Dear Bruce: I wish you wouldn’t focus on “writing snarky posts demeaning the hard work of other people.”

(Comment from Brooke Cussans about my post criticizing Pamela Redmond Satran’s post recommending “14 Names for 2014.”)

Brooke: Celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe named her new son Kaius in December. That would make it a very cool name to have indeed in many people’s eyes.

Nameberry seems to appeal to a different type of reader than yourself. Not everyone has the same tastes.

It would be nice to see you creating more of your own original content rather than focusing so much effort writing snarky posts demeaning the hard work of other people.

Bruce: Brooke, Thanks so much for writing to make a case for Nameberry’s recommendation of Kaius and to suggest in a very reasonable way that “Nameberry seems to appeal to a different type of reader than” (I do.) “Not everyone has the same tastes.” Well said!

I also think it’s reasonable to suggest I avoid demeaning the hard work of others with “snarky posts.” It’s obvious I need to do a better job of explaining why I write critical posts about a number of Pamela Redmond Satran’s articles, so you will find them convincing rather than “snarky.”

It’s true that I use humor to demonstrate that many of Pamela Redmond Satran’s articles recommend names that are ridiculous and potentially harmful to children. I’m sorry that strikes you as “snarky.” If I’m right, it’s a very serious problem both for children and for Nameberry. I hope after reading this note you will better understand why I write about Nameberry and why it’s important for even one Nameberry employee to understand what the heck I’m writing about.

As a result of your carefulness, I will try to be equally careful about the way I phrase this response.

I explored a number of differences between Nameberry and me in a December “Dear Bruce” post which discussed why I write so often about Nameberry. Nameberry seems to focus on the fashion and celebrity aspects of names. By contrast, I am primarily interested in the potential effects of names on the children to whom they are given.

I hope you would agree that if a name Pamela Redmond Satran recommends in an article is likely to subject Nameberry-readers’ children to teasing, bullying or abuse, it is reasonable for me to warn Nameberry readers about those potentially harmful names.

I don’t get the impression that Pamela Redmond Satran is particularly concerned about the effect of the names she recommends on real, live children to whom they may be given. (In that respect, I’d compare her to Kanye West, Beyoncé and Gywneth Paltrow, who didn’t seem to care how the names North West, Blue Ivy or Apple might affect their daughters).

Pamela Redmond Satran’s most recent post about names she recommends for use in 2014 includes Detroit (which she claims is a “cool” name) and Tempe (pronounced TEM-pee).

You don’t have to be a psychologist to see that both of these names could turn children who are given them into targets for teasing and derision.

Detroit is bankrupt and struggling right now. I doubt many people would call that city, or the use of that city as a name for babies, “cool.” The idea that Detroit might be cool now is laughable, so giving a child that name is a perverse recommendation because it will make children named Detroit laughable. The name Detroit isn’t cool; it’s an embarrassment. And to classmates, the name Detroit is like taping a “kick-me” sign on the child’s back.

Tempe is another recommendation likely to subject children with the name to unwanted derision and abuse. Children find “bathroom words” extremely funny, which is why classmates would find it great fun to tease someone whose name seemed to include a bathroom word in the second syllable (TEM-pee).

I’ve already mentioned three celebrities who have given embarrassing and burdensome names to their daughters. Clearly, use by celebrities does not guarantee a name is safe for use on your children. It’s a lot more realistic for parents to regard celebrity-baby names as “questionable” if they can’t afford to send bodyguards to school with their children to make sure they are not teased and bullied.

There are many government agencies established to insure that products intended for use or consumption by children are safe. But there is no agency monitoring names parents give children. You’d think baby-name pundits would rise as one to protect children. Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority on that issue. Nameberry’s visitor count is approximately 1,000 times greater than mine. I really don’t know how much one tiny advocate of intelligent baby-naming practices can accomplish. But I do the best I can to change attitudes on this issue. I hope my response will change your attitude.

I go out of my way to comment favorably about Nameberry articles I like. I recently praised a Nameberry article about names meaning dawn (like Aurora). And I raved about another recent Nameberry article by Linda Rosenkrantz about the origin of popular nicknames like Peg or Jack.

I purposely praise insightful, entertaining and informative articles published by Nameberry to make it clear I find many of their articles to be of value and want to encourage them to write and publish more helpful articles and not writing and publishing articles that recommend names which are a disservice to their readers.

What concerns me is when Nameberry recommends names that are likely to subject children to teasing, derision, or verbal (and possibly physical) abuse. I hope that would concern you, too, and other people who work for Nameberry. (Most people would not for a company that is unconcerned about the harmful side-effects caused by products they make or, in this case, articles they write and publish.)

I would be happy to talk to Linda Rosenkrantz and Pamela Redmond Satran about our differences. There’s no rational reason why they couldn’t or wouldn’t take steps to come up with a way to provide baby-name recommendations while avoiding names likely to come across as harmful to children. How can it possibly benefit Nameberry or anyone who writes for Nameberry to become known as a source of recommendations of names that are ridiculous or harmful or burdensome to children?

There must be someone working at Nameberry who shares my concern about names that may subject children given those names to ridicule or abuse. Why not invite that person (or a new hire, if no current Nameberry employee shares that concern) to function as an ombudsman? You’d need someone in that position who cares greatly about children and who has the authority to challenge high-profile writers.

Brooke, I want you to know I write all the posts that are published myself. And I also have the equivalent of 2 other full-time jobs. About 95% of the posts I write either have nothing to do with Nameberry or are positive about Nameberry.

However, if Nameberry keeps publishing articles that recommend potentially ridiculous and harmful names for babies, someone needs to keep warning parents about them. There would be no reason for anyone to write critical posts about Nameberry if people who work at Nameberry took steps to change the policies which permit (or encourage) irresponsible articles to be written and published.

I can’t imagine that harming children is in Nameberry’s corporate charter. (If it were, nobody would want to work there.) When it is finally understood that the names they recommend are often ridiculous, weird and likely to harm children, I’m sure Nameberry will discover that a responsible approach to providing baby-name advice is in their best long-term interest.

Brooke I hope this response helps you see the benefit to Nameberry of joining forces with me to challenge celebrities and baby-name pundits who act as though they have little or no interest in the effect of names on children. I think most parents join me in describing that attitude as “irresponsible.”

Brooke: Thanks for your response Bruce.

It can sometimes be hard to satisfy the desire to give a child a “special” name, without needlessly causing them a lifetime of problems. We should all want children to have a name they can feel proud of. I hope that when it is my time to name a child I’m able to make a well balanced choice ☺

7 thoughts on “Dear Bruce: I wish you wouldn’t focus on “writing snarky posts demeaning the hard work of other people.”

  1. I know a little boy in my town named Detroit – he loves his name, and the other kids at school definitely think it is “cool”. I’m not convinced it’s as teaseworthy as you seem to think – especially as small children are unlikely to know about the economic woes of the city of Detroit.

    And if names with -pee in them are so awful, why is the name Penelope rising rapidly in popularity, and generally seen as quite cool and classy?

    I know you mean well, but I wonder if you have much contact with many small children? I have primary school aged children (and nieces and nephews), and they are comfortable with a wide of range of names that would have seemed very unusual in my generation (and I suppose even more unusual in yours). Nobody (apart from grandma) bats an eye at someone named Kaius or Detroit or North any more – these aren’t weird names, they’re just names.

    • Dear Waltzing,

      Thanks for taking the time to write and send me your comment. As it happens I visit elementary and middle schools throughout the U.S. for the purpose of introducing children to the fun of reading and writing. And because I’m about to launch some picture books designed to introduce preschool children to the fun of reading, I also visit nursery schools and daycare facilities.

      I agree with you that children are increasingly tolerant about racial and gender differences. And because special-needs children are being “mainstreamed” in the U.S., children are more tolerant about learning differences that go beyond race and gender, too. Unfortunately, nobody has figured out a way to completely abolish teasing and bullying. They’re still big issues in the U.S. And, it’s likely that teasing is something children learn from their parents.

      I notice you live in Australia. So, you may (or may not be) aware of the fact that the city of Detroit is going through a financial crisis at the moment and bankruptcy is definitely on the horizon. So, in the U.S., Detroit is not thought of as a cool place to live or to be named after–at the moment. Currently the governor of New Jersey is in the midst of a crisis of confidence. I’d imagine that not many Americans would choose to name their babies after Chris Christie right now. And, after the truth came out about Lance Armstrong’s doping, not many Americans look up to Lance Armstrong the way they did before the doping rumors were confirmed. So not many Americans or Tour de France devotees will choose Lance Armstrong as a namesake for their child.

      It is reasonable to assume the first two news items may not have received much attention in Australia, which is why I added a third example–the 180-degree change in the way Lance Armstrong is regarded (not only in the U.S., but worldwide). If you name your child after a celebrity or city whose image is undergoing a dramatic change for the worse, the name you originally thought would a big plus for your child could quickly turn into a big burden for your child. And when adults verbalize disapproval of the name of someone in their child’s class, they are teaching their child to be intolerant. This can be a difficult problem for children who have been given untraditional names or names that that have recently been “devalued” in the court of public opinion.

      I appreciate your overall message that little children are likely to accept a wide variety of names–because baby-naming norms are changing all around the world. However, every year surveys are published to determine the “worst celebrity baby names of the year.” Those surveys reflect the opinions of adults. The names you and your friends think are the most “outrageous” or “ridiculous” or “crazy” are the names that will turn out to be the “worst celebrity baby names of the year” in surveys.

      Like you, I’m for tolerance. I’m also for reminding parents to think realistically about how the name they give their baby is likely to be perceived by others. And I am genuinely disappointed when a Nameberry’s Pamela Redmond Satran advises parents to pick names likely to be a burden to the children of parents who follow her advice.

      P.S. I almost forgot to comment about Penelope. Probably the majority of girls with that name prefer to be called Penny, a cute informal variation of Penelope. Tempe is the name of a suburb of Phoenix. Not many people outside of Arizona know how to pronounce the name. Natives of Tempe pronounce the town “TEM-pee.” But I’ve heard non-Arizonans pronounce it “tem-PEE.” Unlike Penelope, there’s no common nickname for Tempe, because very few people would think of giving their child that name. My point is simple: it’s a name that might confuse people who don’t know how to pronounce it. (Just as people who’ve never heard the name Penelope pronounced properly might mistakenly pronounce it “PEN-nee-LOPE,” or “PEE-nee-LOPE”) Any name with the sound “pee” in it could send young children into gales of laughter–which isn’t much fun if it’s your name that your classmates are laughing at.

      Even if young children are becoming much more tolerant, they still find bathroom words hysterically funny. They may not mean to tease a child named Penelope or Tempe, but if either name is pronounced incorrectly, everyone will crack up and some child’s feelings will be hurt. That’s the risk of picking names that can easily be mispronounced (either inadvertently or on purpose).

      • We’re actually well aware about Detroit and its problems, and Lance Armstrong. At least adults are – I still don’t believe the average 6 year old (even in the US) has much idea of economics.

        Detroit, despite its present issues, still has a significant history – Motown, working class pride, what was once a thriving industry. That is too powerful to be wiped from people’s memories so quickly, and it is what Detroit reminds me of now.

      • Dear Waltzing,

        I’m sure you’re a genuinely tolerant and thoughtful person. I agree that little children are a lot more tolerant than they were in previous generations. Voting patterns in U.S. elections indicate that the increasing tolerance of young voters to differences between people is the force that is changing American laws and customs with regard to huge “hot button” issues like gay marriage.

        Huck Finn is an iconic and beloved American fictional character who could treat Jim as a human being rather than as a runaway slave (which is how the state of Missouri treated him).

        The issue we are discussing stems from a comment made by Pamela Redmond Satran of Nameberry, who recommended Detroit as a name expectant parents should consider and use in 2014 because “Detroit is so far out it’s cool.” In light of what’s going on in Detroit, I think she was saying, in effect, that the name couldn’t be more ridiculous at the moment and for that reason she was telling her readers, in effect, “If I say it’s cool, it’s cool.”

        Unfortunately for her, most American adults find the idea of Detroit being a cool name, right now, laughable. (I want to assure you, I looooove Motown. But that doesn’t make Detroit a cool name right this minute. Detroit is thinking of auctioning off the art in a Detroit museum to raise money. Art lovers are protesting. Unfortunately, the art lovers aren’t in the drivers’ seat at the moment.)

        I thought a large percentage of the names Satran recommended for 2014 were likely to present practical problems for the children who were given those names. Some of the names were hard to spell and/or pronounce, some created a negative impression, some created a confusing impression, some lacked versatility; a very important problem. I was struck by the fact that the majority of names she recommended were unlikely to be used by parents who intuitively understood those names could be a burden or a source of annoyance or a source of embarrassment for their children. But what about the parents who couldn’t figure that out for themselves? I perceived her as leading expecting parents in an unhelpful direction. Which is why I included Detroit and Tempe in the list of names I thought could be an unnecessary burden for the children of readers (who followed her advice).

        You seem to be saying that it doesn’t matter what parents name their children, because these days, anything goes. And kids are tolerant, so why write about it or discuss it or worry about it?

        I write about names professionally, so the subject is important to me. I’d like to think that “baby-name experts” know something that can make the job of picking a name for one’s child easier and more effective. So that’s where we differ. And it’s OK for us to differ.

        Any parent can pick a name like Moon Unit or Bronx Mowgli or Pilot Inspektor or Messiah for their child that is likely to call attention to their child. Unfortunately, some of that attention will be negative attention. Teachers report that when new students show up in their classroom with non-traditional names, they get the impression that those students are likely to resist learning and discipline. They fear those children will be a source of trouble. Why? Because that’s what happened the previous year, when other children showed up with similar, untraditional names. Parents don’t realize that an “anything-goes name” may send teachers a negative message about their child.

        This is a social class issue. Upper middle class parents understand the benefit of choosing names that signal their children will be good students and can be expected to follow the rules of the school. Parents who didn’t do well in school are more likely to choose untraditional names that suggest the opposite. In so doing they are setting their children up for problems and possibly failure.

        And the same names that signal to teachers the child may be a “problem” also send a signal to employers, years later when the child is looking for a job. One of my posts tells the story of a woman who sent out two resumes with the same qualifications in search of a job. The resume that used a more traditional name is the one that got the call-back.

        “Anything-goes” names can work against the child (and ultimately against the parent–when the child is sent to detention or creates a disturbance that causes the principal to invite the parent to school for a “conference.”). Hence the importance of picking a name for your child that will benefit rather than hinder your child–that will get your child off to good start with friends and teachers (and with HR departments, years later) instead of the opposite.

      • I don’t consider myself particularly tolerant, and I don’t believe “anything goes”, or something is cool just because I say so. I just like to see hard facts supporting an argument, and in this case, I don’t see them.

      • Dear Waltzing,
        I’m writing to call your attention to several posts on this website which will provide you with some “facts” in the form of quotes from teachers and a credible experiment:
        -“There’s a Rising Tide…” is about the “anything-goes” names in Australian schools (so you’ll know that I know what’s going on in schools “Down Under”).
        -“What Children’s Names Say to Teachers…” quotes teachers in Ireland who admit non-traditional names send them negative signals about the children who bear them, and their mothers. Even though I’m not a fan of Katie Hopkins, many teachers in the U.S. have told me the same thing.
        -“Naming for Success…” discusses the woman who sent out resumes with different names to discover that resumes with “names from the hood” are less likely to get call-backs for jobs than traditional names.
        I hope you find this information helpful. However, I notice you are affiliated with an organization called “Australian Baby Names.” If you’re just having some “fun” at my expense by first appearing to be tolerant and then claiming to be intolerant, I sincerely hope you have a nice day.

        Your questions and comments have enabled me to demonstrate some of the problems that result from the “flood” of “anything-goes” names that are showing up in schools throughout the English-speaking world. Why is this happening? Many parents give their children names that send negative signals about their children to teachers, college-admissions departments and H.R. departments because they were influenced by ego-tripping celebrities and/or by ego-tripping “baby name experts.”

        I think by now you know I’m serious about trying to help parents give their children names that will be a benefit rather than a burden. So, if you’re a close friend or colleague of Pamela Redmond Satran of Nameberry, please tell her I hope my comments can help Nameberry come up with a positive new approach. I’d be happy to speak directly to her and Linda (in person or by Skype or phone) if that would be of interest.

      • Dear Waltzing (aka Anna),

        I finally found your website. It contains a lot of blogs from around the world. And, as I suspected, you are “in business with Nameberry”–you distribute their content in Australia. At some point in our correspondence, it dawned on me that you were defending Nameberry, but your heart wasn’t in it. How can anyone support the idea of providing “expert advice” in the form of blog posts which recommend names likely to embarrass the children who are given those names?

        I want you to know I think you distribute many useful and interesting blogs and have a lot of great content on your website. Even Nameberry has some good content on your website. The last time I visited, I read a terrific article on Nameberry by a woman (who lives in the U.K., I think) who provides “name therapy” to people who write her. She listens carefully and gives people free advice to help them find names for their children. Lovely article!

        I put a lot of time and effort into responding to your comments. I don’t feel bad about that because lots of readers thanked me for standing up to your friends, Pamela Redmond Satran and Aela Mass, after reading my responses to your comments. Most people I’ve spoken to knew you were baiting me. After a while there was not even a hint of credibility about your arguments. They were ludicrous. (For example: There’s a kid in your neighborhood named Detroit, who loves his name: that about a name Satran called “unheard of names.”)

        You’re probably the only person on earth who thinks children don’t get embarrassed or teased or bullied about lots of things, including their names.
        I recently wrote a post that included this research finding from ABC News: “30% of all students identified themselves as either bullies or victims of bullying.”

        Anna, now that I know who you are, I wish we were friends rather than adversaries. It’s in your long-term best interest for Nameberry to take my advice and clean up their act. Here’s one reason: every time Nameberry creates a new list of weird recommendations, I write about it and my visitors and views rise. So more people go to my website to find out why the names Nameberry is recommending are bad for children.

        Unfortunately, the names they recommend are as ridiculous, outrageous and embarrassing as the most notorious names chosen by celebrities. Neither celebrities nor Satran & Mass seem concerned about how names they select or recommend affect children. But you should be. It’s your website. Why would you want to dispense harmful advice on your website?

        That’s why instead of trying to pretend that children don’t tease and bully one another about lame names, you should tell Satran and Mass to stop recommending lame names. Those recommendations are hurting children and giving Waltzing More than Matilda a bad name. If they didn’t know that before, they know now. And so do you.

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