Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Really, darling, not our kind

Some people seem to find the names of the Palins’ children odd, even cause for hilarity. Now, I enjoy a Website like Baby’s Named a Bad, Bad Thing as much as anyone but making fun of the names of actual children who are actually going to hear about you doing so is pretty cruel. (Yes, it’s possible that my own first name - extremely unusual when I was a child - has made me rather sensitive about this matter.)

Plus, the names of the Palins’ children don’t seem all that odd to me. Okay, “Track” is an odd name. On the other hand, Track is over 18 and in the military so he can take care of himself. For whatever reason, “Bristol” doesn’t sound odd to me - naming children after places seems reasonable (well, not “New York City”, perhaps) - but I have to admit I can’t easily find references to it as a first name.

The names of the other two girls are uncommon but not unheard of: Piper Laurie and Piper Perabo are both actors; the wife of Walt Disney CEO Robert Inger is named “Willow Bay”. “Trig” is certainly an unusual name but ethnically understandable (again, see my first name and realize I’m half-Norwegian).

However, I suspect that the people who are getting their kicks making fun of the kids aren’t really thinking about the names at all: they’re using the names to point out how “really, darling, not our kind” the Palins are. Therefore, I strongly suspect they would sing quite a different tune if only Todd Palin hadn’t been so honest in explaining the names and had, instead, played his ethnic diversity background card. Unfortunately, he probably blew that opportunity once and for all in the People interview, but perhaps the campaign could consider his explanation null and void and put out a release that goes something like this:

Among the First Americans from whom Todd Palin is descended there are very strong naming conventions. The Palins wanted to honor those conventions in naming their children while also honoring the contributions of the non-Eskimo people in their lineage. Thus they took traditional tribal naming conventions and translated them into English.

Among Todd Palin’s grandmother’s people the man who could track game most effectively was highly honored. The whole community’s survival depended on him and he was given the honorific name, “The one who can track the bear” once his abilities were seen to surpass those of the other trackers. The Palins wanted to honor this vital part of Todd’s history and so gave their first son the name “Track”.

The rivers and bays where the tribe fished were considered female, maternal and it was common for girl children to be named after those bodies of water. Thus the Palins honored Bristol Bay, the body of water where they fished for a living, by bestowing the name “Bristol” on their first daughter.

The willow tree forms an important part of the ecology of Eskimos since it is a vital food source for moose which are, in turn, a vital food source for the people. Furthermore, the willow is considered extremely lovely by all the tribes in Alaska so “Willow” is a common name for Eskimo girl children.

Pipers are small birds found by the shore. Because they are small and well-loved by First American children, “Piper” is a usual name for later Eskimo children, especially fourth or fifth children.

With Trig the Palins took a slightly different approach. In addition to her Eskimo ancestry, Todd Palin’s mother is also of Swedish descent. The Palins have long admired Roald Amundsen who was able to be the first to reach the South Pole because of what he learned from the First Americans he met during his Northwest Passage expedition. In addition, they admired Trygve Lie for his work as the first Secretary-General of the United Nations. “Trygve” seemed like the perfect name to honor these men but the Palins also wanted a name that would be easy for their son to say and to spell so they shortened it to “Trig”, a Norse word that means “strength”. This name also represents the strength Trig has brought to the family.

All this is nonsense, of course. The Eskimo do have naming conventions but from what little I’ve read they are far more interesting than what I’ve described above.

All the same, I’m willing to bet that if Todd Palin had come out with the kind of multicultural, mystical, supposedly Eskimo explanations I’ve made up out of whole cloth, no one on the Left would think the names were “strange” - and no one would be trying to claim the Palins named their children after witches.

And by the way: does anyone know how the Obamas picked their children’s names? Or care?

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