October 29, 2015 By Fabian Odhiambo

Football Baby Names

Around 70% of the time whenever I’ve been asked to say my name, it has always elicited a certain degree of curiosity. I am Fabian. To the very young ones, this is a pronunciation nightmare, so bad that I’ve gotten used to just introducing myself as Fab to anybody my peer or younger. The older folk usually go like “Is it with an ‘f’ or ‘ph’?” “What does it mean?” “Who gave it to you?”…you know, such annoying questions. Well, it’s written with an ‘f’, it means ‘a bean grower’ and I’m sure as hell my mother gave it to me. But there’s also a football angle to it.

When I was taking my catechism classes sometime in 1999, there was this instructor who during roll call would always shout when he got to my position on the list, “Fabian Barthez!” At first it was weird – obviously Barthez isn’t my name, but of course I knew the reason behind it. It was in reference to the France goalkeeping hero of the 1998 World Cup, Fabien Barthez. After he came to prominence and became sort of a household name, I guess the ripple effect was my profile being enhanced. So I came to accept the name Barthez, short of using it for my official school commitments. It helped (or didn’t) that during that part of my childhood, I was one of the best goalkeepers around. Yes, sometimes strange things happen. Even more bewildering, some people actually believed I was named after that particular French goalkeeper – as if I had been born in 1998. Ha! Barthez would go on to play for Manchester United so inevitably my association with him of the nomenclature persuasion would die a natural death.

Since everyone who knew me knew of my love for the game of football, I would be called every footballer name that had the prefix ‘Fab’. Most of them would be Italian, Spanish, Brazilian…I guess Latino players in general. Some called me Fabrizio Ravanelli, the Azzurri and Juventus legend. Others preferred Fabio Capello, the celebrated Italian footballer and coach. I don’t dislike him so I didn’t mind. I loved when I was called Fabregas though. I love him, always will. It helped that he captained Arsenal and was a master of his midfield craft. In fact, at other times my friends referred to me as Fab4, as Cesc Fabregas is synonymous with the number 4 shirt which he’s worn at Arsenal, Barcelona and Chelsea. Probably my favourite of all the Fab names that I was tagged remains Luis Fabiano. Fabiano was the Brazil number 9 at the 2010 World Cup and you know, for you to be given the Samba 9 for a tournament of such magnitude, you’re bona fide big deal. And of course at Sevilla he was a finisher of the highest order. My former footballer uncle still calls me Luis Fabiano every other time. Music to my ears.

Some time back the TDO gang was discussing about potential names they would give to their children. Of course, names related to football. What sparked this one-off discourse was when one of us pointed out that he had a Gooner friend of his who decided to call his daughter Wenger. Not Arsene. Just Wenger. I still chuckle when I remember this. It’s fine that you show your love for the club, but Jeez! Who calls a girl Wenger? People laughed, expressed shock, approved and sneered, depending on what they think of Wenger and Arsenal. Anyway, on went the talk as people began to open up.

The one who was telling about the Wenger kid, as we would learn, called his son Wayne, after the England and Manchester United captain, Wayne Rooney. Baba Wayne, as we now know him. The United-loving battalion in the group obviously didn’t take this in good spirits and duly gave him plenty of stick for it. Apparently they are fed up with their under-performing captain. Needless to say, I enjoyed every minute of that fallout. Another United fan said he would call his small boy Paul Scholes. Good on him, though even the poor lad won’t have it easy spelling it. The ladies too chimed in considerably. One would call her son Özil, after the best number ten in the world, the one and only Mesut Özil. Another one opted for the Dutch master, the Iceman himself, Dennis Bergkamp. The Bergkamp part will be a tough nut to crack for the kid. The other girl in the group went with David Beckham – and one can understand why. A former England captain, a wearer of the iconic United number 7 shirt, probably the most famous footballer on the planet, plus he’s not so bad to look at. If kids took after the characters depicted by their names, you wouldn’t have second thoughts about naming him Becks. Another guy mentioned Robin, after the gifted Robin Van Persie. It goes without saying he isn’t an Arsenal fan.

The choices above and reasons behind them were compelling enough to make one think about what they would do when that bundle of joy arrives. I’ve always imagined naming my son after myself. Why? Well, why not? But if we’re to stick to the football theme, which names would I opt for? For starters, I’m Catholic, so the name would have to conform. Oh by the way, Saint Fabian, whom I’m named after, was a doctor and indeed one of the great Pontiffs in the church’s history. First choice is Milan. Whether boy or girl. And no, this is not in reference to the irrepressible goal-poaching qualities of Milan Baros. I mean, after the city which hosts my number one derby in the world, Derby della Madonnina (Milan Derby). It’s not a saint name, but I doubt any priest would object.

If the mother of the child disapproves, there’s always plan B. Leon. Relax, not Pedro Leon or even Leon Best (God forbid!). I’ll always prefer Cristiano Ronaldo to Leo Messi, but Cristiano is too long and I don’t want my kid struggling with tongue twisters every other time when introducing himself or writing it. So yeah, I’d name my son after the second greatest footballer of our generation, Leo. Of course I wouldn’t want it to be obvious hence the addition of the ‘n’ to make it Leon, which in itself is a wonderful name. Alternative for if it is a girl? Mia. Yes, after Mia Hamm who bewitched me with skill and artistry when I watched her play in the Women’s World Cup in 2007. Or even as a last resort, Aby, after the greatest international goal scorer in the game of football, both men and women, Aby Wambach. So I guess you could call me Baba Milan and Leon…if their mother gets football like you and I, heh!

What name, extracted from the beautiful game, would you bequeath your son and/or daughter?

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