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 may know, that’s 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.) More specifically:
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 those titles placed an impossible burden on their children. They’re not kings or messiahs and they never will be. Nameberry didn’t discuss that issue.
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, I have a philosophical disagreement with Nameberry and with self-centered celebrities. Nameberry focuses on the fashion of baby naming (regardless of the effect of the names on the children). Likewise celebrities like Kim & Kanye choose names that will generate attention for themselves (regardless of the fact that the names are also likely to embarrass their children).
By contrast, I 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” sound Nameberry “hears” when website views of their articles cause advertising dollars or other fees to 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.
P.S. I’m not the only pundit who had the guts to say that North West was a bad joke when Kanye West mentioned it on the “Tonight Show” to Jay Leno, and a worse joke (on his daughter) when he actually picked North West as a name for her. But I seem to be the only pundit who is reporting that the “emperor” (in this case, Nameberrry) “has no clothes on” when they write and promote articles recommending awful names likely to be a burden to or harmful to children.
I enjoy ridiculing the most outrageous naming blunders made by celebrities and by Nameberry (and other pundits, like Belly Ballot). It’s fun for me and fun for my readers. And that’s why I’ve been writing a lot about Nameberry, lately. In my view, a large percent of the names they recommend are awful. And Pamela Redmond Satran (who writes most of the articles I’ve criticized in this and other posts) has just (as of 1/1 8/14) written yet another “Cool, Unusual” article containing more ridiculous and harmful recommendations for 2014. Nameberry sent it out to the media. And Huffington Post reprinted it under their prestigious banner.
When that happens, an amusing “fashion” article turns into a real psychological and social problem for the children who are given those outrageous names. I doubt that publishing harmful baby-naming advice is in the mission statement of either Nameberry or Huff Po. Sooner or later, they’re going to hear about this issue from their readers.