Zephyr Teachout, Or What’s in a Name?
By Adam Corson-Finnerty
Zephyr Teachout is running for Attorney General in New York State. The primary is September 13. Does she have a chance, running with such an unusual name?
Zephyr has what I like to call a “hippie name.” But then, so do I. I was born Daniel John Finnerty, but was given the name Adam when I was saved by a bunch of west coast Jesus Freaks. Later I married Susan Corson, and in true feminist fashion, we hyphenated our last names to Corson-Finnerty.
Zephyr’s full name is Zephyr Rain Teachout. Zephyr means “a warm breeze,” usually coming from the west. Teachout sounds like a name she picked herself, reminiscent of the era of Teach-Ins during the Vietnam War protest days. But Teachout is a real last name, found in America since at least 1840, with the biggest cadres residing in Michigan and New York. In 1920 most Teachouts were farmers, as were most Americans. Zephyr was raised on a farm in Vermont.
After the farm, Zephyr went to Yale. She got her Law degree from Duke. She is a Professor of Law at Fordam University, and the author of Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United (Harvard University Press, September 2014). If she is elected New York’s Attorney General this fall, she is one of the key players who will put a big chunk of the Trump family in jail. Vote for her. Send her money.
One of her brothers is named Woden. Woden was the chief of the gods in pagan Anglo-Saxon mythology. He is better known as the Norse god Odin, ruler of Valhalla, where worthy warriors find eternal drink, food, and play.
As Daniel McCoy, author of The Viking Spirit puts it:
The dead who reside in Valhalla, the einherjar, live a life that would have been the envy of any Viking warrior. All day long, they fight one another, doing countless valorous deeds along the way. But every evening, all their wounds are healed, and they are restored to full health. Their meat comes from the boar Saehrimnir who comes back to life every time he is slaughtered and butchered. For their drink they have mead that comes from the udder of the goat Heidrun. They are waited on by the beautiful Valkyries.
Zephyr and Woden Teachout’s mother is named Mary; their father is Peter. If Mary and Peter Teachout had been true feminists, they would have named their other daughter Frigg or Frigga, instead of Chelsea. Frigg was Woden’s wife, and as legend goes, she got to pick half of the fallen for her hall, called Fólkvangr, and this included women warriors, the Valkyrie.
Mary and Peter Teachout are perfect examples of a freedom that we Americans enjoy yet take for granted: we can name our children anything we want to. That’s how I managed to attend high school with April Showers. How my daughter once dated Burleigh Sunflower. How my wife, as a magazine editor, happened to work with a writer named Crescent Dragonwagon. And how a former governor of Texas, James Stephen Hogg (1890–1894) managed to have a daughter named Ima Hogg.
This sort of capriciousness would not go over well in Germany, Sweden, and many other European countries. While Americans can ponder the best-selling 100,000+ Baby Names, our cross-Atlantic counterparts are much more restricted. Denmark has a list of “approved names,” of which 18,000 are female names and 15,000 are male names. And your chosen name must match the gender of the child. Ditto for Germany, except that for some reason “Maria” can be used for both boys and girls. Iceland only allows about 1,800 names for boys and another 1,800 for girls. If you want to try something new, you must apply to the Islandic Naming Committee.
In general, the Europeans want boys to be boys, and girls to be girls. They also want prevent children from being saddled with a name that may be embarrassing as they mature. Thus Sweden has rejected Metallica, Superman, Ikea, and Elvis. Denmark said no to Anus, Monkey, and Pluto; Switzerland banned Judas, Paris, and Mercedes; France said “non” to Nutella, Strawberry, and Mini Cooper; and closer to home, Mexico has forbidden Facebook, Rambo, Batman, and Escroto (scrotum). [See: “60 banned baby names from around the world,” by Rachel Gillett and Samantha Lee, Nov. 8, 2017, at BusinessInsider.com.]
Back in the USA, the unique naming trend is getting stronger. According to Time Magazine “Between 2004 and 2006, 66% of boys and 76% of girls had a name that wasn’t one of the 50 most common names of that time period. By contrast, in 2011–2015, 72% of boys and 79% of girls had names that were not in the top 50 most popular.” One of the main reasons appears to be that your child will have a better chance of claiming a unique “domain name” on the Internet!
But let’s return to Zephyr Rain Teachout. One might think that her unusual name would handicap her chances to be selected as the Democratic candidate for Attorney General in New York. However, her opponents also have unusual names: Leecia Eve, Letitia “Tish” James, and — a real doozie — Sean Patrick Maloney. Now I know a suspicious Irish moniker when I see one, and Sean sounds very dubious. Granted, he has blue eyes; granted that his face is the map of Ireland. But come-on, even the Prime Minister of Ireland is named Leo Varadkar.
If her name wasn’t enough, at age 46, she is expecting a child before the election. As she told The Cut she believes “parenthood and being in power shouldn’t be in conflict with each other for women any more than they are for men.” The New York Times seems to agree. The paper endorsed her on August 19, 2018. If she is elected, Donald Trump will have to get ready for Hurricane Zephyr.