Baby names, at least around here, used to follow a pattern. If your family was Irish Catholic, you got named Michael, Kevin, Brian, Mary or Patricia. If you were Italian, you were Peter, Paul, Donna, or Angela. If you were WASP, you were David, John, Susan, or Linda. Now and then, there'd be a Barbara, Deborah, Michele, or Tracy, and Robert, Cathy, Thomas, Richard, Sharon, Mark, Donald, and Anthony were sort of filler, in between all the other names. The only people who had "creative" names, in popular opinion, were either a) really poor, from crappy backgrounds (who named their kids things like Fancy and Lap Baby), b) (ex-)entertainers, con artists, sleazy salesmen and the like, who wanted their kids to follow in their footsteps (who favored snappy names and combos like Les Moore and Honey Harlowe), or c) "creative" types, the kind who ate food with wine in it, collected Japanese folk art, had expensive hi-fi sets, and worked in architecture or design (who loved foreign names like Pilar, Kira, Dimitri and Paolo). This was good. Aside from Hanni (father Christiaan Dinkeloo, architect) and a few others, it was easy to get tags from W. T. Grants that had your name on it, you nearly always knew how someone's name was spelled on first meeting, and you had a pretty good size-up of what kind of person with whom you were dealing. A Gus or Edna would, more than likely, would have older parents and lean towards dullness, whereas Larry or Barbara would probably live in a split-level and have parents who let them have some of the great new toys like Ka-Bala and Lucky Locket Kiddles.

Beginning in the late Sixties, however, the situation changed. Hippies were naming their children Sunshine, Pigpen, Rainbow, and god...knows what else. In the Seventies, the situation had calmed down somewhat, as every new mom wanted something old-fashioned, like Jason or Jennifer, names that suggested rural 19th century America. After the show "Roots", there was a brief period when it was considered cool to spotlight your heritage, no matter what that might be. And then came the Eighties, and all hell broke loose. What was a Vanessa like? Tiffany? (You might as well call her Golddigger or Bloomingdale's!) Ashley? As in Wilkes? Calder? Kelby? Huh? What kind of name is that? Now, kindergartens across the country are awash in girls named Madison, Sivanna, and Zenniphyr, and boys named Skirmante, Trystan and Dakota. Here are some ideas for baby names and why they're so bad:

  1. "I want my baby's name to stand out! Nothing's worse than being the third or fourth John or Mary in the class, and besides, it's like having an unusual brand name -- se'll have an advantage when they look for a job and people see hir name on a resume."

    Actually, there is something worse. As the RL bearer of a once-nonstandard name, it's been kind of tough growing up with a name no one else had (and cre8tive respellings can be just as bad). Children, like everyone else, mentally classify people as being Like Us or Not Like Us, and having a fairly-standard first name is part of this. If you're a Leanna in an Angela and Tricia-centered school, people are going to classify you as being "not like us" even before they've met you. (Never mind being called Shellsea Summer...) It's a fact that African-American creatively-named children are discriminated against, even by other Blacks, if only because it sounds as if their mother was more interested in "acting Black" than they were in insuring a mainstream, and therefore, more successful future for their children. Sad, but true. So, think twice, and then think again, if you want to go the unusual/unique route in baby naming. Besides, if you're so convinced that they're not going to stand out in life, there are far better ways of doing this...like radical body modification.

  2. "Nothing's more romantic than naming the baby for where it was conceived.."

    Remember how icky it was, thinking of your parents having sex? Don't you think your kid is going to be thinking the same thing? Why remind them of it every time you call them?

  3. "I want to name my little girl something upscale...like Ashley or Tiffany, or, if it's a boy, perhaps Abercrombie or Carrington to give them an advantage in life."

    Naming a child for a brand name is never upscale, and trying to fool people by giving them a patrician last name (especially a soap opera character's) as a first name doesn't work, either. If acceptance into the country club is what you seek for your offspring, you're better off looking at first names in the society pages, or the financial section. Simple dignity will win out, no matter what the last name is -- trying too hard is nearly always fatal. Yes, it's true that people name their girls prestigious-sounding last names, and often rich people on TV and the movies have names like that. But that's just fiction. Real old-money types don't name their girls Windsor or Merritt any more than these girls live with their parents after college and sip Champagne in designer originals around the pool on weekday noons. And if all the above isn't a suitable persuasion, remember that real robber baron or DAR families do sometimes marry outside their immediate circles (think Anderson Cooper's parents): the likelihood of little Whitney's marrying a Whitney (if you get what I'm saying here) is much less than if her name were Linda.

  4. "I love the romance that is Celtica, the grandeur of the Norse sagas, Native American mysticism even the modern myths of Tolkien, Roddenberry, and Lucas! Shouldn't my baby have a name that suggests adventure, perhaps romance?"

    Really now. Do you really think that Rhiannon is going to grow up to be a Welsh witch queen with a thing for songbirds, or that T'Pring is going to be a standoffish exotic beauty with pointy ears and green blood, if you don't supply the genes and background for this yourself? Trying to pass off your offspring as being more "Nordic" or "Native" than you are already by adopting a first name that even people with those backgrounds regard as being hard-core has never worked (ethnics tend to know their own kind) either. If you're interested in coming up with a good romantic-sounding name, I'd suggest looking a little more deeply into literature...after all, the greatest names in romance, horror, and speculative fiction have the exotic names of...Jane, Anne, and Mary. (Though I suppose Gwendolyn or something from Shakespeare would be all right...)

  5. "Gee! You're taking the fun out of all this! What about Peanut or Rory or Trixie? My favorite celebrity named one of his sons Rebop! Why can't I have this kind of fun?"

    Most celebrity baby names are one quarter made-up, one quarter publicity, and one half narcissism. A good deal of the time, the kid in question isn't really named what they say in the papers (David Bowie's son is a pedestrian Duncan Jones on the birth certificate and Zowie Bowie in public memory, Dweezil Zappa is actually named Ian). Since baby news is a big part of celebrity reporting, there's a lot of pressure to come up with a really memorable name: "Oh, that's so and so. They named their child Darfur, for their support of Africa." Civilians don't need this. Then, sadly, an awful lot of actors and actresses see their kids less as human beings than accessories, about on par with the toy dog in their handbag, or their trophy wife/husband.
    "Fun-loving" couples, you know, the kind where he proposed by giving her the ring in a Cracker Jack box on the top of a ferris wheel, got married under the big top at The Big Apple Circus while dressed up as a ringmaster and a showgirl, and live in a house full of 50's vintage and reproduction furniture and housewares, love giving their kids nicknames as legal names. (In other words having "proposed", they "marry", "settle down", and now they have a "baby", which they proceed to "name". To which I say, "Grow up!") If you're really keen on being ironic, and pledged to wild creativity and fun, try giving the child an "ordinary" legal name, and a "fun" nickname. They needn't use their birth name on their first grade school papers, and can surprise everyone when they're named summa cum laude: "Gee! I never knew he was named Forsythe!"

So where do good baby name ideas come from? Your family, perhaps. Tombstones. The Census Bureau (check historical trends, the oldies tend to recur every few years). Don't listen to baby name books, respell, or overthink. And, again, remember: they'll nearly always rename themselves in High School. -30-.

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