The Unexpected Guest

“Sometimes the name chosen for the baby betrays only too clearly that it was not wanted,” reports onomastician Elsdon C. Smith in The Story of Our Names (1950). “The English General Registrar Office for the years 1861, 1870 and 1886 disclose the following un-Christian names: Not-Wanted-James, One-Too-Many and That’s-It-Who’d-Have-Thought-It. A woman once named her baby Alpha Omega with the explanation that it was her first and she fervently hoped that it would be her last.”

When one is asked to praise a homely infant, Lewis Carroll recommends saying, “That is a baby!” Presented with a squirming 6-month-old, William James said helplessly, “It seems a very competent baby.” “Might not Falconbridge have condoned such an evasion in an extreme case as being, at worst, a virtuous sin?” writes Lionel Tollemache. “To be frank would be a mortal offence; and to avert a mother’s wrath, one might be tempted to invoke a principle of limited application, ‘Salus amicitiae suprema lex [Let the good of the people be the supreme law].’ Better this than to set up the more widely applicable and therefore more abusable plea, ‘De minimis non curat moralitas [Morality does not concern itself with trifles].'”