Sunday Summary: 7.15.18Last week, I went to hear a sports psychologist speak. (Parents of littles: I promise such events that now sound unnecessary and even bizarre will someday be the kinds of things you add to your schedule without a second thought.)

One of the things he said struck me as applicable to naming: We all want our kids to stand out.

So true.

It’s true if your child is an athlete, hoping to make the team. A performer, vying for a role. Or any of the dozens of things requiring applications and interviews that are great to pursue, but require our children to demonstrate that they are worthy of notice.

And it’s true with naming.

It’s always been true with naming, at least for some families. Both of my grandmothers were, in very different ways, inventive namers, though neither was especially unconventional. And yet we’re quick to criticize parents for their choices. Comments (the ones I delete) often predict the doom and ruin of the human race, all thanks to our name choices.

Pretty sure that’s an overstatement.

So we want our children to stand out, because we love them, and we want them to be happy and successful. (And we get confused about which matters more.)

What’s changed in the twenty-first century is this: we know instantly which names are most popular. We have access to endless streams of data and opinion and analysis. Back in the 1970s, lots of parents named their daughters Jennifer, only to discover at kindergarten orientation that the name was Very Popular Indeed.

We have the opposite problem today: mountains of information aiming to predict the next Jennifer.

So how far do you go to find a stand-out name? Most parents are hoping for something that stands out, but still fits in. I call them Sweet Spot names. (My list of Sweet Spot Girl Names is here, and Sweet Spot boy names is here.) Depending on your circles of family and friends, these lists could be too daring, or way too dull.

All of this is a very long way of saying that I think Kulture Kiari makes a great name for Cardi B. and Offset’s daughter. It seems like her first name refers to something deeply important to the couple. (Offset is part of hip hop trio Migos; they’ve released albums titled Culture and Culture II. And it’s more than a name. I do think their take on it pushes Kulture into the modern virtue name category.) As for her middle? I love that they named their daughter for her father. Too often we reserve family names for boys, and that seems like an oversight.

And yet, here’s what I keep thinking:

Elsewhere online:

  • Firearms names are still on the rise. Some of them, like Remington, are starting to feel mainstream, just like Maverick has transitioned from rarity to Top 100 favorite. The controversy remains, and this line from Laura Wattenberg nails it: As parents turn away from anything perceived as too popular, they turn toward names people disagree on. 
  • I’ve never seen the 2003 movie Holes, and somehow I missed the book, too. The other thing I missed: the main character is Stanley Yelnats IV. That’s Stanley, backwards. Wait, what?! The novel was written in 1998. Is it worth reading or watching? Thinking my kids might like this one …
  • An utterly random thought: if your surname starts with an O, and you name your son Ryan, then he’ll be Ryan O’Rourke or Ryan O’Hara or Ryan O’Sullivan. Which sounds perfectly reasonable … until you say it fast, at which point your son’s inevitable nickname will be Rhino. Right?
  • True in 1904, and still true today.
  • A fascinating data point from Nancy, and more support for what I’ve been saying for a while: it’s a great time to name a boy!
  • Found via Clare’s fabulous page, Name News: Zara Tindall chose Lena for her second daughter because, “It’s also similar to (sister) Mia’s (name) because it’s distinct, not shortened from another name.” Erm … small voice … actually, Mia comes from Maria. And Lena evolved from names like Helena and Magdalena. But Zara is exactly right – the names pair so well together, in part, because they’re perceived as short, complete, stand-alone names. Names are complicated, and it’s not always necessary to know the whole story in order to choose well.
  • Such good advice from Duana: Don’t go with the name that you’re always going to half-cringe at, that’s no way to live.
  • This really comes to mind when we’re talking about family names. It’s okay to love the person, but hesitate about the name. Or be totally fine with the name, even love the name, but worry that family dynamics might prove challenging. There are great reasons to use family names, but equally good reasons to avoid them and start fresh. And just plain Not Liking The Name is a good enough reason to move on.

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

Boy Names 7.15.18Girl Names 7.15.18

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. Guns are one of the most divisive issues in the US. I can’t imagine looking at a sweet little newborn and thinking, “you know, I’m going to name you after a gun.” There’s a lot of names out there, parents should choose a name that’s not so loaded.

  2. Omg watch Holes! It’s fabulous magical realism, the performances are great and Louis Sachar is a genius. He’s also amazing with names, and you can probably find articles about how he named the kids at wayside school after his own students in the 70s.

  3. Recommend Holes.

    Your son would probably really enjoy it. It’s well-written, and the ending satisfies.

    Firearm names… how do I say this?

    Just like parents are naming their children Bohdi or Muhammed, we all give our offspring monikers full of meaning (as you’ve pointed out repeatedly, Abby).
    There is a large portion of America that has been treated as second-class citizens in the media because they value what they believe are original, constitutional ideals. Self-defense ideals. Even sporting ideals.
    In the face of modern social scorn, parents have ignored this cultural hostility to emphasize what they find important… whether it is popular or not.

    Hunter wasn’t considered a controversial name back in the ’90s…but now? And I’ve heard lots of shade thrown on Gunnar (which is a historically-rich, German name). Barrett? Winchester? These aren’t violent names…the label is unfair.

    There’re also the parents who name their child Lexus or Chanel (ahem, Tiffany, anyone?), so why not other brands like Ruger or Remington? Are they considered more superficial? More aggressive? (Because I read a biography on Coco Chanel; that woman was ruthless).

    It is unfortunate that there’s so much distain and intolerance of what other Americans hold dear.

      1. Maybe what they hold dear is the ability to defend lives? My perception of the gun argument changed considerably after reading a Mom on a forum I visit explain how frustrated she was that the same city people who had championed reintroducing wolves to her rural area – wolves that were killing herds and had also killed a child in her community – ALSO wanted to take the gun she carried with her whenever her kids played outside. For her, it was about having the tools to protect her family.

        1. Having a gun in a rural area because there’s a real risk of animal attacks is very different from taking the gun into a crowded public area. Do what seems right on your own land, but no wolves are going to attack while you’re buying a gallon of milk. The argument is disingenuous.

          1. And this is why I’m fascinated by baby names that appear to be inspired by firearms. No matter how you feel about the issues, we’re all aware that it’s an incredibly controversial topic. So what does it mean to choose such a name, particularly in 2018? I think it must speak to deeply held beliefs, and be less about the firearm specifically. It helps, of course, that the names *sound* stylish … I can imagine loving the sound of Remington without considering the image …

    1. I think that’s well said, The Mrs. And I think that’s very much the spirit of Laura’s article.

    2. I just have to say that the rise in “violent” names is really in the eye of the beholder. When people classify Hunter as a violent name, I just have to shake my head in wonderment. Same with Gage (or Gauge), Kimber, Colt, and several others. Maybe those people live in the east? I’ve always wanted to see a breakdown of where the “gun” names are located, because wild west names are, I would assume since I hear them all the time and I live in the west, more popular in the west or, perhaps, Texas. Maverick, Hunter, Colton, and Talon all just sound like cowboy names in the same vein as Wyatt or Bridger.

      The newer names that sound totally on-trend with other surname names I would expect to pop up more widely, or even more commonly in the east. Remington sounds very preppy to me and I’ve never run into one and I don’t think guns when I hear it. Winchester, on the other hand, is all guns, but I’ve never heard that name either.

      Plus, the total number of “gun names” may be on the rise, but the author didn’t break that down. How many of those 8,000 were named Colt or Hunter–firmly established names that have been around forever and may be gaining in popularity, and how many were the newly introduced names like Shooter? The whole analysis has problems.

      In any case, I wouldn’t jump to conclusions about what a parent is trying to say politically based on their children’s names.

      Gun rights, rugged individuality, cowboy swagger, the whole wild west mystique might be some reasons for picking these names, but many of them sound super preppy and ultra on-trend (looking at you, Barrett). Cannon sounds very similar to the nature-loving Canyon, and Beretta sounds like any number of other girl names.

      Anyway, people look at names very differently and I agree with the Mrs.

  4. Since you mentioned deleted comments, I thought I’d tell you about the two times on other name blogs I’ve had my comments censored/deleted for reasons I don’t think was fair:

    The first one was around 2010-2011 on Nancy’s Baby Names back when she did name advice posts, and this particular one asked about two names for a boy (one was unisex and the other one wasn’t). Nancy said she leaned towards the non-unisex one citing a study that boys with unisex names were more likely to misbehave. I then expressed my opinion arguing that you shouldn’t turn away from a name for a boy just because of the unisex factor, and after looking into the study myself and learning how it was narrowly done (students from one school district around a particular time of their school career) I said that the study should be taken with a grain of salt. Nancy disagreed, claiming that the study’s so-called “science” was more believable than “anecdotal evidence” from people who’ve had experience with such names – and she removed my comments about that. Since then, presumably because the way trends have gone since then, she appears to have softened her stance on that issue.

    The second one was in 2016 on Swistle’s name blog when she did a post on whether or not parents should change a child’s name because an unfortunate association had sprung up since their birth (e.g. ISIS). In my comment I referred back to an argument between me vs. Swistle and another commenter from another post on her blog from about three years earlier where we were discussing whether or not a childhood name change needs to be mentioned or not if for example an employer or lender asks for other names you’ve used. I argued, with sources saying so, that (with obvious exceptions like government security clearances) what they care about are names that you may have relevant records under (e.g. your work history, degrees/diplomas, your credit and/or criminal background) or need to know to contact references – and therefore those sources and I said there is no need to bring up a name that was changed before you were old enough to have anything relevant like that under it. Swistle (and that other commenter that sparked the debate) disagreed saying that you ought to provide any names like that even if it’d obviously be irrelevant. Swistle even called herself a “rule follower” – which I rebuffed when I said that to literally be accurate you need to mention any pseudonyms you have used online or wherever (she even gave ones to her kids on her blog!) and there are sometimes discrimination concerns (a conflicting “rule”) with disclosing a former name (e.g. transgender people – I told her that with her attitude that I would discourage any transgender people looking for advice on their name from going to her). Anyway, I brought up that debate on the later post saying that if you believe like I do go ahead and change the name, but if you believe like Swistle does (that you’d need to mention your old name in cases like that) to just leave the name alone – Swistle deleted my post and since then she’s refused to respond to me.

    1. For clarification, those sources I mentioned include HR managers, interview guides, and employers that were contacted about this – so you don’t think it’s “amateur” advice.

    2. That Swistle discussion hits close to home. My husband’s (perfectly nice) parents were going through a “connecting with our roots” phase when he was born, and they used an ethnic spelling of his name that Americans generally can’t pronounce. Husband has never used it and legally changed it to a more conventional spelling as soon as he could. The idea he should put the original spelling on his resume, when it has zero relevance to his life, is bizarre.

  5. Totally worth reading Holes! The movie is pretty good as well.

    My brother Ryan totally has Rhino as one of his many nicknames (particularly when he was younger and played baseball).

  6. Holes is an excellent novel! It’s actually taught quite frequently over here (to sixth graders, normally) in the UK and it’s always a favourite. There are some great names and nicknames in there too: Kissin’ Kate, Armpit, Madame Zeroni, etc.