The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The magic of a baby name.

Sometimes, the search engines teach me surprising things about the way others think. Today, for instance, someone arrived on my blog, having searched with the terms "prodigy boy names". The searcher was from Stanwood, Washington in the USA.

Now that search gave me pause for what it suggested about the thinking of the searcher. The most obvious interpretation is that they were searching for a name for a new born or soon to be born boy - and had decided to name their child after a prodigy. I found that rather sad for what it suggested the child's childhood would be like. The most likely outcome would be that the child would not meet the parents' expectations - for, it doesn't take much knowledge of people to realize that anyone who would name their child after a prodigy, is implicitly stating that they would like a prodigy for a child. The problem with that, of course, is that, unless prodigiousness is in their genes, as a gift that they may pass onto their child, there is just no way that they are going to have a prodigious child. They can wish all they want. They can choose the most prodigious of names - but that name has no magic in it. It is not going to cast a spell over the child and make that child, suddenly, miraculously, into some kind of clone of the prodigy from whom the name comes. The name of a prodigy is an accidental label, that may be readily detached from the prodigy and used to label someone else. Yes. However, the properties and qualities of that prodigy do not come with the label. Conferring the name of a prodigy onto a child does not make that child into a prodigy. In fact, it is going to do something else: it is going to make the child very sad indeed.

The problem, you see, is that, one day, the child will understand where the name comes from. This is clear because prodigies tend to become famous - so the child is likely to hear of their famous namesake, at some point. When the child does, it will eventually occur to them that they could have been named AFTER the prodigy. Indeed, if the name is a rare one - as I have observed the names of some prodigies are - such as Ainan, for instance - then the child may conclude, quite fairly, that he or she MUST have been named after the prodigy. Then the line of reasoning will lead the child to understand, in time, that the only real reason that their parents could have for selecting that name is if they admired the prodigy in some way. It is a small step from that to realizing that the name was an aspirational choice of the parents - and that they, indeed, wanted their son or daughter to be LIKE the prodigy in question. In short, they would realize that their parents wanted to have a prodigious child.

What happens, however, if, as is overwhelmingly likely, the child in question is NOT a child prodigy? Well, that can only lead to a deep unhappiness about who they are and what they have achieved. It can only lead them to conceive of themselves as inadequate, as a failure and as not meeting their parents' expectations. This is psychologically very damaging for a child. Thus, it can be seen that, far from being a good choice for a child's name, the name of a prodigy is, in fact, the worst choice of name for a child. Indeed, it gets worse. Imagine, now, that the parents of the child TRULY wanted a prodigy for a child. Imagine that they TRULY admired the nature and quality of the prodigy after whom they had named their child. Imagine then, how TRULY sad, it would be to have to use the name of that prodigy, every time they spoke to their own child, constantly reminding themselves of the contrast between aspiration and reality, between the fabled prodigy, and their own, rather more normal child. I am sure, indeed, absolutely certain, that that would take a toll on the parents, after awhile. They may not even be aware of the source of their unhappiness: but it would lay in the very name they had chosen for their child. Every time they utter it, they would be invoking the image of the OTHER, in their minds, unconscious or otherwise, they would be recalling the nature of the one they had admired enough to name their child after them - and would then, reflexively compare that image to the reality of their child before them. It would lead them to see their child as less than they should be. It would lead, perhaps, to them being disappointed with their child and perhaps, to undervaluing them. Yet, it should not be. You see, their child is uniquely special. There will never be another child in the whole history of the human race, like their child. Their child should be valued precisely because he or she is NOT like the prodigy, precisely because he or she, is uniquely his or her self. It is not in the particular abilities, that a human being is truly valuable, but in their particularities: the uniquenesses that make them unlike any other. Once that is understood, all children are to be equally cherished, for all children are equally unique.

Yes, of course, it is a wonder to a parent to have a child with special abilities. It is something that can bring great pleasure to any parent. However, one must not forget that ANY child, indeed, ALL children should bring great pleasure to their parents. Each child should be accepted as they are, treasured for what they are and not found wanting for what they are not.

To name a child after someone special, is a mistake that will reverberate throughout the life of the child - for it is vastly more likely that the comparison will not be a favourable one, for the child -and therefore would be a damaging one, to their self-esteem to have it constantly recalled to mind, each time their hear their own name or are moved to say it. In some way, to be named after another, is to have one's own life and identity taken away from one. It is to become less unique and somewhat blended, in people's minds and unconscious understandings, into the image of the one after whom they are named.

Thus, if you are to name a child, choose a name for personal reasons, for internal reasons that have nothing to do with the famed individuals in the outside world. However, if you do choose a famous name be aware of this: to do so, would be to ensure a life of constant comparison between your child and the famed person. The question is: would your child do well in that comparison? Is it fair on the child? Do you want them constantly to be reminded of a probably greater other that they were supposed to be like, but never were?

It is a dangerous game, therefore, to name a child after the famous. Choose instead, a quiet name, into which the child can grow. Choose a name they can make their own. Who knows, perhaps, the child will grow into someone special indeed and leave others with the dilemma of whether to name their own child, after yours.

Happy baby naming! Choose wisely and with aforethought...

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 6 and Tiarnan, 4, this month, please go to: also write of gifted education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, megasavant, HELP University College, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, Malaysia, IQ, intelligence and creativity.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:59 AM 


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