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DRAWN OFF TOPIC

Singer/songwriter Sarah Slean on the right to choose children’s names Add to ...

Sarah Slean’s latest CD, Land and Sea, was given four out of four stars by The Globe and Mail. She will be performing in Quebec City on Feb. 2, in London, Ont., on Feb. 16, in Winnipeg on Feb. 21 and in Calgary on Feb. 28. For a full list of tour dates, go to sarahslean.com/tour.

In Iceland, a young woman is taking the government to court for forbidding the use of her given name, Blaer, which translates as “light breeze.” What is your full name?

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Sarah Hope Slean.

Did your parents choose well?

They did. There were a lot of Sarahs when I was growing up. I was in classes with three of four Sarahs. So that was a little bit of a drag. You grow into your name and make it suit you. I felt I was a different kind of Sarah than the other Sarahs.

Were you almost named something else?

I was almost – and I shudder to say this out loud: Summer Dawn Slean. I wrinkle my nose at it right now. Summer Dawn is borderline stripper.

Would you ever consider multiple entertainer name changes – go the whole Puff Daddy to P. Diddy to Do Wah Diddy or whatever he is now route?

No. I had a moment there when Sarah Harmer and Sarah McLachlan were releasing records around the same time that I was. Journalists would make remarks about the three Canadian Sarahs, and that was kinda tiresome. I thought at one time of going by just my last name, which I quite like and which has Irish roots. Bottom line is, this is my name and not a lot of what I do artistically is about an invented persona. It’s very clearly me.

Have you any interest in doing a Prince – adopting a symbol and ending up as The Artist Formerly Known as Sarah Slean?

Probably not. But I have to say I think it’s interesting when people play with norms, play with society’s comfort zone, play with language. The whole Icelandic issue did sort of smack a little bit of the older generation wanting things to stay the same and within the confines of tradition. A lot of cultures cling so tightly to things like this.

In naming your children-to-be, will you feel societal pressure or family pressure?

Personally, I wouldn’t. My parents have very strong opinions, and if I were to suggest a name to my parents, even with the inner conviction that I would never bow to their opinion, if my mother or even my mother-in-law wrinkled her nose up at a certain name, that would deter me. It would spoil it.

What if society wrinkled its nose at your choice in names?

There’s a certain balance to be found. I can understand wanting to fall in love with a name and feeling it has its own meaning and wanting to bestow that meaning on your child. But there’s also wanting to make their passage through life smooth, and that inherently involves the pressure of conformity. I think I wouldn’t feel the need to name my child something like Moon Unit. That would set up a whole bunch of expectations the child would have to overcome. Grade school is hard enough.

In such cases, should the government step in and say, “No, this name is unacceptable” in order to protect children from absurd names and idiotic parents?

I have to say no. There are things the government can’t legislate. We can’t legislate the minutiae of parenting. Can they legislate common sense? I think you have to pull back. You can’t have the government in your house, in your bedroom, in your parenting.

The mother of the young woman taking the Icelandic government to court has said that naming one’s child is a basic human right. Is it not also a responsibility?

Yes! And this is where I feel modern society gets kind of rights crazy. This is my right! Rights end where collective rights begin and there’s an overlap. They aren’t absolute.

The factor in this particular story is that, culturally, the first name in Iceland is much more significant than in our culture. Even the mayor of a major city is referred to by his first name. So I think the reason there has been friction and she had to go to court to make this stand is that common sense just isn’t common. In our culture, I think common sense would prevail in terms of the first name – unless our society deems it’s blatantly derogatory.

Should Blaer win the right to freely choose – in fact, keep – her name?

Her name is not on the list of culturally approved names. It’s a right. She should win. Her name is not an impediment. She looks like a healthy young teenager to me. It’s a beautiful name.

 

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