AMheartI recently linked to this article on the Appellation Mountain Facebook page, and it caused a bit of a stir: Do Weird Baby Names Indicate Selfishness or Love? Yes.

It’s a rather dark and dreary piece, but I suspect the author, Joy Pullman, voiced what some – or many – people think. Pullman, who named her son Ransom for the name’s spiritual significance, wrote that “Children deserve names within the frame of normality.” She pledges that future children will receive “plain-vanilla” names.

It’s the same sentiment echoed on countless baby name forums. Please spell names correctly. Your child will be teased mercilessly. Your child will never learn to spell her name. Can you imagine a child named XYZ getting into Harvard/as a heart surgeon/Supreme Court Justice? Sorry, but that’s a stripper name. And so on. The commenters believe it’s a kindness to share their honest opinions, and in some ways, perhaps it is.

And yet it’s a mistake to believe that our individual opinions represent a majority.

Pullman writes:

America has always been ethnically diverse, but in former days more people of all origins considered it important to signal their belonging to the broader community with things such as children’s name choices than considered it important to signal their societal alienation. Clearly, that’s reversing.

If that’s the case, huzzah!

Because what that means is that we’re not all feeling pressure to conform to a single standard: a standard that is white, middle class, Christian.

That’s not social alienation. That’s freedom.

And it’s freeing for everyone – heck, even those of us that are white, middle class, and Christian.

Community is great, but that “broader community” Pullman references wasn’t necessarily a welcoming or accepting one. It was often the one that prompted immigrants to shed Jose for Joe, to trade a difficult-to-pronounce Slavic or Arabic or what-have-you name for the nearest English equivalent, and to abandon their cultural traditions when naming children.

I appreciate the possibility of personal reinvention, but I deplore the idea that it only goes one direction, towards a rather bland and homogeneous center.

Here’s what I believe: there’s no such thing as a normal name. 

There’s nothing new about that, but there are reasons that change may have accelerated in recent decades. I wrote a series called From Annai to Zen: Thoughts on the Ever-Deepening Name Pool a while back. Read Part I, Part II, and Part III here.

Or just read on for the links, and join me in celebrating a tremendous diversity of given names, and the freedom to choose:

  • Names for Real spotted a birth announcement for a Jessminda! I wonder if that’s a mash-up of Jessica and Melinda, or if it was inspired by Jessmindera name I’ve loved ever since Bend It Like Beckham.
  • In the same birth announcements round-up, there’s a girl named Italy. It seems like Italy would be a go-to place name, but it’s seldom heard. It was given to just 86 girls in 2013.

  • Kelli unearthed this advice on choosing a baby name from 1979. The writer counseled “Avoid names that are not clearly male or female. A name that does not make the sex of the person clear can be troublesome.” As the parent of school-aged children, I sometimes feel like Gru in Despicable Me. Avery? Is that a girl’s name or a boy’s name?” Except I can report that my children – and, I think, many of their generation, aren’t phased by names that don’t indicate gender.
  • Also, that same advice pamphlet that Kelli found? The writer suggested names like Fritzi, Beulah, Xylina, and Wallis for girls, and Ashley, Beman, Launcelot, and Xenophon for boys. When I get my time machine, I’m going back to 1979 to seek out the author of this pamphlet.
  • A baby Avalon in Australia! That name is pure perfection. Avalon is one of those names that grows on me more and more with every passing year. 130 girls were given the name in 2013 – more than Italy, less than Margot, Gwen, Rivka, or Rihanna.
  • Speaking of Rihanna, oh, how I loved writing this. And seeing it on Today Parents? Thrilling.
  • Could Gwen be a big baby name? Another hint that this short name is on the rise comes from the world of Marvel Comics: the newest installment of the Spider-Man franchise is a comic book series called Spider-Gwen, featuring a crime-fighting teenaged girl web-spinner.
  • Name quotes from Nancy, including a note about a woman named Neleh – Helen spelled backwards.
  • This Jolis Prénoms profile caught my eye for two reasons: first, I’ve long loved the look of Hanae. Second, I recently stumbled on Iselle, and this sibset includes an Yselle.
  • Daley is such an appealing sound, isn’t it? I completely agree with Duana – I really do hope the family uses this one!
  • A second one from Duana: I agree that the name Adair is great! Different and distinctive, but not hard to wear.
  • Simcha Fisher had her tenth baby and named her … Cornelia Roxane! And the nicknames they’re using for her: Corrie, Coco, Nellie, and Rocky! That’s exactly why I love longer names with lots of nickname options.
  • Incidentally, just because I think we ought to be accepting of others’ name choice doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions. (Heh.) Case in point: British Baby Names’ most recent birth announcements included an Abby Lily and an Abigail Lily. And I immediately thought that Abigail Lily was an infinitely better name. (Not better parents, not a better person, not destined to go to Harvard – or Cambridge – and achieve great things while Abby Lily leads a life of crime. But a better name choice, nonetheless.)
  • These Hebrew names … I’m captivated by so many of them! Yes to Boaz, Margalit, Lior, and Kineret – for starters.
  • March Madness baby names starts NEXT weekend! Catch up on last year’s results here. SO excited for this year’s competition.

That’s all for this week! As always, thank you for reading … and have a great week.

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. Kineret is interesting. Any more info on it? Looking for a sister name for Cornelius- thoughts?

  2. Italy, huh? I shall also exercise my right to have an opinion whilst accepting other’s name choices and say that I prefer Italia.

  3. “a standard that is white, middle class, Christian.” I would even argue that -that isn’t even true anymore. Maybe for my parents or grandparents, who born in 1914 and 1950’s, but children of 2000-2015 are raised in an androgynous society and more acceptance towards religion, I.e. Muslim, Pagen-wiccan-Vampirical, body -modification, ect. The view on equality is sameness and no moral-accountability, no judgment. Kids today can go to the extreme side and attend school with pink mo-hawks, tattoos, nose piecing, and practice Buddhism openly. I couldn’t do that when I was a kid without severe backlash. Today, is far more open-minded.

  4. I feel quite sad that Joy Pullman has changed her naming policy, although I can understand the frustrations that she has faced.

    I don’t think there is any real issue with unisex names any more, if there ever was (don’t remember boys at my school called Erin, Lindsay, or Kim having any problems, and they would have been born around the same time as that article). I do think parents need to tell their children they have a unisex name, so they can be prepared. My nephew has a name commonly given to boys, but sometimes given to girls too, like Riley. He was told from the beginning he might meet kids of either gender with the name Riley, and he loved the idea. However, when he had a female classmate called Riley, she immediately kicked up a fuss, because HER parents had told her that Riley is a GIRL’S name, and she did not like sharing her name with a horrible, stinky BOY in the least!

    1. Agreed! My son Alex meets girls called Alex all the time, and he doesn’t seem at all bothered by it. And he’s known boys and girls named Micah, Jordan, and so on. It’s completely normal to him.

  5. As the mother of another Gwen, I’m quite happy with Gwen(dolyn’s) current ranking. Although in my neck of the woods, most people head towards Gwynn rather than Spiderman or Stefani.

    And hell, yes to the masculinization of names. I have never liked that particular trend, and that quote nailed the reason why.

  6. Thanks for the shoutout, Abby. I thought of you immediately when I found Abby/Abigail Lily!

  7. That baby name advice seems more out of 1909 rather than 1979, since they were suggesting as boy names Beverly, Lindsey, Kelly, Whitney, Hilary, Carey and Ashley. On the other hand, it has some amazing boy names that I love, Oakley, Raleigh, Arlo, Baxter, Ellery, Monroe, Wylie. I’d use them in a heartbeat.

  8. On the subject of place names, my husband has started calling one of our cats, “Bolivia,” and I kinda love it. Her real name is Olivia, mostly called Liv or Livvie, but it has me wondering– is Bolivia wearable on a human and how often has it been used? It has the great nicknames Bo, Liv, Livvie, and Livia built in, and it has that fun sing-songy rhythm like Olivia. I, personally, would love to meet a Bo whose full name is Bolivia.

      1. Thanks for the information. Maybe that book could have inspired some parents to use Bolivia? Who knows. Thanks again!

  9. “Spider-Gwen”? I have to find this! My own Gwen(dolyn — yes, I gave my daughter a distinctly non-medieval name, contravening everything everyone expected of me) has picked up a love of Spider-Man from some of her friends at nursery, so this sounds like a perfect combo.