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Thread: Question about 2001: A Space Odyssey and “Christian name”

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    Question about 2001: A Space Odyssey and “Christian name”

    I’ll tread lightly on religious aspects but I had some questions about the use of this term . . .

    I was watching 2001 again and ran into a small item that always struck me as odd. There is a point while on the space station where Floyd is asked by a machine for his “Christian name” as part of an identity verification process.

    I remember always being puzzled by that. I don’t believe I have ever been asked for a “Christian name” in my life and without doing research wouldn’t necessarily be sure what was being asked. My first viewing of the movie was long ago but I seem to have a vague memory of asking my parents about it and not getting a very clear answer about what it meant.

    Looking it up, it seems such a name was long given in baptismal ceremonies and more recently largely became associated with a person’s first name. So apparently in the movie it was just referring to a first name.

    It strikes me as being a rather rude question since it seems to make assumptions about a person’s beliefs, and could lead to confusion from someone unfamiliar with the term. Not suitable for a machine asking rote questions of random people. I would have thought asking for a first name would be a much easier to understand question and uncontroversial as well.

    My guess is that this was a common term in the UK in the late ‘60s. Is that correct? That would explain why nobody working on the movie questioned the phrasing.

    Is it still in general use in the UK? If it fell out of favor (as I would suspect) about when did it go away? Basically I’m curious if and when it was recognized there to not be such a great question to ask random people.

    Has anyone here been asked for their Christian name outside of a religious context, just as an everyday question?

    Anyone outside the UK? Generally, I’m wondering where and when this would have been a common question. It seems it wasn’t common in the US at the time the movie came out. At least I never ran into it anywhere I lived.

    Thanks!

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    It was certainly common usage in 'normal' conversation in Australia at the time of the film. It was certainly not used with any particular regard to your religious affiliation but was just one of the ordinary ways to ask about your 'first' name. I would say, without any evidence but just based on my memory, the usage in casual conversation started to drop off from the 1970's on as the country became more multicultural. My Passport from the 1970's doesn't use the term and having a quick look at some family documents from the 1940's that term is also not used.

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    Yes, standard usage in the UK in those days, and for some considerable time afterwards. No-one used "first name" or "given name" in those days, and indeed the connection to a specific religion was largely forgotten, such that people would be surprised if you pointed it out.
    I can't give a better example of this than a nurse I worked with in the 1990s, who was generally a sensible and sensitive person. We worked together in children's dentistry, and she was always anxious about her ability to pronounce people's names properly, particularly unfamiliar eastern European or Arabic names, because she felt it was one of those careless stereotypical British things--not caring to learn how other people pronounced their names. This was further complicated by the fact that the order of names given in the patient's notes could be unreliable--the people in the records office would only intermittently distinguish clearly between given name and family name at that time, and there was often confusion about the correct name order and form of address for (for instance) Iraqi and Chinese patients.
    So, with that background in place, picture our horror when we could hear her coming up the corridor, chatting to a father about his small child. "So, just so I can get everything right ... is Mohammed his Christian name?"

    Grant Hutchison

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    In the Inspector Morse series he di not give out his first name or his Christian name. So one of his classmates nicknamed him pagan.
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    I probably stopped using it in casual conversation earlier than some. Working in Customs, from 1972, I certainly come into contact with a lot of people who either would not understand what you were asking or would be offended by being asked for their Christian name. Grant's story about the nurse is something you tried to avoid.

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    I've certainly heard it in the USA as well, in my younger days. Just first name or given name now.

    And of course, in many Asian cultures your first name is your surname! On my other forum, people have repeatedly referred to the leader of North Korea as "Un". That's just the second half of his given name; his surname, like that of a great many of his countrymen, is "Kim".
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Backroad Astronomer View Post
    In the Inspector Morse series he di not give out his first name or his Christian name. So one of his classmates nicknamed him pagan.
    Columbo and Quincy pretty much got by on one name.

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    I would have thought it meant an alternative name instead of your first name, only used in church, and not your actual first name. For example, I once knew somebody named Douglas who told me that his Church called him "Michael" at certain church functions. I guess it was probably only during the sacraments; I know he was Catholic. (He also said these only-for-church names were always the name of a saint.)

    I never attended a church which had these and don't recall hearing anybody else tell me they did either, but I've never encountered the phrase "Christian name" in any context at all, so there's nothing else I could have come up with for it to mean.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Delvo View Post
    I would have thought it meant an alternative name instead of your first name, only used in church, and not your actual first name. For example, I once knew somebody named Douglas who told me that his Church called him "Michael" at certain church functions. I guess it was probably only during the sacraments; I know he was Catholic. (He also said these only-for-church names were always the name of a saint.)

    I never attended a church which had these and don't recall hearing anybody else tell me they did either, but I've never encountered the phrase "Christian name" in any context at all, so there's nothing else I could have come up with for it to mean.
    There are concepts in which that is true. In Japan and some other Asian countries, Christians have their regular names and then a "Christian name" that is only used in church. I used to know someone who had a normal Japanese name but was also known as "Joseph."
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    When I was in (Catholic) elementary school, in the 1960s, we acquired an additional name at "Confirmation," and yes, that had to be the name of some saint. I recall that a few kid choices were denied on these grounds*. For example, if your parents named you John Paul Doogan, if another name appealed to you as inspiration, you could become, say, John Paul Matthew Doogan, but probably not John Paul Elvis Doogan.

    (However, if you're cementing dynasties, that rule goes out. I note that the Kennedy family could have middle names like 'FitzGerald' and 'Moore' and 'Bouvier' and 'Sargent' and, well, 'Kennedy' as middle names, something that my school's class couldn't have managed. Rich and powerful must factor into canon.

    Some friends of mine kept four names with doubled middle initials, for awhile (it gets awkward). A few replaced their middle name (John Matthew Doogan -- JPD becomes JMD in our example).

    I had no particular motivation towards any additional name, as my middle name was that of my father and an uncle and okay with me, so I tried to re-select it. Nope, I was told, gotta have another, new name, so I picked out an approved one and ignored it thereafter.



    Of course, calling these "first name" and "last name" as we usually do isn't culture-neutral. So we invoke "family name" or "surname," and need something else to call the other name. Someone predicting in 1967 what we'd be doing in 2001 might have assumed "Christian Name(s)" could become the norm.

    *As I recall, one girl wanted 'Joyce,' another 'Diane,' but there were no corresponding saints on the register. Tough.

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    It took me a minute of thought to recall my Confirmation name. It's had no real effect in my life since my actual Confirmation!

    As far as the term "Christian name", I recall rare instances of it being used in written fiction from the early 20th century, exclusively in character dialog, but hadn't encountered it outside of that. I had no idea it was still in modern use, it seems more appropriate to the religious culture of the US than the UK.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DonM435 View Post
    (However, if you're cementing dynasties, that rule goes out. I note that the Kennedy family could have middle names like 'FitzGerald' and 'Moore' and 'Bouvier' and 'Sargent' and, well, 'Kennedy' as middle names, something that my school's class couldn't have managed. Rich and powerful must factor into canon.
    I don't come from a political dynasty, but my middle name is my mother's maiden name, and I don't think it's that uncommon.
    As above, so below

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    Quote Originally Posted by DonM435 View Post
    Columbo and Quincy pretty much got by on one name.
    And also, there are people who actually do only have one name. Two presidents of Indonesia, Sukarno and Suharto, come to mind.
    As above, so below

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    The usage of "Christian name" employed in 2001 had been around for centuries. The Oxford English Dictionary's first citation is from 1549.
    I'm actually surprised it didn't stick around for longer, and that it seems to have been gently phased out without incurring the level of cultivated public outrage on both sides of the argument that we've become used to in our present enlightened times.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    The usage of "Christian name" employed in 2001 had been around for centuries. The Oxford English Dictionary's first citation is from 1549.
    I'm actually surprised it didn't stick around for longer, and that it seems to have been gently phased out without incurring the level of cultivated public outrage on both sides of the argument that we've become used to in our present enlightened times.
    I think we should be careful not to talk about this too much. We might generate a maelstrom.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
    I've certainly heard it in the USA as well, in my younger days. Just first name or given name now.
    Would this be before the ‘60s or early ‘60s? I was too young to remember much of the early ‘60s.

    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    So, with that background in place, picture our horror when we could hear her coming up the corridor, chatting to a father about his small child. "So, just so I can get everything right ... is Mohammed his Christian name?"
    That’s hilarious! I laughed out loud reading that, but I expect it wasn’t quite so amusing at the time.

    Quote Originally Posted by ozduck View Post
    I probably stopped using it in casual conversation earlier than some. Working in Customs, from 1972, I certainly come into contact with a lot of people who either would not understand what you were asking or would be offended by being asked for their Christian name. Grant's story about the nurse is something you tried to avoid.
    Yes I can see that. Without knowing what I do now, if I were on the other side, I would have to ask the agent to explain or rephrase, which would waste everyone’s time. I would be concerned that a customs agent was apparently asking me religious questions and I would be annoyed being asked that question, even once it was explained that it was an innocent question about my name. In the context of the movie, where Floyd seems to be interacting with a dumb machine (not like HAL), in my case I expect the interaction wouldn’t go well at all, since my first inclination would be to either not respond or respond with something a bit rude. Well, hopefully they would have a button to push to request a human for questions. I can just imagine it being directed to a call center with staff having heavy accents that wouldn’t understand the question and would read from a script that would be no help at all.

    Quote Originally Posted by Delvo View Post
    I would have thought it meant an alternative name instead of your first name, only used in church, and not your actual first name..
    Yes, that is very similar to what I thought would make the most sense. In the movie, Floyd responds with his first name, but it still left me confused why they would ask something that sounded like it was linked to religion.

    Anyway, thanks everyone for the information. It helped me solve a minor mystery that I’ve wondered about off and on for years (usually I stop thinking about it soon after watching the movie scene but this time I thought to ask about it). I was able to gather some of the background on the phrase from finding internet articles about it, but nothing I found explained the context of its use - that it had largely lost its religious overtones (at least for those commonly using it) and that it was in common use in some places until fairly recently.
    Last edited by Van Rijn; 2020-Sep-09 at 02:27 PM. Reason: Removed duplicate word

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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    Would this be before the ‘60s or early ‘60s? I was too young to remember much of the early ‘60s.
    Indeed it would!

    I actually encountered the usage "in the wild", so to speak, just yesterday in a book I'm reading.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
    Indeed it would!

    I actually encountered the usage "in the wild", so to speak, just yesterday in a book I'm reading.
    I can’t recall ever encountering it outside 2001, which is one of the things that made it a little mysterious, but you know how this works: Since I invoked it, I’ll probably run into it somewhere within a week.

    Noclevername said he ran into it in early 20th century books. I don’t usually read books of that vintage (though I definitely do sometimes) so my choice of reading material is probably a significant factor.

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    In Goodbye, Mister Chips the professor admonishes his wife with "You allow these boys to address you by your Christian name?"
    (That's in one (or both) of the film versions -- I don't know about the book.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    I don't come from a political dynasty, but my middle name is my mother's maiden name, and I don't think it's that uncommon.
    My firstborn's name is her adoptive mother's grandmother's maiden name.

    Fitzgerald and so forth are acceptable middle names even for a Catholic family like the Kennedys because it's not a confirmation name. I don't know what any of their confirmation names were, but I can guarantee it's the name of a saint. I was never confirmed, having lost the faith before that age, but if I had, I would have kept my middle name--Rose, which is actually an acceptable confirmation name as the first American saint was St. Rose of Lima--and added a saint's name.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post

    I was watching 2001 again and ran into a small item that always struck me as odd. There is a point while on the space station where Floyd is asked by a machine for his “Christian name” as part of an identity verification process.
    ...
    It strikes me as being a rather rude question since it seems to make assumptions about a person’s beliefs, and could lead to confusion from someone unfamiliar with the term. Not suitable for a machine asking rote questions of random people. I would have thought asking for a first name would be a much easier to understand question and uncontroversial as well.
    It was probably (surely) deliberate on the part of Kubrick, to add some spiritual overtone to the film.

    It may also have been done deliberately to suggest how intelligent 2001 computers are about both
    • human context (it may know who Floyd is already), and
    • cultural context (it knows people have religious views).

    Both would serve to foreshadow the introduction of Hal later on.

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    But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    My firstborn's name is her adoptive mother's grandmother's maiden name.

    Fitzgerald and so forth are acceptable middle names even for a Catholic family like the Kennedys because it's not a confirmation name. I don't know what any of their confirmation names were, but I can guarantee it's the name of a saint. I was never confirmed, having lost the faith before that age, but if I had, I would have kept my middle name--Rose, which is actually an acceptable confirmation name as the first American saint was St. Rose of Lima--and added a saint's name.
    My cousin's middle name is his mother's maiden name. And my mother's as well!
    And now that I think of it, my grandmother's middle name was HER mother's maiden name. And her brother's middle name was their grandmother's maiden name.
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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    Not to Kubrick.

    Little known fact: Kubrick did all the footage for the Moon Hoax. But he's such a stickler for detail, he demanded it be shot on-location.

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    Senor ah..um..ah..??

    I was stationed in Spain for a while. Here is the link for traditional surname order in Spain:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=span...hrome&ie=UTF-8

    This leads Americans to the hilarious mistake of addressing a husband as Senor (wifes first surname). Fortunately, the Spanish were very patcient with us.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveC426913 View Post
    Not to Kubrick.
    So what's the subtext behind the way the space station rotates in different directions in successive sequences?

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    So what's the subtext behind the way the space station rotates in different directions in successive sequences?

    Grant Hutchison
    It was obviously a foreshadowing of the power and reach of the monolith builders. The shuttle approaching the space station was actually occurring in two different timelines. The only observable change being that the rotational direction of the space station was different. As nothing else was different Kubrick did not bother to show any more sequences from the other timeline.

    This makes as much sense as many of the other theories about 2001.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveC426913 View Post
    It was probably (surely) deliberate on the part of Kubrick, to add some spiritual overtone to the film.
    I don’t understand how this would add spiritual overtone. I saw it as pointlessly adding a reference to a particular religion. It makes sense to me that it was just a common term and they thought nothing of including it. If it were deliberate, that would strike me as inconsiderate to atheists and people of other religions. I would hope they would have been better than that and also pragmatic enough to not add something that could annoy much of their potential world audience.

    It may also have been done deliberately to suggest how intelligent 2001 computers are about both
    • human context (it may know who Floyd is already), and
    • cultural context (it knows people have religious views).

    Both would serve to foreshadow the introduction of Hal later on.
    Indications were that this was not an intelligent machine. For instance, it had buttons to select language. If it were intelligent, it could presumably just understand what language a person used and adapt to that. In any case, if they wanted to indicate that, they needed to be clearer about it, like having the machine engage in conversation. It wasn’t obvious to me that this was meant to be a general purpose computer at all, just something running recorded speech and some voice analysis hardware.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DonM435 View Post
    In Goodbye, Mister Chips the professor admonishes his wife with "You allow these boys to address you by your Christian name?"
    (That's in one (or both) of the film versions -- I don't know about the book.
    Thanks for the example. Apparently this was a British made film released in 1939. The name sounds familiar but I can’t recall seeing it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    Thanks for the example. Apparently this was a British made film released in 1939. The name sounds familiar but I can’t recall seeing it.
    Yes, that's the classic version. There's a 1969 musical remake that I prefer somewhat, and that's where I heard the line, (Peter O'Toole to Petula Clark).

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