It was my birthday the other day, a time of year when my old Polish mother likes to remind me that such events aren’t necessarily celebrated where our family comes from. In Poland, as in many parts of Europe and Latin America, birthdays are often eschewed in favour of name days. As is probably obvious, a name day is a birthday-like celebration, except it’s held not on the day of your birth but rather on the day associated with your given (first) name.
It’s a tradition that comes from the Orthodox and Catholic calendars of saints. According to said calendars, my name day is Sept. 27. All things considered, that might be a better time to have a party, since many of my friends are usually on vacation in mid-August.
Regardless, I couldn’t help but wonder if name days are a quaint tradition that won’t survive much longer. After all, there are only 365 days a year, so doesn’t that limit how many name days there can be? My mother, in response, tells me that numerous names are celebrated on each day, and that new names are added all the time.
That’s great, but given that people are constantly coming up with new names for their children, it’s not a solution that can be practiced infinitely. In technological parlance, it’s not scalable.
Comparing some of the most popular baby names in 2011 to name days, it’s clear that many people would simply be out of luck in countries where name days are observed. The likes of Avery, Logan and Wyatt would have no choice but to celebrate their birthdays like the rest of us.
Of course, the trend toward increasingly-unique baby names – say, Cinnamon, Lex or even Aloe Vera – could always make a comeback. The current trend may be for parents to give their one-of-a-kind child a one-of-a-kind name, but there are good reasons for going with the tried and true Matthews, Marks, Lukes and Johns (and Peters).