This recent essay in The New York Times, “Baby Names That Shout Out ‘I Am …’,” shows exactly how obsessed modern yupsters have become with finding annoyingly unique baby names for their children. The author, Alex Williams, goes on at length about how his friends and contemporaries having children search high and low “trying to find the elusive name that is exotic yet not bizarre, classic yet not pompous, on trend but not trendy.” To his credit, Williams is a skillful writer and is able to mock himself and this phenomenon even while he participates and holds this baby-naming game in high esteem.
However, no matter how self-aware anyone obsessed with picking the most perfectly precious pearl of a name for their soon-to-be-born brilliant renegade graphic designer/non-profit leader/indie folk star/feminist stripper is, there’s no way for them not to come off looking like a jerk. Case in point, Williams writes:
It does not help to know that even if you unearth the perfect curio, it won’t remain yours alone for long. As with great, undiscovered taquerias, word about the latest hot underground names spreads quickly, meaning trends in names rise and fall as quickly as hemlines.
Now that I think about it, “Great Undiscovered Taquerias” is kind of a swell name for a baby. Underground might work, too, even though it’s a bit obvious. But Hemline … now there’s a moniker! You’d call him Hem for short.
Williams notes that among certain well-to-do and socially striving folks, choosing a rare, ringy name is less about creativity and freedom and more about assigning status to their unborn heir. He says, “The once-simple task of coming up with a monogram for the baby blanket has evolved into a high-stakes exercise in personal ‘branding.’”
Here are just some of the ridiculous names dropped in the article along with their meanings and use, plus my own commentary. Names in pink are for girls, those in blue are for boys and green are unisex, although almost all these names are so silly and have such little gendered history, they’re suitable for a child of either sex:
Now look, for the record, I don’t really have a problem with the creative naming of children. If you really love a weird name, you should name your child that beloved weird name. What I object to is the bourgeois appropriation of creative naming as an upper middle class status symbol, when made-up names (neologisms if you fancy, huh) in the black community have been mocked relentlessly for years. I hate that it’s “ghetto” to call your kid LaQuonda if you’re black, but if a white person names their child Quinoa it’s refined. (Or unrefined, as the case may be.) I hate that rather than choose a name with meaning, these obsessive parents are trying to choose a brand that reflects how hip and clever they are. As one commenter on the article put it, “There’s something vaguely narcissistic in needing your child’s name to be unique and thus a reflection on your cleverness. What’s wrong with naming your child a name you like, whether or not it’s popular?”
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