The Best and Worst Thing
Baby Naming Trends: The Heroic, The Vapid & The Aggravatingly Androgynous
By Adam Gropman
Sep 25, 2007

Does what you name a child strongly affect his or her future life, opportunities, happiness and even appearance? Could an Irving look like a Chad? What would Laura have been like had she been born Margaret? Are River, Rain and Dweezil, deep down, the same regular dudes as Jim, Joe and Jack? I really don't know. I do know, however, that first names definitely affect others – those who come in contact with them. Names are commonly used parts of language and aesthetic objects, combinations of letters and sounds we all must look at, think about, hear, roll around in our mouths and utter out loud continuously. 

That being said, there are names I really like and names that rub me the wrong way. Some fall in the middle. These don't excite me with their mellifluous sounds and pleasing syllable combinations but they don't aggravate me, either. These are your Johns, Lisas and Bills -- meat n' potatoes names that adequately serve their purpose. Extremely unique, unusual names can go either way. Some strike me as solid and worthy, while others strike me as pretentious, undignified or just dumb. For instance, in my estimation the names Kiefer and Jada just feel right while the names Shia and Skeet do not.

As with music, fashion and wireless communication devices, a good deal of society's baby name choices are not based on people's most intrinsic, personal likes and historical associations, but rather on the latest hot trend sweeping the nation. Following are my choices for best and worst current baby naming trends. 

BEST

I like a lot of standard, respectable, very English names, like Andrew, Robert, James, Abigail, Victoria and Jane. I think one can't lose with such a name, as it evokes a sturdy, steadfast history and impeccable lineage of important, grandiose figures in the history of the Anglo-American enterprise, a phenomenon now tied much more to place and polity than to race or ethnicity. Even if your ancestors came from Lithuania, Kenya or the Phillipines, you can still proudly be William, Wendy or Earl.

There's a current naming trend, however, which goes back even further than the uber-English, and that's the Biblical. Left and right, parents are slapping names straight out of the Old and New Testament on their babies, and while I have quite a few problems with organized religion, I like this trend because I generally think these are some really great names. 

There has long been a very Anglo-Saxon, Protestant practice of naming children after Old Testament heroes, but that tendency has now blown up into a full on craze and crossed over into other cultures and ethnicities. In the 2006 list of top male baby names for the State of California, for instance, Daniel was #1, Jacob #4, David #5, Joshua #8, Jonathan #13 and Nathan #15. On the female side, we see lots of Hannahs, Rachels, Rebecas, Deborahs and Ruths. However the general public feels about actual Jews, they seem to love Jewish names. I think that's because these names evoke a sense of timeless character, of primal, archetypal figures from that ancient, hazy place located somewhere between myth and history called ancient Israel. They also are fairly simple and they just sound good to the American ear. To my ear, anyway.

There are plenty of nice New Testament names, as well. Matthew and Luke are great names. So are Peter, Paul and Maria, the sexier, Latinized version of the sterile Mary. Hell, you could even name your kid Barnabas (Barney) or Silas. Those still beat many of the horrible, contrived names parents are coming out with these days. 

When I taught school in the Mexican barrio of Los Angeles, I was delighted to meet little kids named Moises, Isaac (ee-sock), Saul (Sah-ool) and Abraham. And , of course, there are many kids named Jesus (pronounced hay-zoos). Somehow, the name of Christianity's Lord and Saviour becomes less intimidating and severe when it's being held by a squirrelly nine year old that's giggling and throwing spitballs. I suppose that's also one of the great things about the Biblical naming trend. It is taking back names originally associated with blind, fearful reverence and obedience and giving them to small, mortal, imperfect living humans. And, as we all know, kids can certainly be little devils.

WORST

I don't understand this recent breed of unisex, trendy modern first names -- Britney, Whitney, Courtney, Ashley, Jamie, Madison, Tyler and so on and so forth. What are these parents trying to prove? Are these names supposed to guarantee that the child turns into a pinched-nose, tennis-playing, nightclub-partying preppy socialite? Were they fearing they would give birth to a hermaphrodite, which explains their failure to commit to a name of definite gender? Do they want their child's name to elicit an aggravated tinge of annoyance in a percentage of the population every time it's uttered?

I find these new breed of names to be arbitrary and soulless, lacking in weight, gravity or history. Was there a Britney in the British Royal Court? Were there any Courtneys before 1970? Isn't Madison the last name of that sloppy guy in The Odd Couple and the capitol of Wisconsin? These aren't names. These are cutesy accoutrements of the vapid, dumbed down pop culture that, sheep-like, embraces Tommy Hilfiger, horrible, un-melodic hip-hop and the show Desperate Housewives

And what the hell is this trend of using last names as first names? I'm not impressed if your son is called Worthington and your daughter is Crandall. If you're gonna do the last-name-as-first-name thing, then go a lot further. I dare you. “Meet my kids- DiNunzio, Worshofsky and Goldberg. Last name Smith.”

A child's name shouldn't be a parent's strategic maneuver to impress the superficial neighbors or the idiots in Lamaze class or the PTA. There is a rich, fascinating world of real, solid names out there, ones that also very boldly denote the sex of the child. I even prefer crazy, far-out, new-age names like Autumn, Sunday or Windsong over these precious, show-offy yet unimaginative Whitneys, Britneys and Courtneys.

Of course, it doesn't help matters any when a Britney Spears, a Whitney Houston and a Courtney Love ascend to such monumental pop stardom. Now that their stardom seems to be crashing a little and other pop stars are reigning ascendant, maybe we'll see a reversal in these naming trends -- less Whitneys, Courtneys and Britneys and more Christinas, Gwens and Avrils. Hell, I'll even take a few Pinks.



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