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On Naming Your Child (Not “BOB”) and Hermeneutics

Don’t name your child a weird name. But on the other hand, don’t name it something boringly bland. Like Bob. It’s so generic, so overused, so – umm – bob.

We named our daughter Patience. Unusual, yes, but it has a good story. Most of the time people think it is unique, they comment on how pretty it is, and – best of all – they know how to spell it. Even with this name there are occasional misunderstandings. My wife was speaking to our daughter’s pediatrician’s office not too long ago. The conversation went something like this:

Possibly tired secretary: What’s the patient’s name?

My wife: Patience

Possibly tired and deaf secretary: Right.

– – Pause – –

My wife (having fun): Patience.

Possibly tired, deaf, and ditzy secretary: Yes, the patient’s name.

My wife: Patience Bixby

Possibly tired, deaf, ditzy and ought-to-be-fired secretary in exasperated tones: Yes ma’am. Now what is the PATIENT Bixby’s first NAME?

Other than that, we have very little problem with the name Patience besides the square-peg-in-a-round-hole feeling I get when I holler in an irritated voice, “PATIENCE!”

The name “Bob” is different. The other day my wife and I accompanied the singles from our church to a Steak ‘N Shake. They were advertising some kind of apple desert with a penetrating question, “Why Bob?” Clearly, they were proposing an alternative way of procuring apple nourishment for one’s self than by the popular all-American choice of bobbing, a method of sloshing one’s face in other peoples’ slobber unless you’re the lucky one to be first. But I couldn’t help but feel personally attacked. Little do they know how much I have agonized over this very question. “Why Bob?”

There are too many bobs. Consider Bob the Builder and Bob the Tomato, not to mention the dozens of comic characters named “Bob.” There is even one named Bob the Angry FLower. A few years ago, Belgium launched a nationwide (granted, that’s not a big project) campaign against drunk driving encouraging everyone to get a BOB (pronounced BOHB), the name they chose for the designated driver. BOHB appeared on billboards, key chains, and bar menus. The questions were, “Where is your BOB?” and “Are you being nice to BOB?” Bob was everywhere.

Lest you hear that there is an underground movement called the “Bob Revolution,” don’t believe it. It’s only a reserved trademark of a baby stroller. Now the airwaves are jammed with Quizno’s® twelve advertisement spots which feature A LITTLE GIRL (Argh!) pretending to be a little boy named “Baby Bob.” So Steak ‘N Shakes’ question resurfaces: Why Bob?

I doubt that the reason is because the name is aurally sensational. Have you ever heard a beginning reader pronounce bob? “b ə – AH – b ə.” Not pretty. Trust me. No, I think it is because of the collective weakness of bobs worldwide. We have allowed our name to be abused. It is probably so damaged that there is no hope of recovering it’s dignity. (Was there ever a King Bob I or King Bob anything?) I have to admit that as BOB as I am, I was somewhat pleased to see that Bob Jones University acquired a president without the name “Bob.” Stephen with a PH sounds so much more academic than just Bob. The only advantage to the name “Bob” for them was the corny little ditty that the university was under the leadership of “Bob the father, son, and third.” Other than that there was no real advantage to the name “Bob.”

Yet, there are some advantages to the name. After all, it is easy to spell. I used to tell kids that my name was cool because you could spell it backwards and forwards the same way. It was a great warm-up joke for story-telling time with the kids until one eight-year-old smart-alec announced in pretentious and condescending I’m-the-smartest-nerd-in-the-room tones that it was not so. The name Bob, pontificated he, was spelled CAPITAL B – o – b. In my sweetest bob-is-not-a-really-cool-name, defeated tone I conceded to his genius, complimenting him on his alertness for grammatical accuracy, all the while smacking his face internally. Of course, even “bob” can be misspelled. I was a little bemused (I’m so oversensitive) when my sweet niece put her newly acquired writing skills to work and made a special birthday card just for me: “Happy Birthday, Uncle Boob!” Now, she’s was just learning to write. She idolized me. But how, pray tell, can anyone correctly spell “birthday” and spell B-O-B b-o-o-b IN THE SAME CARD unless there is – – as I am beginning to suspect – – a subconscious prejudice against the name Bob in the psyche of our culture?

The one other advantage for the name Bob is the unique illustration it can become of a very important hermeneutical concept. It’s not just a name. It’s a word with many definitions. I have heard many preachers preach whole messages based on the meaning of a word in a particular text of Scripture and miss the intended meaning of the author. They are forgetting the versatility of words. “Bob” illustrates this point. The important concept to remember is this: just because you know an accurate definition of a word does not mean that you have necessarily captured the intended meaning of the author.

Now for the illustration. I prepared this for an Inductive Bible Study class in our church. They were assigned the challenging task of interpreting the following letter. There are not dumb redundancies (although the letter is dumb). The thoughts are cohesive. Have fun.

Dear Friend,

Are words important. I think so.

Bob was a bobber who bobbed his bob in a bob before the annual bobbing event which would include bobbing, bobbing, and sadly bobbing. His sweetheart would be there, her hair in a bob, having paid one bob for a bob, but to Bob that was merely a bob when she sweetly bobbed to him (Bob that is). Any bobber who wishes to bob with Bob in his bob only pay one bob without worrying about being bobbed. However, be careful because bobbing increases the risk of bobbing which irritates bobbers who usually end up bobbing Bob the Bobber with bobs. I,Bob, therefore suggest that if this bobbery has bobbed suddenly on you, bob graciously before I, Bob, bob you.



I eagerly await your interpretations.

12 Responses

  1. Notwithstanding the abuse heaped upon Bob’s everywhere and even with the loss of dignity that Bob’s have consequently suffered, I feel constrained to believe that no self-respecting Bob would allow his bob(sled) to be filled with water for the purpose of either bobbing (for apples) or bobbing (fishing with a float).

    Moreover, since our Bob is a fundamentalist, I have inferred that the Bob of which he writes is likely to be, also. Thus, I feel it unlikely that bobbing is dancing the bob (a Scottish dance) or that the bob that Bob hit is a knoblike hanging weight or pendant, as in ear bob. :-)))))

    Accordingly, out of respect for all Bob’s anywhere, I have inferred that the key event that Bob describes is that of bobsledding. A fair amount of room for interpretation remains nonetheless, and thus while having strived valiantly against the mental fog that sometimes begin to encroach at this hour, I doubt that I have successfully penetrated to the heart of Bob’s bobbery. With that, I humbly offer this attempt at an interpretation:

    Dear Friend,

    Are words important. I think so.

    Bob was a bobsledder who (lightly) hit his hair (or head) in a bobsled before the annual bobsledding event which would include bobsledding, fishing (with a float), and sadly bobbing for apples. His sweetheart would be there, her hair in a short haircut, having paid one shilling to get it cut short, but to Bob that was merely a haircut when she sweetly curtsied to him (Bob that is). Any bobsledder who wishes to ride with Bob in his bobsled only pay one shilling without worrying about being knocked into or hit. However, be careful because riding a bobsled increases the risk of knocking against things which irritates bobsledders who usually end up (lightly) hitting Bob the Bobsledder with blows. I, Bob, therefore suggest that if this hubbub has arisen suddenly on you, bow or curtsy graciously before I, Bob, (lightly) hit you.


    So, Bob, how close?


  2. So why not Robert?

  3. yeah, there are some good roberts in this world. =}
    i laughed out loud at the patients/patience story–never thought of that happening!

  4. The biggest pronunciation problems with my boys’ names are always at the doctor’s office. Though it exists elsewhere, the mispronunciation disease sounds so much worse in a crowded room with dozens of ears waiting to hear the highly-educated woman speak.

    I also note that the names which were so churlish and abhorred by family members in the beginning have now been endeared and treasured – or so they pretend.

    Ryan Boomershine

    Papa to a Karsten Micah (3), a Haddon Elliot (1), and a Lincoln (Justice?) – in the next 3-5 weeks.

  5. Brent,

    Close. Very close. A tinge of heresy here and there, but nothing that will permanently exclude you from Bobland.


  6. Bobland. That word brings back memories of jet-lag in a foreign country on a certain four month mission team.

    “You are not in France. You are not in Belgium. You are in Bobland. Bobland is not a democracy. Bobland is a benevolent dictatorship.”

  7. I happen to think Bob is the most wonderful name in the world. My dad’s name was Bob. A year ago, I found an online company that sells an entire line of Bob clothing. I bought a fire-engine red sweatshirt that proudly proclaims me as “Bob’s Daughter.” When I visited Chicago this past winter, I was stopped at least ten times by complete strangers asking where I got my sweatshirt and where they could buy one. One girl (about my age) jumped up and down and said she was going right home to order hers so she would have it in time to wear to her dad’s birthday party. So, you see, Bob, you may not be enamored of your name, but since I know how much your daughter loves you, I can guarantee the name Bob will always hold a special place in her heart. I loved my Bob!

  8. BOB! = Boy-o-boy.
    After all of that, I think I’ll have lunch at Bob Evans!

  9. At least your middle name is Paul.

  10. Interesting thoughts. I had a Grandpa Bob. I never thought anything of it. The name was normal and easy for a kid to pronounce had he lived long enough for me to pronounce it as a kid.

  11. From one Bob to another I can totally empasize. On a mission trip to Ireland a few years ago I became known as “Bob the Builder” to a group of kids during a vacation bible school. The most interesting “Bob” nickname that someone once called me: “shiska-Bob”.

  12. I am Bob. There is even a whole thread dedicated to “Bob” in my honour at http:/www.derekwebb.com/phpBB2

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