Thursday, October 30, 2008

My NYT Play Essay on Naming Your Kid After an Athlete: The Director's Cut

Did you catch my essay in last week's New York Times' PLAY magazine weekly online edition about the decision-making that goes into weighing whether to name your kid after an athlete?

Call it "Project: Tebow." In addition to your compliments, many of you emailed to wonder why it was so short.

The fact is: They wanted 300 words; I gave them something closer to 500. This was, of course, my own fault -- I should have constructed it for 300 words. Believe me: I always appreciate a good edit, and -- if you look at my essays with them listed on the right -- they give them to me.

That said, I wanted to publish the original, longer version in full, for those of you who wanted to read more on it. Mind you, it's not better; it's just longer. Here you go:

"Timothy Tebow Shanoff" has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

In the lead-up to the birth of my son last week, baby names were on the brain – and on the table.

Sports fans are willing to do a lot of irrational things – scream helplessly at the TV, play dress-up in player jerseys. But maybe nothing about this irrationality hits closer to home than the pressure produced when we're naming our children.

It is not like my wife and I were actually going to name our kid after Tim Tebow, our favorite athlete. That would be as ludicrous as naming your kid after, say, Brett Favre. (What was Eric Mangini thinking?)

But for every name put on the table, my instant reaction was usually, "Hmm: Yes, but what athlete will my fellow fans think of first?"

Eli? Great name. But, after this past Super Bowl, I think it will be a wee bit overdone in the greater New York area.

Isiah? If the first thing you thought of was "Isiah Thomas," you will understand why I rejected that name in about 2 seconds.

Nate? Um, you mean like "Newton?"

Noah was a strong contender, though ultimately discarded because my Florida fandom would inevitably lead folks to believe I named him after Gator great Joakim Noah.

So what about Tim? We could do worse. It's a nice name. Tebow is a talented player and, from all accounts, saintly as a person. (I mean, it's not like saddling your kid with an ungainly name like "Peyton," as so many Tennessee fans did back in the 90s.)

For perspective, our first kid is named Gabe. Though it was just a coincidence, it is not without a little pride I connect him to Gabe Kapler. (Could my own son be that rare Jewish Major Leaguer? Probably not: But he can share a name with one!)

Nevertheless, last week, with my wife in labor, we settled on "Jonah." And I think part of that name's appeal for me was that my sports-fan baby-name radar couldn't immediately summon an athlete who shared his name.

(We gave him the middle name Ryan – I couldn't help but think approvingly of Ryan Braun. In the selection process, I will confess it wasn't problematic for me that each of my boys shares a name connection with a Jewish Major Leaguer.)

In the end, "Tim Shanoff" or "Tebow Shanoff" are as fantastical as the idea of my son suiting up for the Gators and winning a Heisman himself. I settled for paying homage by wearing a Tebow T-shirt in the delivery room.

The advice is this: You won't be able to escape the superficial connections between your baby's name and those of star athletes. You can only play your own game – and hope your children make their own name.

Still: During the long nights of Jonah's first week, my sleep-deprived brain couldn't help but hallucinate that "Jonah" is actually an anagram for "J. Noah."

Update: I remain stumped to find any current or notable major-sport athletes named "Jonah." Who am I forgetting? (There is a talented Detroit Tigers farm-system pitcher with promise named Jonah Nickerson. Thanks,!)

1 comment:

Benja said...

Why would you name your son after the fat kid in Superbad?