It’s a serious and silly question: What’s the statute of limitations on name associations?
I’m not talking about your personal feelings. If you knew a super-mean Dylan in third grade or if a Laura broke your heart, well, nothing I can say will convince you that Dylan or Laura is the right name for your kiddo.
But how ’bout name associations that other people might recognize?
My husband vetoed Coco because of the gorilla. I’ve heard people argue that siblings can’t be Kate and Leo because of this 2001 movie. Sometimes when I mention Maude, someone will respond with this Bea Arthur series, which ended in 1978.
Those are pretty trivial. And I’d argue that all of them, at this point, are sufficiently distant in the past to be ignored.
Other potentially problematic names follow a thread through history and culture. You can’t name your baby Adolf. Lucifer would be a burdensome name, no matter your personal beliefs. While Kate and Leo would be fine – or even Jack and Rose – siblings shouldn’t be Romeo and Juliet.
But there’s a big, gray area in the middle.
I recently found myself thinking about Unity.
It’s a cool, quirky name. It sounds like a sister for Harmony, a counter-culture pick that might’ve surfaced in the 1960s.
Except Unity Valkyrie Mitford – yup, her birth name – was born into an English aristocratic family in 1914. I’ve read she was named for actress Unity Moore; or maybe it was inspired by a wish for unity during war in Europe. Her middle comes from the operas of Wagner. None of that is particularly problematic.
Except we remember Unity Mitford for admiring and befriending Hitler, and supporting his policies and worldview without reservation. She was, by most accounts, pretty horrible.
Does that make the name Unity off-limits? In 2020? How ’bout 2045?
Readers have suggested that Forrest is too closely tied to the Civil War Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Obviously, not someone to honor with a child’s name – to put it mildly.
But does that truly make the name off-limits? Forrest died in 1877. And while the pain and strife of the Civil War and racial injustice remains an open wound, I don’t immediately think of Forrest. Maybe it’s because I’m not Southern. Or maybe it’s just that I have a dozen other associations to offset that one.
Or could it simply be that over 3,500 boys have been named Forrest in the last decade alone – and that makes it a little bit like William or James. It’s just a little too common for one person to taint the name permanently.
I’m curious to hear what you think – when does an association strike a name from your list?
Confession: I’m wild about Cobra Kai, the YouTube-turned-Netflix series that revisits the Karate Kid. At one point, we learn that a key character’s middle name is Swayze – as in Patrick – and it’s just so perfect.
While we’re talking pop culture, can the Hyperions put Vista on the charts? The indie superhero flick is coming out … sometime soon-ish maybe? It’s pretty obscure, compared to, y’know, Marvel and DC Comics. But I’m captivated by character name Vista. Could it be the kind of word name parents embrace?
Who knows what the holiday will be like, but I’m already thinking about Halloween costumes. My daughter has had BUNCHES inspired by her name. And I can imagine LOTS of name-inspired costumes. How ’bout your kids?
All the baby name trends from the recent data release broken down. Some have been with us for a while, like mythological names + the Evers. But a bunch of these are new – check out all those Yas!
Nancy looks at the names that are VERY popular in a particular state. Such an interesting list!
That’s all for this week. As always, thank you for reading + have a great week!
Now you’ve got me interested in KKK names, as I am a transplant to the South and pretty oblivious to KKK tributes. Per wikipedia, here are some of the most important Klan wizards and whatnot. I think most of their names are too generic to raise an eyebrow unless a namesake is given more than one of the names (such as “Victor Hugo Lopez”).
Nathan Bedford Forrest, William Joseph Simmons, Hiram Wesley Evans, James A. Colescott, Samuel Green, Samuel Roper, Eldon Edwards, Robert Shelton, Samuel Bowers, Johnny Lee Clary, David Duke, Don Black.
I know kids named Clary, Wesley, and Evans, and I would put huge money on them being named after their own relatives rather than Klan icons. It’s pretty common here to name a child his or her mother’s or grandmother’s maiden name. According to some random website, there are 64,000 people with Forrest as their last name. Surely it’s in circulation as a first name because of that (in addition to the Confederate-worshippers). I think it would be a huge mistake to assume baby Forrest is named after Nathan Bedford Forrest. Considering today’s new parents were born in the 1980s and 90s, I think Forrest Gump is a more likely inspiration, or else it’s a family name, or else it’s a nature name like Everest or River.
I read a Jodi Picoult novel where the characters are white supremacists, and their nod to the Confederacy is to name their baby Davis after Jefferson Davis. That’s the type of very subtle tribute that I think is realistic (although it’s an example from fiction!) Still, you could pick that name to celebrate white supremacy while also not destroying your child’s or family’s ability to pass as not bigoted.
L., thanks for your thoughtful comment. I just looked up the Jodi Picoult novel + borrowed it on my library app. It sounds very timely …
My mom argued to me that Leona should be off limits because of Leona Helmsley- I disagree since I had never heard of her!
My association with the name Unity is the character from Rick and Morty. She’s a hivemind and not exactly a great namesake, though I don’t think it ruins the name.
Oh, nooo, I would say that Jack and Rose is very, VERY much off limits to this day. It’s still an iconic movie, and one of the highest grossing movies of all time, you can’t act like it’s not something people will think of. It might not as on the nose as Romeo and Juliet, sure, but if I told you my children were Rome and Julie you’d still give it a second look!
To chime in above, I have never in my life heard of Nathanial Forrest until this very blog post. I’d have to ask my southern friends, but I have the feeling they never have either.
Of course, this leads into the second level of name associations- Forrest Nate Surname might raise an eyebrow that Forrest Thomas Surname does not. ALWAYS, ALWAYS search your name ideas, and all combinations! Even if you’re against asking your family for input, always ask people, even if it’s anonymously online! This is how you catch these things! (And how someone I know realized her middle name choice brought her to a certain…ah…actress of an adult nature. Oops!)
For me, the very very rough rule is four-fold:
1) Do Google and Wikipedia only bring me to one person, or one person famous with the name?
2) If it’s someone who’s famous, are the only people who will know this person from their name people who are a grandparent generation or older? That means the association is dying out.
3) Does the first/middle/surname combination make the association better, or worse? What about siblings?
4) A bonus, lesser thing to consider is “will children make fun if they find out, or does it not matter to children?”
So for Adolf, it fails everything. When you go to the name’s page on Wikipedia it has “For leader, see Adolf Hitler” at the very top, with a hyperlink. Fail! When you mention the name, people of all generations know. And it’s ripe for mockery.
Forrest passes one of them. Multiple people will come up if you search the name, and just by hearing it you can’t tell if it’s one R or two. I won’t say that “only grandparents” recognize it, and I’ll just assume that regular people know who Nathanial Forrest is…and more importantly, lots of people know who Forrest Gump is as a character. And both of those are something children could make fun of.
I have many names that can be easily filtered through these rules- Coco. Margaret. Various sibling names (JACK AND ROSE IS FORBIDDEN, ABBY, STOP SAYING IT ISN’T.) All the people named George Washington Surname through the years.
I personally think Unity fails the first, but isn’t so bad for the latter rules. And is helped by the third.
If you’re Unity, with sister Constance and a brother Earnest, then you’re a family of virtues.
If you’re Unity, surrounded by Aria and Cadence and Fife, then we’re looking at vague music references.
Emily, Poppy, Avery, Unity, you like giving your daughters Y ending last names and got more adventurous as the years went on.
Here’s the issue with the “3500 boys have been named Forrest, so that obviously dilutes the association” argument. It assumes those boys were named in a vacuum unrelated to the founder of the KKK. Living in the Deep South, I highly, *highly* doubt that. It’s a distinctive name with just two famous bearers- a treasonous general who went on to found an organization that murders and terrorizes black people, and a fictional character named after him. Its mild but enduring popularity here stems *from*, not despite, its connection with Nathan Bedford Forrest. The organization he founded was still actively torturing and murdering people more recently than Hitler, and we all recognize Adolf as still beyond the pale.
Personally, I would make some immediate assumptions about the beliefs of a family who introduced their little Forrest to me, at least living where I live. They’re… not positive ones.
Forest is a perfectly fine name. If someone feels an irresistible urge to go for the spelling that’s only famous because of the first grand wizard of the KKK, I… would really wonder why that is.
I can honestly say that the only person I associate the name “Forrest” with is Forrest Gump, who was an amazing and loveable character. I didn’t grow up in the south and never heard the name until the movie and then it seemed like it was everywhere.
I believe it depends on the culture, region, etc on the acceptability of a name. Jemima is a good example. England might use it but here in the US, it will get you some strange looks.
emmy, that’s a REALLY important point.
And yet, it still leaves me with the uncomfortable feeling that it’s regional. Would Unity be less tenable in the UK than the US? I think maybe …
FWIW, the first Forrest I met (he’s my age) was named for his grandfather. And they were from New England, not the South. So there are parts of the country where the Statue of Limitations has expired.
But that was pre-internet. So I guess that’s the question: if we’re aware of others’ reactions to a name, does it influence our choices?
But Forrest Gump was named for the klan founder. It’s mentioned only briefly in the movie, but I believe is a more clear point in the book. It’s not where my mind goes first, necessarily when I hear the name and I’m sure the connection is more readily recognized in the south than other regions, but I agree with Emmy–its popularity is because not in spite of.
As for statute of limitations on names in general, I do think there’s a difference between fictional characters and actual historical figures. For me a historical figure with a bad association is something I’d want to avoid (unless it’s a common name like James) whereas a fictional character feels fairly irrelevant unless that character is so timeless and name so distinctive that the connection is unavoidable (sonething like Sherlock, or the already mentioned pairing of Romeo & Juliet)
The only association people have with Forrest these days is Forrest Gump, and even that one is a fading one. You’re reaching…
Except I think it’s very hard to say what’s true for all people, right? And that’s part of the challenge. It’s like the comment about Leona – I get the reference and the whole “Queen of Mean” vibe, but it’s not top-of-mind, the way it would be to, well, probably my mom, too. (I’ll have to ask.)
I just read the Sarah Vaughan novel “Anatomy of a Scandal,” and the English class system factors in. She talks about “posh” names – and I get it, I can hear what she means. Except if I just saw the names on paper, I doubt I could pick out a “posh” name from an ordinary one. I’m not steeped enough in the culture.
So maybe that’s in play here, too – the US is big enough that a name carries meanings in some places that it has shed (or never had) in others.
“If someone feels an irresistible urge to go for the spelling that’s only famous because of the first grand wizard of the KKK, I… would really wonder why that is.”
Maybe the parents like surname names. Forrest could be a brother to Harrison and Porter.
Or maybe they like the sound but think Forest with one R is too nature-y and “hippie” for their tastes.
Maybe Forrest is an honor name or old family surname.
The spelling is not only famous because of the KKK member, its famous because of Forrest Gump as well.
Anyway, there’s no need to be judgemental. There might be reasons behind the Forrest spelling. And not everyone is from the American South, to know of the KKK association. I live in the UK and never would have known, but I think most Americans not from the South wouldn’t know that either