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Naming The Baby
by [?]

Wild horses shall not drag from me the wonderful secret that suggested my theme. Suffice it to say that it had to do with the naming of a baby. And the naming of a baby is really one of the most momentous events upon which the sentinel stars look down. There is more in it than a cursory observer would suppose. Tennyson recognized this when his first son was born, the son who was destined to become the biographer of his distinguished sire and the Governor-General of our Australian Commonwealth. Whilst revelling in the proud ecstasies of early fatherhood, he sought the companionship of his intimate friend, Henry Hallam, the historian. They were strolling together one day in a beautiful English churchyard.

‘What name do you mean to give him?’ asked Hallam.

‘Well, we thought of calling him Hallam,’ replied the poet.

‘Oh! had you not better call him Alfred, after yourself?’ suggested the historian.

‘Aye!’ replied the naive bard, ‘ but what if he should turn out to be a fool?

Ah, there’s the rub. It turned out all right, as it happened. The boy was no fool, as the world very well knows; but if you examine the story under a microscope you will discover that it is encrusted with a golden wealth of philosophy. For the point is that the baby’s name sets before the baby a certain standard of achievement. The baby’s name commits the baby to something. Names, even in the ordinary life of the home and the street, are infinitely more than mere tags attached to us for purposes of convenience and identification.

In describing the striking experiences through which he passed on being made a freeman, Booker T. Washington, the slave who carved his way to statesmanship, tells us that his greatest difficulty lay in regard to a name. Slaves have no names; no authentic genealogy; no family history; no ancestral traditions. They have, therefore, nothing to live up to. Mr. Booker Washington himself invented his own name. ‘More than once,’ he says ‘I tried to picture myself in the position of a boy or man with an honoured and distinguished ancestry. As it is, I have no idea who my grandmother was. The very fact that the white boy is conscious that, if he fails, he will disgrace the whole family record is of tremendous value in helping him to resist temptations. And the fact that the individual has behind him a proud family history serves as a stimulus to help him to overcome obstacles when striving for success.’ Every student of biography knows how frequently men have been restrained from doing evil, or inspired to lofty achievement, by the honour in which a cherished memory has compelled them to hold the names they are allowed to bear. Every schoolboy knows the story of the Grecian coward whose name was Alexander. His cowardice seemed the more contemptible because of his distinguished name; and his commander, Alexander the Great, ordered him either to change his name or to prove himself brave.

I notice that the American people have lately been rudely awakened to a recognition of the fact that a nation that can boast of a splendid galaxy of illustrious names stands involved, not only in a great and priceless heritage, but also in a weighty national responsibility. Three citizens of the United States, bearing three of the most distinguished names in American history, have recently figured with painful prominence before the criminal courts of that country. ‘It is not rarely,’ as a leading American journal remarks, ‘that a man who has acquired credit and reputation ruins his own good name by some act of fraud or passion. It is much rarer that the case appears of one who soils the good name of a distinguished father. But it is without parallel that three names, borne by men the most famous in our annals, should all have been so foully soiled by their sons.’ And the pitiable element in the case is not relieved by the circumstance that these unhappy men have clearly inherited, with their fathers’ names, something of their fathers’ genius. The fact is that American soil has proved singularly congenial to the growth of greatness. The length of America’s scroll of fame is altogether out of proportion to the brevity of her history. The stirring epochs of her short career have developed a phenomenal wealth of leaders in all the arts and crafts of national life. In statesmanship, in arms, in letters, and in inventive science, she can produce a record of which many nations, very much older, might be pardonably proud. And she therefore displays a perfectly natural and honourable solicitude when she looks with serious concern on the untoward happenings that have recently smudged some of those fair names which she so justly regards as the shining hoard and cherished legacy which have been bequeathed to her by a singularly eventful past.