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Monday, June 27, 2011

Baby Naming Issue: Can a Fourth Initial Save the Other Three?

Cara writes:
I have a somewhat general question (with ulterior motives) for you and the lovely commenters. It's clear to me that certain combinations of initials are best avoided, but when we discuss this issue we most often talk about names that result in three initials. What about names that have four initials (or, presumably, more)? If three of the initials spell something that we would avoid if there were only three initials, can the fourth initial fix the problem? Does it depend on the choice of the fourth initial or do we always see the three letters that we're trying to avoid?

A mild example:

SAG seems best avoided. But what about JSAG or RSAG?

If you think the fourth initial solves the problem, would it also apply to a set of letters that spelled something more extreme?

I'm asking, of course, because my husband and I have been leaning toward a middle name that would give our child (due in a little over two weeks) the last three initials of FKR and I'm wondering if there's any way to salvage the choice or if it's a lost cause. The placement of letters is fixed, that is, it can't be KFR instead. Clearly the first name couldn't start with an M. But is there a letter that would work?

Thank you for your help!

I see it as a spectrum thing. At one end of the spectrum are the initials that don't spell anything particularly bad (ER, MD, DOC, INK), where we might prefer to avoid them but if we really love a name it's not worth giving it up just to avoid the initials. At the other end of the spectrum are the initials that are bad enough that we have to sacrifice names we love because it's just too awful. (Different people will have different ideas of what's intolerable, but some of my own would be the initials from names such as Abigail Sarah Smith, Gideon Andrew Young, Sarah Isabelle North, Kiley Katherine Kingston, Finn Alexander Greenfield, Felicity Anne Taylor.)

In between the two ends of the spectrum, it's a matter of trading and balancing: of thinking "Would _I_ mind having these initials?" and "Is it worth it, or is this just one of many situations where a name we love is out of the running for reasons that are unlucky and unfair but it's nothing A Feeling Of Injustice can change?"

Sometimes there's an easy fix, like using a C spelling instead of a K spelling, or using one of the two names for one child and the other name for a future child, or your example of switching the names. The 4-initial idea is another such possibility, and I'd say it sometimes works and sometimes doesn't: it depends on the severity of the Bad Initials, and also on which name is the fourth name. My children and I have four names, and I've found that the first of the two middle names is the default initial for one-initial situations unless I specify otherwise. So if the name were, for example, Abigail Sarah Harrison Smith, I would still hesitate to use it---though if I were determined to use Abigail Sarah no matter what, it's a big improvement.

In your specific example (FKR), I'm not sure. I would want to avoid those letters, but I'm not POSITIVE I would have noticed them as I'm positive I would with, say, FUK or FCK. I do think this is a situation where a fourth initial would improve things, but I'm not sure if it improves things ENOUGH. I was going to have us examine a few possibilities, but of course it's in our minds now so I'm seeing problems EVERYWHERE! Like, if you'd told me her initials were going to be AFKR, I don't think I would have been able to see what the problem was---but I'm not SURE, because now that I'm thinking of it I'm seeing it as "a fkr".

I DO THINK that if I wasn't in the mindset, I wouldn't be seeing a problem. EFKR. KFKR. RFKR. I think these work. I THINK.

But it is a matter of the trading and balancing mentioned earlier: it IS a little risky, and what if I'm wrong that adding that fourth initial makes the problem significantly less? So it comes down to how important it is to you to use the names. (And could the K name be spelled with a C? I think FCR is a little better than FKR.)

I think we need a poll here, but I suspect many of you will run into the problem I ran into: once the idea is planted, the letters stand out too much for a detached evaluation. I did a quick poll on Twitter, but unfortunately I used BFKR as the random example---and of course I was asking if there was a problem, which tips things. To me, the BF at the beginning had my mind going in the BFF direction. The overwhelming response on Twitter was, um, a different direction. Someone had a good point that a lot of us are getting used to textspeak, which leads us to be quicker to see words in partial-word letter combinations.

In any case, about 1 out of every 4 responses were that they didn't see any problem with the initials, and about 3 out of 4 were VEHEMENT amused/horrified responses that they DID INDEED see a problem, with further jokes suggested. But several people mentioned that if they hadn't been LOOKING, they wouldn't have seen anything, or that they knew people with similarly problematic initials who reported never having the predicted problem (TheGoriWife knows a FRT who was aware of the potential problem but said it had never come up).

I asked if anyone could think of a first initial that would remove the problem, and most of the responses were again negative: people said no, it was the FKR they noticed immediately, and anything else either changed nothing or made it much worse. But Dashoff suggested: "A 'J' or 'R' in front would draw me to noticing JFK or RFK instead of the FKR standing out at the end."

After that quick and informal poll, I find my opinion is going toward "It would have to be REALLY IMPORTANT to use those particular names." I think I feel the way Lynnette does: she said "I think that one would be a stretch to come to a real conclusion, though I will not use my favorite boy name because : FKD."

Let's put a poll over to the right. [Poll closed; see results below.] The question is: GIVEN THAT the parents would prefer not to spell something bad with the initials (that is, we are not voting on whether initials-spelling-things matters, because it DOES matter to the parents), do you think the initials FKR are salvageable with a 4th initial? And if so, please put in the comments section which ones you think would work.

Name update! Cara writes:
Thanks so much for the feedback! Reading your response and all the comments really helped me clarify my thoughts. I realized that I probably wouldn't be able to forget that when I see the initials _FKR, I see a word, even if other people don't. We decided that when the baby was born we'd decide on the first name and then deal with the middle name (expecting that we would probably have to scrap the F name and pick something else). But ultimately the whole thing was a nonissue---I was absolutely convinced that we were having a girl (I thought the same with my first and was right), but we had a boy! The F middle name we were in love with (Freya) was off the table. But you can be sure that I wrote out my son's four initials before we did the paperwork just to make sure I wasn't missing anything! Thanks again!


Jessa said...

I noticed the FKR immediately on Twitter, so I think for me if I saw the intials I wouldn't say anything outright, but on the inside the sassy minded me would be chuckling and poking fun of the initials. Kind of like Meet the Parents and Gaylord Focker.

lifeofadoctorswife said...

I can't UNsee the FKR. Is there anyway to use the F as the first name and then have the child go by the first middle name? (Of course, this means that you would have two middle names PLUS a first name that wasn't used. So possibly not the BEST idea.)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I must not be getting it . . .I don't understand why FKR is a problem??

Patricia said...

In my state personal license plates can have no more than 7 letters, so we get used to seeing words without vowels and immediately know what the complete word is. Thus FKR and MFKR are as clear to me as if the complete words were there. I don't think adding a different first initial -- which would totally change the first name ??? - would improve the initials. The child would still have the offending FKR initials together. You could keep the FK and add a second middle name: FKJR for example. Yet a second middle might be dropped sometimes and you'd be back to FKR. The only thing I can see working is putting a name/letter between F and K, like FJKR. If that's not an option, I would change one of the names you're looking at.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: think of TucKeR written as TKR. Similarly, that's what many would see in the initials FKR.

Clarabella said...

I mentioned this on Twitter, but to me, a vowel offsets the FKR, for some reason. AFKR, EFKR, IFKR, OFKR, UFKR. Maybe b/c my mind puts the vowel with the F instead of separating it from the FKR.
Good luck.

Nil Zed said...

The thing you can't know is: will the kid be crushed by any problems it causes, or rise above it so his/her peers leave it be. How big of a problem depends on the kid's personality and to some extent, the parents attitude.

If it's a girl, all good plans could end up moot. My ex granny in law, Annie Sue, married a Stevens. And during the war she worked somewhere in DC. Everyone's government issued chair had their initials stenciled on the back. No, they didn't modify her's.

Then there's the colleague my mom finally got the nerve to ask on their last day working together, "So, were you born a Funsucker or did you marry one?". (married. True love I guess!)

Anonymous said...

Once you've seen FKR it's hard to separate the beginning vowel from it:

Maybe not thinking of FKR as "Fkr" beforehand would cause one to combine a beginning vowel with the F and not combine the FKR, but I don't think the parents can count on that. I personally wouldn't want those initials -- would you?

Swistle said...

Anonymous- It's reminding us of the word f*cker.

Catherine said...

Maybe intials KFKR, it kind of draws the eye to the repeating K, rather than the FKR. Good luck.

Caitlin said...

I tried to be very objective when I thought about this, and try to Unsee it as is written here.
I thought about encountering it in a neutral setting. For instance, what would happen in a professional setting, if I saw a monogram on something in someone's office, and the initials were FKR. And I thought...nope. I don't think I'd notice.

Kids will find any reason to pick on anyone, if they're of a mind to. With kids I think it could go either way (how often do you ever really see another kid's initials anyway??), and after that I don't think it much matters. (My great grandmother thought initials should spell something, so she made sure my grandmother's initials were JEW. They were protestant, so who knows. Gram is 94, and she just laughs about it now.) (I realize we're talking about a baby and not a 94 year old, but...yeah.)

I know this may not be SUPER helpful, but just wanted to make sure to add a voice form the neutral-leaning-toward-go-for-it side.

Rachel said...

I agree with Patricia. The only thing that can make me unsee FKR is to put the 4th initial between the F and the K.

My initials are RAC, which one would think is an innocuous combination (the first 3 letters of my first name, what could go wrong?!). However, I did get called "Rack" occasionally. Thankfully, my classmates didn't actually make the rack-equals-boobs connection (my "rack" is rather diminutive so that would have been prime teasing fodder) but it was very grating.

ANYWAY: I'm very glad my initials don't spell "F*cker". No way to avoid teasing or name-calling once kids figure that out. Which will be sooner rather than later as younger and younger kids are getting cell phones and becoming familiar with "text speak" as was mentioned previously.

Lynnette said...

I should elaborate on my answer. I wouldn't hesitate because I fear teasing, because people rarely know your middle name unless you tell them. FKD seems cruel on maybe a cosmic level to me, as in "this kid is f*cked". It pains me greatly, as it is such a wonderful name when written out or said. I still may reconsider if I ever have a boy.

As far as teasing, I have much grief about the fact that I won't use one of my favorite girl names: Daphne. I just can't have my little girl have the initials DD. What if she has huge knockers? What if she has such small ones as to make the DD nickname laughable? Too many girls' identities are wrapped up in their body image: I won't be a party to making it worse.

Melissa said...

What about changing the "F" to a "Ph". I know it's not the traditional spelling of the "F" name, but it would work. "PKR".

M.Amanda said...

For me, Dashoff's suggestion of J or R gives it a whole new look to me. Even if his name isn't John Fitzgerald Kennedy R___, the JFK initials make me think his parents were thinking of that at the time.

However, for a child born today, I'm not sure if that would register as much or before the FKR part got them giggling, especially considering how kids love to focus on dirty stuff much more than politics.

changelivlife said...

I am going to step outside the pack and take (small) issue with the poll. Are the initials FKR salvageable? Well, I would prefer a poll that asks if FKR is a problem. Like Swistle pointed out, she wouldn't have noticed if it hadn't been pointed out.

I wouldn't have either. And now that I do notice, I don't consider that a problem. It isn't as blatant as other initials might be. This is not something I would EVER let stop me from using the name that I loved. I don't see the point in adding another name. Use the name you love, going by initials (the full set of initials) is a rarity.

I'm really surprised that this is such an "issue" this particular set of initials just doesn't meet the criteria for bad initials, in my book.

Swistle said...

changelivlife- To clarify, it's not that I said I wouldn't have noticed it if it hadn't been pointed out, it's that I said I'm not POSITIVE I would have noticed it. I suspect I would have, but it's hard to be certain after the fact.

I used the word choice "salvageable" because that's what Cara asked: "...I'm wondering if there's any way to salvage the choice or if it's a lost cause."

liz said...

My former initials were EAU, which got a lot of approval from my french teachers.

I don't think I'd have a problem with FKR, frankly.

Bree said...

My initials growing up spelled BEG. Now my short initials are BS. Honestly, no one ever noticed unless I said something. FKR is only something that would stand out after you say something about it.

If the name is important to you, just go for it.

Sarah said...

I would have noticed without attention drawn to it. Sorry. My husband is an ARF and for a few years in elementary school he was called Arf. He hated it! So when it came time to name our daughter, he was really cognizant of her initails. And, it's made me all the more aware as well.

I agree with the earlier suggestion of breaking up the FKR with a fourth initial. Good luck!

The Mrs. said...

I would not have noticed. Like, not at all.

However, if this is going to be the sort of thing that causes a lot of teasing paranoia, I'd go with putting another middle name in the first middle name place. (Example: Frederick James Kyle Dunns)

Hope this helps! Best wishes to you!

Kate said...

I think the best way to disguise it would be to repeat one of the letters already there- FFKR, KFKR or RFKR. That way, your mind sees 'oh, there's two of the same letter!' before you get a chance to see anything else. Of the possibilities, I like FFKR best. I would definitely see it as FF-KR rather than F-FKR.