I was working on a regular old post last night when I glanced at the sidebar. The site stats were up. I shrugged and went back to work, but the next time I clicked through, the bar for September 28, 2011 had shot THROUGH THE ROOF.
And then a Google alert tipped me off to the reason: Appellation Mountain was being mocked on Gawker. Traffic stopped just short of the day Lisa Belkin wrote a (super flattering, still hanging in my office) piece about the site for the New York Times’ Motherlode blog.
A few notes for those who are visiting for the first time as a result:
- Brian Moylan – the author of the Gawker piece – is right. He challenged the idea of referring to baby names – “It’s not like baby names are like baby teeth and they eventually fall off and are replaced with something more mature and robust. It is just a name—no qualifier necessary. This is what an adult human will one day be called.” I agree.
- Except that there’s no such thing as a normal name. I’m going out on a limb and assuming that Brian and I are of an age – his name peaked in the 1970s, and I know plenty. Brian probably answered to Brian M. at some point in his life, or corrected someone who spelled his name Bryan. If he’d been born in the 1920s? Brian would be downright strange. Harold and Doris would’ve been the cool kids.
- I quarrel with the idea that our names are our destinies. Our names do reflect our parents’ histories and choices, and those have a tremendous impact. But Nevaeh can grow up to be an agnostic, and Misty can grow up to be a successful district attorney. Sure, they might answer to Neve and M. Marie by then, working with the raw material of their name to find something that fits their new identities. But plenty of us object to receiving common names, too. (Though it is worth noting that Nevaeh ranked #25 last year, and Misty peaked at #40 in 1977. They’re both Normal Names.) Oh, and so are Aiden and Jayden. Some day my dentist or the mechanic for my zero-emission flying car will introduce herself as Kaydence, and I hope I will have the grace to smile.
- There are hazards to choosing an unusual name. I don’t discount them. But neither do I think that an unusual name is the ticket to a lifetime of misery. We don’t suggest that parents ditch their surnames if they happen to contain a mock-worthy syllable. (I went to college with a nice guy surnamed Butkovic, who gamely insisted that the “t” was silent.) Even giving your kid a Top Ten name doesn’t guarantee that it will be trouble free. (Think Brian/Bryan.) The pool of given names is deeper than ever before, and that’s not a fleeting trend. Even the absent dad in “A Boy Named Sue” had his reasons. No parent thinks, “What will set my precious new child up for a lifetime of unhappiness? Floyd? Okay, I’ll call him that.”
- I don’t do snark. I’m no saint, but I’m really not comfortable with a certain dismissive tone that assumes I’m right. The world is vast, and my experience can only ever be my own experience. You can choose a name that makes my toenails curl up in my All Stars, and you can still be a perfectly decent person.
Back to the article that started all the kerfuffle: do I think you should name your daughter Florida? Not especially. I think there was a moment when Florida glittered with all sorts of attractive qualities, just like Georgia and Carolina do today. But I do think that dismissing it is equally foolish. It’s a real name, worn by real people – for perfectly valid reasons, the same reasons that put names like Brooklyn and Savannah in the Top 100.
So thanks for the traffic, Gawker. And if you’re really into names – either because you’re naming a kiddo/fictional character/ficus of your own, or because you have an irrational obsession with all things onomastic, stick around.
Isadora Vega says
Oh goody. I don’t need to read it, snarkers are all alike. I’m guessing from your reply that it’s the whole, “It’s your job as parents to make sure your kids won’t be ridiculed” fallacy played out. No, it’s your job as parents to make sure your kids don’t ridicule other people. Which, Gawker…
name lover says
” You can choose a name that makes my toenails curl up in my All Stars, and you can still be a perfectly decent person.”
Exactly! What a lot of people don’t realise, is that for some people, depending on your background,culture,personality,lifestyle or even belief system , is that toe-curling name could actually be something as traditional Margaret. There are a couple of billion people on this planet and a lot of different cultures, so that means that there are A LOT of different opinions as to what is normal, different or acceptable. For every person that hates something, there will be another that loves it just as much as you.
Personally, I’m avoiding the “very normal common names” as the way I’ve looked at it, the more people there are with that name, the more chances are that it is going to be messed up somehow.And that is coming from an optimist.
Abby, I’ve been reading your blog on and off for years, and while I don’t always agree with you and have a very different name style, I’ve always respected you and found you to be incredible respectful, while handling different opinions with a grace that allows hope to remain that there are still people who treat others with dignity, regardless of their communication format.
That’s VERY well said, name lover. Many of the names that we find “normal” are specific to a Western and Judeo-Christian world view. I’m a pretty ordinary person, but I can certainly sympathize with families that have different experiences. International adoption, mixed race parents, same-sex parents – heck, all of the above in one family – there are many reasons to feel like the conventional pool of names doesn’t capture the spirit or experience of your family. And, of course, there’s room to argue that if your life is unconventional, then a fairly mainstream, classic name can be The One Thing you don’t have to explain …
I wouldn’t put too much stock in the Gawker commenters’ opinions. These are the people who think La-a is a real person and swear they know someone who knows Nosmo King. Even after a snoops link has been posted several times. However, hopefully the press will bring some new continued readers!
Wow! What a day to take a mini-vacation from the internet. Everyone else has already said it better… but great response to such a mean-spirited and tediously uninformed attack.
Wooh! Yep that sounds like hitting the big time all right. Congratulations on the free publicity, and I’m sure this bozo has been stalking you for ages just waiting to pounce on a name he feels confident can be called a “bad name”.
Your response was great, although I understand the irritation of having to counter someone so less knowledgeable than yourself.
I notice the comments didn’t even bother agreeing or disagreeing with him, they just wanted to talk about THEIR favourite names to hate. I’m not even sure anybody read what he said.
Christina Fonseca says
You hit the Big Time is right! But we knew that already 🙂
You so came out on top in that one – I think in a lot of ways he was really just mocking the name (giving his side of the argument because he really, really hates the name – and Florida, apparently), not your site – and you got the traffic 😉
Congrats on the NYT piece, too!!
not your site OR opinion, I mean 😉
Thanks, namemuststay, and you’re right – I don’t feel that strongly about any of the 50 states! Clearly, Florida is not a happy place for him …
Hmmm, a hastily-written, ill-thought-out article–but then again, this is Gawker we’re talking about. This guy honestly doesn’t even seem to know what he’s making fun of, nor do his commentators, considering all the “bad” baby names they fall all over each other to slam–Kayden, Nevaeh, Ryler, et al. are exactly the opposite of the kinds of names you tend to feature here. Sigh.
Ok, wow! There are states that I think have more negativity associated to them than Florida, like Rhode Island..a cesspool of mobsters and murderers. Besides, what’s beautiful about RI? Gawker was obviously just waiting for a moment like this to jump on your site. If Gawker can’t appreciate how you’re covering a diversity of names, because there are parents out there, however few, that might see the allure in Florida as a name, he should just comment on your site or put a cork in it.
Thank you for doing Florida..I love my Great Aunt and wanted to know more about her first name.
Of course, K! It is a privilege to write about what you love – and I’m always doubly honored when someone asks me to write about a name worn by a loved one. But I have to wonder: how is your Great Aunt’s sense of humor? And is she on Twitter? Cause, um, I think this might get back to her …
LOL! She has a great sense of humor, but unfortunately isn’t on twitter. I’ve forwarded your blog to her and she loved it. Said your discussion of her name made her like it all the more, only it’s about 65 years too late.:) Keep doing what you love!! It shows in your writings.
Congrats on the traffic!
I hope you’ll get some interested readers to stick around. The whole ethos behind the whole “people give their babies stupid names these days!” meme is so annoying for many of the reasons you pointed out. It is a-historical, ignorant of statistics, classist, and racist. I’ve been a reader of this blog for a long time and have always appreciated your generous and interesting approach to discussing names. Keep up the good work!
Thanks, Dorcas. I also dislike “If you name your kid X, he/she will get beat up/teased all through school.” And the phrase “a-historical, ignorant of statistics, classist, racist …” beautifully said.
Well said. That Gawker piece was so mean-spirited – and misinformed – I almost didn’t finish it. Haters gonnna hate, I suppose. One of the things I love about your site is that you profile such a huge variety of names – the writer should have checked our your other posts before throwing virtual stones. But a huge spike in traffic is a nice benefit, so: win!
Any press is good press right? I bet there are just as many people who read that article and the thought of unusual names peaked their interest and now will be life long followers. Besides, Florida is a little out there but if they scroll down a little bit you just covered Carmela and Carol, both older classic names that are not so out there. I think calling it baby name of the day attracts people that are looking for baby names (not new names for their adult children), i think i remember it being just Name of the day and the switch to bnotd was a positive one, I dont think I would have found your blog without that switch. I also think he may not have perused your sight other than the Florida post because I feel like it is more of a profiling name site not a “this is what i think you should name your baby” site. Ahhh well, just smile and laugh and enjoy all of the traffic!
What a butt head.
But then again, many of the Brian’s I’ve known have been butt heads. How’s that for snark?
HA! Thanks, Jude.
I just laugh and roll my eyes at the article and especially at the comments. When was the last time you heard about a kid getting beat up because he had an odd name? Most likely he was beat up because he dissed his friends, or was anti-social of some sort, perhaps even shy. Names being mocked is nothing new, I’ve known boys named John and Michael getting teased endlessly, and boys named Courtney and Ashley sailing by with no issues. I’m a male Skye and I really never had issues with my name, apart from the “it sounds exotic”-like comments.
It just shows how narrow minded these people are, and if they ever have kids, they are the ones to blame if their kids happens to be the school bully. Whatever happened to being level minded and open to different things? It just grosses me out.
Plus, I will never name my kids Mary or Robert, so deal with it. Not everyone is gonna like the same old boring names, and I’d never subject my kid to share a name with millions of others. And that’s my choice. It’s all about respect.
name lover says
Well, there are many people, myself included, who don’t see Mary and Robert as being ‘boring’, and I think that is just one of the (very good and very valid) points Appellation Mountain is trying to make; we shouldn’t dismiss names so easily.
Besides, I think kids named Robert and Mary will very much be in the minority in most places nowadays; I’ve worked with about two hundred children and I’ve never come across a Mary! And only one Robert at that.
You know you are something great and interesting when the “haters” come flooding in. Your rebuttal was PERFECT and you should be proud of yourself that your site is attracting so much attention!
A very level-headed and well-written response. I can’t say the same for the original Gawker article.
I think there is a lot of backlash towards all unusual names because of the proliferation of invented and creatively-spelled names, as well as of names that might be cute on a child but are somewhat silly-sounding on an adult. I do think many people have an exaggerated sense of how dire the consequences of having an obscure or unusual name are, and I appreciate that your perspective is more moderate in that regard.
If I have a bias against the use of names that are very obscure or “out there”, it’s that I sometimes feel that, in their quest to find a “unique” name for their child, some parents seem to lose sight of all practical considerations, and often the statement they end up making amounts to, “Look how hard we’re trying to be cool and different!”, which I assume is not really what they intended. But like you, I don’t fancy myself an arbiter of what is too mainstream or too out there, even though I might have an immediate, visceral reaction to names that I think are awful.
Anyway, I consider it a good thing if your writing is generating debate and discussion, so you must be doing something right. 😉
Thanks, Havoye! I always feel like the line shifts in ways we can’t understand – I’m actually early stages on a series about Extreme Baby Naming, and this has been a really helpful debate.
I stopped all interaction with Gawker Media because of their editorial inability to see nuance. And the rabid-dog commenters. I’m sorry they called the blog out in a patently misleading light.