Every year, the popular baby name website babynamewizard.com selects one name to represent the cultural zeitgeist. And this year, for the first time ever, the name of the year is actually not a name at all.
This, according to Laura Wattenberg, author of the babynamewizard blog and the baby name guidebook of the same name, has been the Year Of The Un-Name. The year when the coolest names weren’t names at all, but Words-As-Names.
So why 2010? Gwyneth Paltrow named her baby Apple six years ago.
It’s not that unconventional personal branding is so new. What’s different now is that people don’t even think it’s weird anymore. Pop stars used to have single names (Cher, Madonna) because it was unusual. Now they do it because it’s something people associate with pop stars.
This year’s top name isn’t a pop star’s per se. It’s attached to a member of that relatively new breed of people who are famous for being famous: Reality TV stars. Yes, The 2010 Baby Name Wizard Name of the Year is…
“Think of The Situation as a stage name without an act. What better emblem could there be for an age of empty celebrity, when you become famous because you’re on camera, rather than being on camera because you’re famous?
But more than a traditional stage name, The Situation is also a brand. By the time the first episodes of Jersey Shore aired a year ago, Mr. Sorrentino was already attempting to trademark ‘The Situation’ for product licensing. He understood that his adopted name was his platform to fame.”
Parents, Wattenberg suggests, are adopting a similar strategy when branding — er, naming — their babies. Scouring the name books for something that sounds fresh and interesting, they turn instead to the dictionary, looking for mellifluous words they haven’t heard yelled in the playground a dozen times before.
But wait. Who owns a dictionary? Seriously, what percentage of U.S. families own a dictionary at this point? I’m afraid to even Google. Plus, you don’t hear so much about babies being named Auspicious or Circadian or Verdure or any other SAT prep words. Yet. The current trend seems more inspired by the kinds of words you might see in advertising — evocative, yet friendly. The first step in branding is making sure the brand is appealing — and accessible — to the desired audience.
Which is why today’s successful word names are simple, sometimes to the point of contrived idiocy. You can’t get much more Dada than Gaga. And a man named after his six pack is a pretty blatant escalation of the value of body over brains in our cultural currency. So how does this trend translate to real world baby names? It might not, for awhile. But unless we see a big shift in how the media (or how it’s celebrated) chooses to identify itself, I’m guessing it won’t be long before we start seeing stage names on a whole lotta birth certificates.
Read Laura Wattenberg’s post on the Baby Name Wizard Blog.