The name of the rose

I’ve been meaning to riff on Anastasia’s question about why you would name your kid Andy if your last name was Anderson and so forth, for I have many prejudices on the issue of the names with which people saddle their children, which I will happily share with you here (you’re more than welcome). 

These prejudices apply chiefly to names of Western European origin since these prejudices mostly have to do with trendiness or the avoidance thereof, and here in the U.S. of A., those are the names with critical mass.  Stupid naming certainly cuts across racial and ethnic lines, as evidenced by the fact that I have known Black, Anglo, Latino, and Asian Brittanys (though some of them were Britneys or Brittaneighs).  But my own cultural background and experiences don’t give me as finely tuned radar for names of most other ethnic origins.  For example, I’ve known a few Aishas (Ashas/Ayshas/Aeishas) but I am not able to form an authentic sense of Aisha as a popular, slightly boring but eminently respectable name like Sarah*, even if that is what it is in a Muslim context.

So, on to my culturally specific prejudices.

People can certainly give their children names that are currently trendy, but they should try not to–an opinion hardened by too many 2YC classes with multiple Brittany/Britney/Brittaneighs.  (And by the way, spelling a popular name in a “creative” way is a double whammy on your child.  Don’t do that, either.  Abigail is a nice name; Abigaille is ridiculous.)  In children of the Snork Maiden’s vintage, names I would have rejected as too trendy include Emma, Emily, Haley, Madeleine (aka Madeline/Madalyn/Maddelyne) and Isabella for girls, and Zack/Zachary, Cody, Tyler, and Max for boys. 

(The trendy names in 1993 and 1994, to judge from my ninth-graders, were Alexandra, Amanda, Samantha, Dylan, and Ryan.)

Perenially popular names–Michael, Elizabeth, Sarah, John, etc.–are perhaps a bit boring, but much better than trendy names. 

I like names that are unusual (Avery, Gideon, Maya, Rhiannon), but not names that are ludicrous, and I feel that most people cannot be trusted not to cross this line.  I realize that not everyone will agree on which name is ludicrous and which name is simply unusual, so I’ll tell you a few names that I think are ludicrous:  Charisma, Armani, and Kal-el.

Finally, I feel that there should be a special punishment for people who saddle their child with a name with unfortunate literary associations.  I’m thinking here of a college student I taught years back called Holden, an entitled little cuss if there ever was one.  I’m also thinking of a couple I know, both writers, who chose for their son’s first name the distinctive surname of a writer whom, I presume, they both admired.  I can’t tell you the exact name, but it was sort of like naming your kid Styron Jones, or Updike Smith.  Awful idea! 

Names from literature are sometimes lovely, of course.  Lots of good names in Shakespeare, from reasonably popular ones like Miranda and Olivia to more unusual but not ridiculous names like Portia, Nerissa, and Rosalind (or, for the boys, Sebastian is very nice.  We know a small Sebastian, and he carries it well.  Horatio might be a bit much.  Orlando isn’t bad).  When you meet someone with a Shakespeare or a Tolkien name, you feel you know a little something about his or her parents.  I wouldn’t do it myself, personally, but people certainly do.  Better Eowyn than another freaking Mackenzie, say I.


*Who knows what kind of bounce the name Sarah will get from the current Republican vice-presidential nominee.  To my ear, right now, it kind of sounds like Phyllis.  Or Ethel.


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