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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. 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…

  2. ” 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.

    1. 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 …

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!!

      1. 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 …

  7. 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.