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From Gontran To Adolf, The Influence Of Name Choice

Some believe names represent more than just a matter of taste, that they destine people to certain fates. But most everyone can agree that certain names are simply bad choices.

What's in a name?
What's in a name?
Marie-Pierre Genecand

-Essay-

GENEVA — They thought about "Agathe," but they chose "Romane" instead because it's more combative, more defiant. An empire for a little girl, that should be enough. We all know one or two Lucies, which is a luminous first name, nice in all seasons, and even more radiant in winter. Who's met a Gontran? Or a Gonzague?

First names. If you're like me, introducing acquaintances to your loved one, even people who have been longtime friends, can be hellish. You recognize and appreciate the person, but then you go blank. You just can't remember their name. I have a theory about this inexplicable handicap. It's not age, but instead something more Freudian. I think I forget first names because I don't like my own. It's too long, too bossy, and there are too many Rs. When I was little, I dreamt about being called Sonia. Or Lina, like my grandmother.

I swore that my first child's name would have at least three As, whether I had a daughter or a son. It seems like a good way to introduce a newborn to the world and to ensure an a cappella life. This is indeed how it's been. "My little one is like water, she's like flowing water. She runs like a stream that the other children chase," as the opening lyrics to French singer Guy Béart's song "L'Eau expand=1] vive" go. In more concrete terms, my oldest child studies socio-anthropology in a European capital that has just been shaken by a tragedy. I couldn't have hoped for a better name.

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Photo: Quinn Dombrowski

Now comes the question that every future parent thinks about with a mix of anxiety and excitement. Does a name shape a person? Does it have the power to influence the course of life? I think it does. And all the first-name dictionaries think so too. An Irène won't live the same life as a Lola. A Jean-Albert will simply have a different trajectory than a Matteo. Or, as Quebec singer Linda Lemay sings in "Alphonse," "an Alphonse won't launch into business/He will be fooled/Even if daddy was successful, Alphonse will start from scratch."

Of course, rational people will say that there can be coward Pierres and brave Pierres. Expressive Alexandres and discreet Alexandres. Joking Bernards and serious Bernards. I don't disagree with them. But there is one truth we can all agree on: There are forbidden names. The superb film What's in a Name? proved it brilliantly with "Adolf," which is indeed difficult to bear.

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food / travel

Denied The Nile: Aboard Cairo's Historic Houseboats Facing Destruction

Despite opposition, authorities are proceeding with the eviction of residents of traditional houseboats docked along the Nile in Egypt's capital, as the government aims to "renovate" the area – and increase its economic value.

Houseboats on the Nile in Zamalek, Cairo

Ahmed Medhat and Rana Mamdouh

With an eye on increasing the profitability of the Nile's traffic and utilities, the Egyptian government has begun to forcibly evict residents and owners of houseboats docking along the banks of the river, in the Kit Kat area of Giza, part of the Greater Cairo metropolis.

The evictions come following an Irrigation Ministry decision, earlier this month, to remove the homes that have long docked along the river.

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