I 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.
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 Jessminder, a 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.