slip in numbers using Roman numerals. Like Kviiitlyn. Yes, that’s K(VIII)lyn. Or you could try Kviiite. Have you figured it out how to pronounce it yet?

You CAN use apostrophes and dashes as liberally as you want, unfortunately. Like T’Neal, or Max-ine, or Ad’m.  Or you could be really clever, like the parents of La-a, and Ka-a. Yes, that’s La(dash)a, and Ka(dash)a. Read it and weep!

Personally, I’m waiting to meet baby Chlamydia. Doesn’t it sound pretty? I do know there’s a Candida out there. While we’re on bad names, I’d like to point out that all boys with a J-name are naughty: Jai, Jett, Jamie, Jack, Jordan, Jonas, Jayden, Jaiden, Jax, Jaxon, or even Jaxxon. Save yourself the jail visits later, and give them a nice well-behaved name like Larry, or George.

Why not wait for your baby to become a unique little person, instead of giving them such a unique name that they’ll probably change their name by deed poll the minute they’re a legal adult? Happily, for ‘Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii’, the NZ Family Court stepped in first and forced a name change in 2008 when she was 9 years of age, because it was “embarrassing, and made a mockery of the child.”

Such names are no doubt capable of causing psychological trauma. But what about physical? These naming categories, identified with the study, were statistically proven** to correlate with ill-health in your baby, and should therefore be avoided at all costs:

Popular Culture Names

  • Avoid the likes of Bella, NarniaArya, or Narla

Apparently Unique Names

  •  Like poor kids Rysk, Zaniel, Rilo or Kaixin

Surname as First Name

  • Watch out for Connor, Harrison, and Mackenzie

The best test? If you can imagine a news reader announcing  “Prime Minister <name> met with the Surgeon General today…” without collapsing in fits of giggles, then you’ve got yourself a real bona-fide name.  And hopefully a healthier future for your child than J’Adore, Drifter or Xenon will get.

* Children’s Nomenclatural Adventurism and Medical Evaluation Study J Paediatr Child Health. 2009 Dec;45(12):711-4. Princess Margaret Hospital for Children, Perth, Western Australia, Australia.

**  Never trust the phrase statistically proven without reading the fine detail. Correlation does not equal causation. Moustaches are statistically proven to be correlated with injury. That’s because men grow moustaches AND do more stupid things. It’s not the moustache that causes the injury.



  1. I totally feel your pain about having a “normal” name that people can’t pronounce. I’ve been called “Pen-eh-LOPE” (rhymes with soap) so many times, I’ve started to believe that’s actually my name, rather than the obviously more difficult but correct “Pe-NEL-oh-PEE”. At least Penny is easy but then I have the ongoing dilemma of which situations to use Penny and which situations to use Penelope. So another tip for new parents: try to avoid long formal names which will be abbreviated for everyday use as it creates confusion in the child to have two names for different occasions. Also – avoid calling your child a name which in another language has a rude or hilarious meaning. It was only years after my high school trip to France that I realised with horror that Penny is prenounced exactly the same as pénis by the locals…

    And yes.. I hate that moment when you are about to call a patient from the waiting room and you really can’t even guess how it’s meant to be pronounced… Or trying to stifle the giggles when a new parent tells you the name of their precious newborn, “We couldn’t decide between Barry and Kevin so we went with Bavin”…

  2. Oh dear, I gather you used Penelope (in full) after that in France. I can’t believe people would pronounce it Peneh-LOPE! Though having said that, I did hear someone mispronounce Phoebe recently as ‘FOH-BEE’ so probably shouldn’t be surprised.

  3. The world of ESL has some beauties in the sounds-funny-in-another-language department. One of my favourites is the Korean name “Bamsak”.

  4. Hi, stumbled across your blog via twitter and am liking it! Just wondering if you got picked on at Med School because your name sounds like Melaena?

    • It did get a few giggles, yes… especially as our tutor had an unfortunate accent that pronounced it EXACTLY like Melaena…

  5. Nice piece M
    I worked for Frank Willis in Perth during this “study” which was really just a piss take – but made some good points!

    Now 10 odd years later I am trying to come up with a name for my third son – having used our first two preferences (4 if you count middle-names) it is getting tough

    What names would meet the criteria for all the good things in life ?
    Old school common names which haven’t been spoiled by popular culture references
    Maybe George is a good one……?

  6. My mom still apologizes to me occasionally for my name. Not the weirdest for sure, but part of a wave of hippie names (like Summer, Sunshine, and Jamouna) given to children in the sixties from people with ordinary names (like Linda, Joanna, and Jan) trying to make their own lives more extraordinary and by proxy, their children’s too. Though their intentions were good, if not a little influenced by marijuana, the fall out is a generation of people left embarrassed and having to do the explaining.

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