Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Your name is what??

When I heard  the recent announcement that David and Victoria Beckham named their newborn daughter ”Harper Seven Beckham”, I asked myself that timeless question: What is wrong with people today? 

Harper Seven shouldn’t come as a complete shock.  After all, the Beckhams stretched the limites of the bizarre-meter years ago when they named named their three sons Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz.  Obviously things have changed since the days of Fred MacMurray and the 1960s TV show “My Three Sons”, whose names were Mike, Robbie and Richie Douglas. The most extreme name on that show came from the adopted fourth son Ernie, who was known as Chip. 

According to the Social Security Administration, in 2010 “Harper” was the 119th most popular name given to a baby girl in the US.  In 2004, it was the 887th most popular.  With the Beckhams bestowing it upon their daughter, it is sure to rise quickly in the rankings this year and next, for better or worse. 

When my wife was pregnant, we went through countless name books trying to pick something appropriate for someone who we didn’t know.  We didn't know the baby’s gender until delivery, so we had twice the prep work.  We didn’t want him or her to be the 6th kid in their kindergarten class with the same name, forced to a lifetime of being referred to by their first name and last initial (i.e. Isabella G.).

Giving a child a name is a personal choice. Some people use it as an opportunity to honor a family member. Some people want to be creative and differentiate their kid from everyone else, like the Beckhams., But it seems many more people just follow the trends, which you could say is how life in general is, right?  If it weren’t the Kardashians wouldn't be famous & American Idol wouldn't be the top rated show on TV.  

Given the proliferation of people I know who've had babies in the last decade, here are a few distinctive baby name trends that I've noticed:

Oxymoron Names: 
I know several people who’ve decided that they are going to buck the norm and give their kids names that are oxymorons like “Ryder Schwartz” (how many Schwartzes do you know who are big riders?) or ironic like “Brooklyn Yang” (I think I ate there once while visiting NYC).   

Law Firm Names: 
I am always amused by people who give their kids names that sounds like the titles of  Law Firm Names (i.e. generally three last names): Lincoln Hudson Miller or Parker Logan Johnson. It'll be interesting to see what happens when Bailey Dylan Silver gets a job someday at Johnson, Shmeckel and Goldfarb. 

Verb Names: 
Harper comes from what I like to call the verb family of names, which all describe people performing activities.  Since names are usually nouns this might upset some English teachers. You’re probably familiar with active names like Hunter, Cooper, Ryder, etc.  There's nothing wrong with those names, but they may present interesting conundrums later in life. Like when Hunter becomes a vegetarian or when Archer loses a thumb in a tragic bow and arrow accident.   

On a side note, Harper is one of those names that I find curious.  It might have been inspired by Harper Lee, who wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird”.  Of course it’s strange to think that an 85 year old lady who hasn’t written a book in over 50 years could inspire that many people.  Double side note: Harper Lee’s real first name isn't even Harper. It's Nelle.  

Old Jewish Man Names:
Another interesting trend is what I think of as the “Old Jewish Man” family of names.  It’s when people use names which haven’t been given to a newborn since before World War II (or WWI, in some cases).  Names like Murray, Helen, Ida and Arnold fell out of circulation for a reason. OK, I understand new parents wanting to 
honor a parent, grandparent or ancestor by utilizing those names.  But they need to be prepared for the day that little Hazel is upset at her name being made fun of by any (or all) of the nine Sophias or Emmas in her 3rd grade class.  

Parents have no choice over their child’s eye color, skin tone or foot size. Sure genetics plays a part, but you never really know what’s going to happen.  The one trait that parents have complete and final ruling over is the child’s name.   

So when it came time for my wife and me to pick a name for our child, we whittled down our list and settled on (what we later found out was) the 411th most popular name given to boys the year he was born. It is unique, but not off putting. It sounds familiar, but not too much to make it commonplace.  And as it turned out, it was a perfect fit for our little man. 

At the end of the day, moms and dads can give their kids any names they choose.  But they should think about the long term damage they may cause their child by giving them a uber-trendy name like Pippa Ke$ha O’Shea-Goldberg.  It's not going to be pretty. 

What's the most unusual (i.e. most cuckoo) baby name you've heard recently?


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  1. Good read. We also didn't know what variety of child we were having and so had to pick two names. Both were picked within an hour without any dramas (Willow for a girl and Rowan for a boy, yeah, we're hippies).

    As for the Beckhams naming their kid after Harper Lee .. very doubtful - I could say because neither of them read, but I wont - as they would probably see that as old fashioned.

  2. My daughter went to school with twin girls named Tuesday & Wednesday. Another little girl was named Mystery. I'm not sure what their parents were smoking. :)

    I also have some very Italian friends (both are teachers) who wanted their girls to have original names so they wouldn't fall under the last name initial curse. Their girls' names are Lucia, Lavinia, Ruthalina, and Antonella Elisabettina. I don't know about you but I'm thinking Lisa B. might not be so bad after all.

  3. In particular with common names, eg Chris make sure that the first letter of the last name, eg T does not make the already ambiguous name feminine.

  4. As you see, everyone has a unique idea on what makes a good baby name. Obviously there is no right or wrong. It's just about how much you want your kid to be made fun of for their whole life.

    I think that naming twins Tuesday and Wednesday, however, is just ridiculous.

  5. i just want to know how long it told you to come up with all those categories let alone name them (in a politically correct manner) because that was AWESOME!

  6. I proudly gave my son an old man Jewish name. I hope it makes him grow up to be an accountant or business man. The funny thing is he seems like an old man in a baby's body with a comb over and often furrowed brow so it is working out well.

  7. Jayne,

    Your son's name is actually one of the cool ones in the Old Jewish Man category. And I'm not just saying that.
    The others I mentioned above are just plain awful. No ifs ands or buts.
    In fact, your son's name is one we considered, but it didn't go well with my last name.

    Thanks for reading!

  8. Visiting you from Love Dad Blogs
    Great post, I love analysing the complex minefield that is picking the perfect name for your child. I never expected it to be so complicated!
    Our surname ends in 'n', so my husband forbid us choosing a first name ending in 'n' (like his) because he thinks it sounds silly. I never realised how many names end in 'n'. A LOT! As you say, everyone has their own ideas.

  9. I've never named a person, but if I had had a daughter I would have named her Cookie. Cause most people like cookies.

  10. Excellent idea, Wendy! It might be awkward if she ended up marrying Cookie Monster, however. Or Mrs Fields.

  11. I have a weird name. But people over the age of 60 frequently call me CHarna instead of SHarna because they had a (great) aunt, as my grandfather did, from the old country named Charna.

    But Sharna is a problematic name for many: to say, to spell. But it's served me well, I guess.

    However, Godwilling if I ever have kids I am very tempted to name them whatever #1, 2, are in that year's baby book.

    Good post!

  12. Great post! Baby names are seriously my favorite subject. So agree on the oxymoron thing. I can't stand when my fellow Jews "honor" deceased relatives with waspy names or put them with last names that just don't work.

  13. Sharna: You are unique, so your name suits you well. Totally understand about the difficult spelling issue. My wife has that all the time. Even I tell her that her named isn't spelled how it should be.

    Nina: Thanks! It seems that many people don't think about context when giving their kids names. The kids are the ones who are going to suffer (i.e. get made fun of) as a result. My wife and I thought long and hard about names and didn't decide until our son was already a few hours old.

  14. I'm with ya dude. I laughed especially hard over the names that went out of style ages ago. My husband and I laughed over several of those names when each of our four kiddos was still a bun in the oven. The only thing that "sort of" made those names make sense was "that kid's gonna be an old man longer than he'll be a child". Who ever heard of a little old man named "Jimmy" or "Bobby"... OK, that last one fits Bobby DeNiro but, last time I checked, you HAVE to call him that or he'll have you sleepin' with the fishies!
    The celebrity names that aren't even NAMES are the ones that irk me the most. "Apple"... "Pilot Inspektor"... "Audio Science"... COME ON famous parents! You can do better! At least SPELL better!
    Of course, my Mom loves to tell the story of the woman naming her baby in the room next to her when I was born. THAT MOM wanted a name that sounded sort of like "Regina"... only she SPELLED it "VAgina". Yeah... that'll go over well in school...

  15. I'm with you about weird names parents name their children. As a teacher, I come across different names from year to year.

    I, myself, was given an unusually uncommon Italian name and hated it throughout all of my youth and teen years. As an adult, I now don't care. It did make a big impact on me though as a Mother in not wanting to give my children such uncommon names.

    A name says a lot.

  16. I can't believe you went an entire blog post about baby names without revealing the name of your own since you brought him up and everything! Argh. Brandon? Barney? Boothsayer Smithington III?

  17. So what did you name him??? Come on!

    I am so amused by some of my daughter's classmate's names, including Heaven-Lee, Titus, and several that have such complicated spellings I'd be afraid to try to pronounce them.

    When I was a kid I went to school with a Holly Day and twins, Michelle and Richelle Bell.

  18. You're not gonna want to know me (virtually) anymore but when I was pregnant - almost for the full 9 mos. - I had the idea we would name our daughter Dulcinea, a character in Don Quixote. I think I was brain damaged by pregnancy or something but finally - in desperation - my husband said, "You can't name her Dulcinea people will call her "Dulcy" for short and she'll be a cafeteria worker." He suggested Fiona and we never looked back. Thank God.
    I totally agree w. you that the celeb baby names (and what about Beyonce's baby - Blue?) are ridic. Seven as a middle name? It reminds me of that awful movie Seven! Totally with you on this one. They are all high.

  19. I need to know this name. It's like a physical need. Like I need to eat, and I need to breathe. So, yeah, tell us the name.

    So while you're getting back to us about that name, I will tell you that I loved this post. Names are such an enigma to me. I don't have kids yet, but I have my kids names picked out. How weird is that? Pretty weird, I think.

    I really don't get the verb names. But I must admit I do like the name Harper because of Harper Lee...and I'm a bit disappointed to find out her real first name wasn't Harper.

    So thanks for bursting my bubble about that AND not telling me the name of your son. :( I'm gonna go cry in the corner now ;)

  20. My brother had a college classmate whose name was Moonlight Love. Yeah I'm thinking her parents were hippies.

    We chose our son's name out of a baby book we were randomly flicking through. Our criteria? One syllable, easy to spell and pronounce and didn't sound weird. It so fits him.

  21. We went through lists and lists for both our kids, and we thought we were being so unique with the it's jumped over 500 places in the SS index! With the second one, we didn't worry about uniqueness, just did we like it. We love both the kids' names; time will tell if they end up liking them too.

  22. Oh, the name game! Probably the only part of pregnancy I actually enjoyed. Your list was fun and would be a nice complement to the usual name books on the market. Here's a little something else to consider! Anyway, we had 5 chances and we had five different ways we came to the name. I don't regret any of the choices, but I do scoff at some of the names that I hear.

  23. This was awesome! I love the 'oxymoron' name.
    I was at Target a few weeks ago and heard a mother tell her son...wait for come here. Yeah, it took me a bit to get over that one.

  24. I did the "give your kids the same initials" thing with a twist. I made their first names have two syllables and their middle names have four syllables and they have the same initials. Jaiyden Olivia F. and Jannelle Orianna F. And no they aren't twins although they do look just alike :)

  25. My 8 year olds name is Harrison Reid and my 3 year olds name is Ransom Avery (yes, like the note) to me they sound like good strong names ;) (both my kids are boys btw)