Q. I noticed you’ve been writing a lot of posts about Nameberry. What’s up with that?
A. I write about Nameberry’s articles for the same reason I write about notorious celebrity baby names. Let me explain:
People pay a lot of attention to what celebrities name their babies. I enjoy using outrageous celebrity baby names as “teaching opportunities.” I also like to use charming celebrity baby names for the same purpose, although I don’t find them quite as often. Why? Because many celebrities seem to care more about attracting attention to themselves by choosing outrageous names than picking names that will work well for their children over a lifetime. (As you can guess, the latter is my main concern).
Nameberry seems to be one of the leading sources of baby-name advice. My impression is that one of their main concerns is the “fashion” aspect of baby naming. Many of their articles have titles such as “Baby Names on the Rise,” “Hot Baby Names,” “Cool and Unusual Baby Names,” and “Neglected Namesake Names.” In other words, they often write about “what’s hot” and/or “what’s not.” Many of the names they feature are “on the rise” or “hot” because of a celebrity tie-in (a rising actor, model, or athlete) or a media connection (a hot TV show or movie). And some of the names they feature are “neglected” or “forgotten” but are implicitly ready for a comeback, based (I suppose) on a strong belief in their writers’ ability to influence or predict naming trends in the future (aka hubris).
I read Nameberry’s articles because I’m curious about how pop culture affects baby-naming trends. I think their writers are very good at discovering and disseminating information about the latest trends. However, I’ve noticed two practices described in some Nameberry articles that disturb me.
1. Nameberry implies that “hot” names and names “on the rise” are appropriate for use without considering their meanings or the suitability as role models of the celebrities, athletes, TV shows or movies connected to the names. They ignore the fact that many celebrities have personal or professional lives that may become“train wrecks” in the future which could damage the impression made by their names. And they ignore the fact that many TV shows and movies have bizarre plot twists and sequels that could change/damage the impression made by the names associated with them.
2. Nameberry implies that dusty old esoteric names, which before the article was published were “rarely used” or “forgotten by time,” are now ready for use as a name for your child (immediately after the name has been featured in a Nameberry “neglected names” article.)
Nameberry’s “Names on the Rise” articles suggest that rising names are implicitly worth considering. But when pompous titles such as Major, King, Messiah, and Prince showed up among the fastest-rising names on the Social Security Administration boys’ list in May, I felt the need to warn parents that it would be impossible for most children to live up to them. Nameberry didn’t.
Nameberry’s “Hot Names” articles focus on celebrities in the news and implicitly suggest that the heat celebs with these monikers generate in the media make the names worth considering for your children. But notice what happened to the appeal of names such as Paris, Britney, Lindsey, Miley, and Lance after bad news about such-named celebs hit the media. I feel the need to warn parents to avoid names of current celebrities with whom they’re currently smitten. One scandal (drinking, drugs, sex, domestic violence or worse) could forever wreck the names’ appeal and hurt your child’s self image in the process. Nameberry seems unaware of this risk.
Nameberry’s “Cool, Unusual Names” articles feature names that were selected for ten or fewer children in the previous year. The clear implication of these articles is that because rarely chosen names have appeared in a “Cool, Unusual” Nameberry article, they’re suddenly “cool”—as if by magic. I’d argue that these names have been rejected by the American public for good reasons, which I’m happy to spell out if doing so warns parents away from choosing oddball names such as: Hebe (a name bigots use to bad-mouth Jews), Leda (a woman who, in Greek mythology, was raped by Zeus, who took the form of a swan), or Carola (a German name that’s difficult for Americans to pronounce—see my “Dear Bruce” article about this name). These are some of the “cool, unusual” names that Nameberry recently recommended.
Nameberry’s “Neglected Namesake Names” article (I’ve seen only one) features esoteric and obscure names that seem to come from a different century—when they might have been less unattractive than they are now. When Nameberry dusts them off and features them in an article, the implication is that they’re now ready for use. I feel the need to let parents know that their children are likely to be embarrassed or teased for having such “lost in time” names as Effa (a four-letter word that calls to mind another four-letter word that starts with “f”), Gerty (a name that rhymes with a word for excrement that starts with “t”), and Mertilla (a name that sounds like “Myrtle” as in “Myrtle the Turtle”—which is what she’ll likely be called). These are some of the “neglected namesake names” that Nameberry recently recommended.
As you can see, there’s a philosophical disagreement about naming conventions. On one side, you have pundits who focus on the fashion of baby naming (regardless of the effect of the names on the children) and celebrities such as Kim & Kanye who choose names that will generate attention for themselves (regardless of the fact that the names are also likely to embarrass their children).
On the other side, you have pundits like me, who remind parents to think carefully about the effects their child’s name will have on him or her. I ask parents to consider: How will kids in your child’s kindergarten or high school class respond to the name? How will blind dates respond to the name? How will college admissions officers and personnel directors respond to the name? My goal is to remind parents that the name they give their child is primarily for their child’s benefit; not for a laugh the name may get on a TV-talk show when the celebrity announces it or the “ka-ching” when website views or publication subscriptions go up and advertising dollars flow in.
My reach is extremely limited when compared to that of either Nameberry or celebrities. I fear the power of celebrities and baby-name “fashion” pundits to influence naive young parents to choose names that will embarrass their children or subject them to teasing. So I speak out and use a combination of common sense, parenting know-how and humor in a quixotic attempt to counter their influence with expecting parents to the extent possible.