Pamela Redmond Satran has a new trick: She starts her article about “82 Stylish names” with a list of ten girls’ names and ten boys’ names listed among Nameberry’s top 1,000 names parents have clicked on lately. I can independently confirm that a few of those names are genuinely appealing. For girls: Beatrice, Isla, Ivy, Maeve and Maisie; for boys: Beckett, Declan and Finn. (I’ve seen these names on popularity lists in the U.K., Canada and elsewhere. And Finn is on my list of Cool Names for Boys.) But, before I go on, I should probably point out a few negatives among the names Satran describes as being “atop the current style wave.”
Hazel is associated with Witch Hazel, a natural remedy for treating cuts and bruises. Unfortunately, Hazel is likely to be called Witch Hazel or teased as a “witch.” Or Hazel may be called Hazelnut or teased as a “nut,” because hazel shrubs and trees produce hazelnuts.
Jasper, in children’s literature, is an African-American boy who (stereotypically) loves to eat watermelons. It’s an unfortunate association likely to make the name uncomfortable for African-American boys. (However, in fairness, Jasper is also a type of spotted or speckled rock collected by rockhounds.)
Atticus is an ancient Latin name that means “from Attica.” As much as I love Atticus Finch, beloved protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird, non-literary types are likely to confuse Attica with a prison in New York state that was the site of a famous riot, or junk found in the attic.
After listing ten girls’ and boys’ names clicked on by visitors to her website, Satran goes right back to her “old trick” of recommending names that are the same or similar to names she has previously described as having been used by ten or less children in the U.S. (probably because they are so awful, archaic, impractical and/or ridiculous). Here’s how she describes the names she previously described as “cool and unusual” and Satran’s colleague, Aela Mass, previously described as having been found in a cemetery by her dog:
“..here’s a new style wave on the horizon, one that parents in search of more avant garde names will want to have their eyes on. This next wave takes current styles and trends to more extreme levels.” I’ve described this process as being like “alchemy,” a faux scientific process which claimed to turn “dross into gold.” (“Dross” is what the dictionary describes as “a waste product or impurity,” or as “worthless.”)
Question: how can names that parents have abandoned and don’t use any more because they are two archaic, too esoteric, too unappealing and too impractical possibly be considered “a new style wave”? The truth is: most of them are unusable because they are awful or ridiculous names.
Awful, Ridiculous, Impractical and Rarely (If Ever) Used Girls’ Names Included in the List Satran Calls “a New Style Wave on the Horizon.”
Doon: Unfortunately, this name sounds like doom, so it will need to be enunciated very clearly to avoid sounding like a horrible prediction. Literary types familiar with Lorna Doone are likely to misspell the name by adding an “e.” Ditto for cookie lovers. Doon is likely to be called either Lorna or Cookie.
Eulalie: This antique name is a name-book neighbor of Eudora which was recommended in one of Satran’s “Cool, Unusual” articles. Unfortunately Eulalie sounds like Eudora’s crazy older sister. And Lalie as a nickname is not exactly the coolest moniker in town.
Feodora: Unfortunately, this esoteric and rarely-used name sounds so much like Theodora that it is likely to be misspelled and mispronounced—which won’t be a pleasure for the poor little girls getting this name. These are practical problems a lovely meaning (“gift of God”) can’t overcome.
Freesia: What’s Freesia? A flowering plant found in eastern and southern Africa. For non-botanists, Freesia is an unfamiliar, strange name that sounds very, very cold.
Hebe: This name was previously included in Satran’s last “Cool, Unusual Names” article. I pointed out that Hebe is a pejorative slang term for Jews (like kike). How foolish of Satran to repeat this faux pas.
Hero: Another foolish repeat from Satran’s last “Cool, Unusual Names” article. I pointed out that Hero refers not only to a brave fictional protagonist, but also to a big, thick fattening sandwich often filled with “junk meat” (bologna and salami) and a dollop of mayo. In addition to this junk-food reference, Hero is also a “pompous title” like Princess or Queen or Messiah which places a psychological burden on the unlucky child who is given one of these unrealistic names.
Kassiani: This esoteric and rarely (if ever) used name is unlisted in every name book I checked and is unlikely to ever be spelled properly by anyone but Satran (assuming she has spelled it correctly).
Lettice: This name is ridiculous for two reasons: It sounds like Lettuce (a ridiculous name for a child) but it is also likely to be misspelled by everyone but Satran. I was recently reading a book by Alexander McCall Smith which introduced a pompous character named Professor Lettuce. Smith was able to come up with three or four jokes at the expense of Professor Lettuce’s unfortunate name during a single conversation over lunch (which included salad).
Malou: Malu (with an accent over the u) is Spanish name that’s a compound of Maria + Luisa. As if that name wasn’t esoteric enough Satran recommends an even more esoteric name she probably just made up. People would recognize Marilou, but not many (if any) will recognize or “get” Malou.
Turia: This is not a new breed of dog related to terriers. Nor is it a reference tarriers (Irish workers hired to drill holes in rock where sticks of dynamite could be inserted to clear the way for American railroads–who are celebrated in a folk song called “Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill.” This name is probably a variation on an esoteric Catalan name. It will come across as unfamiliar to one and all and will undoubtedly be misspelled by most.
Sybella: This is little-used English form of Sybil, was probably included in Satran’s list because the name Sybil was given to more than ten children.
Awful, Ridiculous, Impractical and Rarely (If Ever) Used Boys Names Included in the List Satran Calls “the New Style Wave on the Horizon.”
Acacius: Acacia is a spiny tree or shrub related to the pea family. And Acacius is a name hardly anyone but Satran will be able to either recognize, spell or pronounce properly.
Cassion: Like Acacia, Cassia are trees or shrubs related to the pea family. And Cassion is another name hardly anyone but Satran will be able to either recognize, spell or pronounce properly–particularly because it rhymes with passion, which is what most people will think the little boy named Cassion said his name was. (To Satran’s credit, she must have used great restraint in not adding Passion to this list of supposedly “stylish” names. Passion is a great name for a perfume–but not for a child.)
Enoch: It should be enough to state that Enoch sounds like eunuch, a term which describes a boy or man who has been castrated. What makes the name even worse is that famous namesake, Enoch Powell, a conservative British Politician famously opposed a law which would have prohibited racial discrimination in his infamous “River of Blood” speech.
Florin: This strange name is actually the name for several different kinds of money: a Dutch guilder, a British coin worth two shillings, and a gold coin used in Florence. It’s like calling someone Dollar, or Dime—which is why hardly anyone has or will use it as a name.
Gower: John Gower was a poet and friend of Geoffrery Chaucer. Unfortunately he’s not nearly as well-known as Chaucer, so his last name is quite unknown as a given name. That’s why Gower appears on this list of rarely, if ever, used names. (Satran passed over Geoffrey and, instead, picked the surname of Chaucer’s little-known buddy.)
Nero: I can’t claim Nero is unknown as a name; it was the name of perhaps the most cruel and inhuman emperor of Rome. Nero persecuted Christians (burning them as a source of light), executed his mother, famously “fiddled while Rome burned” and committed suicide to avoid assassination. I have no idea who would want to name their child after such a manic. Nor can I think of anyone else who would recommend the name Nero. Calling Nero a “stylish name” is even more irresponsible and absurd.
Oberon: Oberon was the “king of the fairies” in medieval literature and in Shakepeare’s “Midsummer Nights Dream.” High school kids study Shakespeare, which is when a boy named Oberon would start to be teased, harassed and bullied. This is another example of a name that demonstrates Satran’s absolute cluelessness about the practical consequences of using the “stylish” names she so enthusiastically recommends and promotes.
Smith: Maybe Satran doesn’t know that Smith (along with Jones) are the two most common surnames in the U.S. For that reason Smith Johnson or Smith Thompson or Smith Jones will sound like hyphenated last names rather than “given names” followed by a surname. This is another practical issue that should have been obvious to Satran–if she gave it a moment’s thought.
Paladin: I remember Paladin as the name of a TV gunman played by Richard Boone in a TV show called “Have Gun Will Travel.” Historically, paladins were fierce warriors from the court of King Charlemagne. They first appeared in “The Song of Roland” whose job it was to kill the Saracen (aka Muslim) hordes. At a time when gun violence is completely out control and a huge political problem for parents who want to protect the safety of their children against untreated, mentally disturbed people who are able to buy guns in the U.S., I wouldn’t recommend a name that calls to mind the slaughter of Muslims, in the name of Christianity, and a TV show called “Have Gun Will Travel.” Would you? But by now we all know that the woman who recommends Nero also recommends the name of the TV character whose motto is “have gun, will travel.”
If you didn’t believe me when I wrote that Satran’s list of 100 “Cool, Unusual Names” “should have come with a warning,” I hope you believe me now. I find Satran’s complete disregard for practical and moral issues related to baby-naming hard to justify. I’ve praised several of her most recent articles to demonstrate I don’t dislike Satran personally. Unfortunately, more often than hot, I find her recommendations to be irresponsible and potentially harmful to the children who will bear them. I will continue to praise her good work and condemn her irresponsible work–until she gets the message. As it happens my condemnations of her irresponsible behavior are among my most popular posts. Apparently, many readers find the names Satran (and her sidekick Aela Mass) recommend and promote both egregiously awful and laughable.