Frog and Toad Teach Linguistics—Keith Slater and Kean Kaufmann SpecGram Vol CLXIII, No 2 Contents Word-A-Day Mongolian Calendar—Advertisement

The Sociolinguistic Impact of Hippie Linguist Naming Practices

ɹɒbɪn O’Jonesson

There is little discussion in the literature concerning the social and psychological effects of the distinctive and unusual names given to children by their hippie parents, such as Moonbeam, Peacekarma, Ryvre, Starchild, Redpony, and so many more. Even less attention has been paid to the naming practices of the particular sub-culture of hippie linguists, who advocated for free morphemes in the 60’s and gave their children names such as Monophthongbreathstream, Pronouncopula, Rezonator, Asteriskchild, Redponymy, and Noam.

The family VW van in 1971.

Very few people so-named have kept their monikers into adulthood. Most have abandoned them—sometimes informally, but in many cases, legally changing them—in favor of more conventional names, such as Fred and Alice. (John and Mary are less popular among the offspring of hippie linguists, for obvious reasons.) My own brush with hippie linguistic onomastics left me somewhat less scarred than most, so I want to share my story.

I was born in 1966 to two otherwise regular Americans who happened to be PhD candidates in linguistics—Axolotl and Vicuña O’Jonesson. Several of their linguist friends had already had children, and the “hippie linguist” naming craze was well underway. My parents were indeed proponents of free morphemes who dabbled in lexicalism, but there was a definite conservative streak to their thinking. My father, Axolotl, had no experience with having an unusual name, since he grew up in a small town with four other boys named Axolotl. Thus, he was concerned about the long-term social consequences of their choice of name for me, their first child. My mother, Vicuña, convinced him that I would be ostracized by the other hippie linguists’ children in the linguistics department communal daycare (“The Kibitz”) if my name were too “square”. They compromised by giving me a fairly traditional gender-neutral name, but spelling it out in IPA: /ɹɒbɪn/. The slashes are indeed part of my name, though I rarely use them nowadays.

It turned out that the other kids at The Kibitz were generally kind to me, though they did find my name unusually uninteresting. My middle school classmates were less kind, but by high school I learned that if I never wrote my name down, and I spoke to all my teachers before classes started, none of the other students would figure out that my name had an odd spelling.

I went to the same politically liberal liberal arts college my parents went to, and there no one seemed to mind or even care about my name. After college I had some trouble getting and holding a job. One of my bosses regularly called me “Joe-bin”—I still can’t for the life of me figure out why—and I couldn’t take it. Another job fell through because I could not convince them that my passport or driver’s license were real. Eventually I settled into a job as a computational linguist for a large sushi wholesaler. Most days, I don’t think of myself or my name as different from those around me. However, I regularly have exchanges like this:

<phone rings>
Restaurant wage slave: Hello, this is Fancy Schmancy Restaurant! How can I help you?
Poor child of hippie linguists: Hi, I’d like to make a reservation for dinner.
Restaurant wage slave: Great, what’s your name?
Poor child of hippie linguists: ɹɒbɪn
Restaurant wage slave: Okay, could you spell that for me?
Poor child of hippie linguists: (resisting urge to say, “Exactly as it sounds.”) Turned-r, turned-script-a, b, small-caps-i, n
Restaurant wage slave: I’m sorry, what?
Poor child of hippie linguists: Turned-r, an upside down lowercase r; turned-script-a, an upside down script a, not the one with the extra hook on top! Some people use that one sometimes, but then my name would sound more like rubbin’, though not exactly. It’s kinda funny, there’s not a good word in Standard American Engli—
Restaurant wage slave: I’m sorry, what?
Poor child of hippie linguists: Oh, sorry. Turned-r, turned-script-a, then b, then a small-caps-i, which is...
Restaurant wage slave: Is this some sort of joke?
Poor child of hippie linguists: What? No! That’s how you spell my name!
Restaurant wage slave: That gibberish isn’t a name.
Poor child of hippie linguists: Oh. Yeah, well, sadly, it is. My parents are linguists.
Restaurant wage slave: Ling-what-now?
Poor child of hippie linguists: Linguists. They study language. My name is spelled in the International Phonetic Alphabet.
Restaurant wage slave: International phone-a-what-now?
Poor child of hippie linguists: The International Phonetic Alphabet! See, it’s a universal system for transcribing the sounds of all the world’s lang—
Restaurant wage slave: Y’know what? I’m sorry, we’re all booked up for dinner tonight.
Poor child of hippie linguists: Oh. Okay. What about tomorrow?
Restaurant wage slave: Sorry, all booked up!
Poor child of hippie linguists: Next week?
Restaurant wage slave: We’re going out of business after tomorrow. Sorry!
Poor child of hippie linguists: Okay. Sorry.
Restaurant wage slave: <click>
Poor child of hippie linguists: But, but... I even left off the slashes indicating the broad transcription. <sniff>

One day, though, the dreaded call to a make a reservation went more like this:

Poor child of hippie linguists: ... My name is in the International Phonetic Alphabet.
Restaurant wage slave: But if your name were in the Arabic or Russian alphabets you’d just transliterate it into the Latin alphabet. Why don’t you save yourself some trouble and do the same. I’ll put you down as capital-r-o-b-i-n and we’ll go from there. How many in your party?
Poor child of hippie linguists: Wait, did you just suggest I transliterate my name?
Restaurant wage slave: Yes, of course. How many in your party?
Poor child of hippie linguists: And you used the English subjunctive to do it?
Restaurant wage slave: I suppose so, yes. How many in your party?
Poor child of hippie linguists: What’s your name?
Restaurant wage slave: I’m not really supposed to say, but it’s Pat. I need you to tell me how many people the reservation is for or I’ll get in trouble with my boss.
Poor child of hippie linguists: Oh, uh, one. Unless you’ll have dinner with me tonight, Pat.
Restaurant wage slave: Really?
Poor child of hippie linguists: Really. Please.
Restaurant wage slave: Okay.
Poor child of hippie linguists: Reservation for two, then, please.
Restaurant wage slave: Reservation for two. I’ll meet you here at 8! Gotta run. <click>
Poor child of hippie linguists: I’m in love.

We were married eight months later!

As my anecdote amply demonstrates, there is hope for the onomastically challenged, even those burdened by hippie linguist parents! To all—except the children of modern hipster linguists, who are doomed—don’t give up!

Special thanks to my younger siblings /kwɪn/, /krɪs/, and [sɪdni], who encouraged me to share my story.

Frog and Toad Teach LinguisticsKeith Slater and Kean Kaufmann
Word-A-Day Mongolian CalendarAdvertisement
SpecGram Vol CLXIII, No 2 Contents