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Why Are We So Obsessed With Baby Names?


Published on: December 30, 2013

newbornYou know the conversation went something like this: “Absolutely, quite right, you may name him anything you please, as long as it’s George, Alexander or Louis.”

Better yet: How about we just string all those names together and call it a day? You just sit back and rest your pretty little princess head. We’ll get that press release ready for you in the meantime. After all, the cameras and TV crews are waiting.

So, yes. If you’re Kate Middleton — or anyone who’s happened to give birth to an absolute prince of a boy in the last few centuries — it’s not like you can just get out that 500-page book of names or consult the online baby name wizard.

Nor do you have the luxury of naming your kid Jayden, Ayden, Kayden, Brayden, Grayson or Zaiden.

And while I certainly would never envy a life filled with overbearing in-laws or a name forced upon my child from on Highness, I have to wonder: Maybe this tried-and-true system of conventional baby names is a better way?

Take, for example, certain members of the American “royal” elite, a.k.a. celebrities. If we had a monarchy running the baby-name show over here, do you really think we’d be reading about North, Apple, Moon Unit or Nahla Ariela in US Magazine?

Just because you come up with a unique or unusual name for your child doesn’t mean it’s better.

American Baby Names are Somehow Getting Worse, writes Drew Magary in Deadspin (citing examples: Drayden, Blayde, and Zebulon for boys and Brook’Lynn, Harvest and Luxx for girls — yikes). I couldn’t agree with him more when he says:

“There's a bizarre assumption that if you can make your child's name unique, the child will be unique. And that's NEVER the case. Chances are, if you name your kid Braxlee, he or she is gonna end up bent over the sink in the back of a TGI Friday's, offering tail in exchange for a better skim off the tip pool.”

Well, now, that’s a rawther disturbing image . . .

Maybe our obsession has something to do with the fact that the names are getting worse, and we’ve all just come out to witness the train wreck.

According to a recent Huffington Post article by “Baby Name Wizard” Laura Wattenberg, the phrase "baby names" has appeared in 78 times in the New York Times newspaper archive in the past three years, while 20 years earlier that number was just 7. On Google's Ngram viewer, the rate of occurrence of the phrases "baby names" and "baby naming" in English-language books in the 20th Century has been on the rise since 1980.

So clearly we’re obsessed. The question is . . . why?

Part of the problem is that mainstream media likes to fuel the silliness with “crazy yet totally cool baby names” or “the worst baby names of all time,” and then, in a sleep-deprived stupor, new parents actually put those names down on a birth certificate.

The other issue is that some people just have really bad taste.

Like my husbands.

I’m a widow from my first marriage, so I’ve had two opportunities to go through baby-name hell with two different fathers.

My first husband, Gregg, fought mightily to name our daughter either Saorise (pronounced Seer-sha) or Michaela, because he’d once developed crushes on two separate Lufthansa flight attendants with the same names.


So, that is why, after 36 hours of labor, I demanded that I be given the birth certificate paperwork within minutes of being handed my baby. Her name is Elizabeth. No, I didn’t name her after the Queen, but you get my picture: It’s pretty hard to go wrong with a name like Elizabeth.

Four years and one new marriage later, when it came time to name our son, sadly, the process wasn’t much easier. Jeff’s a detail-oriented guy, so it was a months’ long process of generating lists, crossing out names, adding more names, and then crossing out those names until there was nothing left but shreds of ink-stained paper.

I wanted our son to have a solid, respectable name that wasn’t too common, difficult to spell, or generated any obvious eyerolls. Simple request, right?

Jeff was fine with that strategy, just as long as we named him Harold or Clyde.

Somehow we settled on Wilson. I know, I know, it’s a little Cast Away-meets-Chuggington weird, but hear me out: It’s conventional, easy to spell, say, and write, and it doesn’t appear in any of the top 100 (worst or best) baby name lists out there. And perhaps most importantly: It’s a family name that was strongly suggested via my mother’s side of the family, which I happen to like quite a bit.

What’s your baby name story?

107Allison Ellis is a freelance writer and mother of two who lives and writes in Seattle. Read more of her work at AllisonEllis.

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