Letter from America
Cara Sheridan O’Donnell
What are the most popular names for babies in the United States? For decades, “plain Jane” names, such as John, James, Mary, and Jane (naturally), topped the lists. In 2010, the top three names for boys were Aiden, Jacob, and Jackson, while the favored names for bundles of pink were Sophia, Isabella, and Olivia. Not bad, you are probably thinking to yourself. It is always safe to go with one of last year’s most popular names when choosing a name for this year’s current model. But the list from which I got the information above is merely a list of the top 25 names. Using a formula for “safe” but creative baby naming, some parents play around with the favorites. Believing that if they name their precious man-child Aiden, he will one day play on a lacrosse team with too many other Aiden’s, but not wanting to stray from their comfort zone, some parents just zap on a consonant or two at the beginning of the name. Aiden is thus transformed into Brayden, Kaden, Grayden, or even Zaiden. I sincerely hope that parents who use this formula in the future remember that, as an alternative to Aiden, Maiden is neither safe nor creative; indeed, it is most inappropriate, even cruel. To name a child Laden, as a young couple named Boyle did a few years ago, constitutes (at least in my opinion) cruel and unusual punishment. In a self-fulfilling prophetic manner, this child will undoubtedly develop undesirable avoirdupois, excessive guilt, and/or self-recriminatory doubts. In the worst-case scenario, he might someday acquire a wife who wants to saddle her first born with the name Lancelot, even though Laden will argue with her that Lance Boyle won’t make it psychologically unscathed through middle school. Ah, but I get carried away.
In similar fashion, the young mother who has always wanted to parent a little girl named Isabella, but who also realizes how common that name has become, resorts to another tactic. Just change the spelling! Izabela, Izobela, Issobella… Take THAT, such a new mom thinks to herself, Isabella is SO 2010! MY Iz’zobelah will NEVER be one of the pack! In the quest for creativity in the baby-name game, changing the spelling is small potatoes compared to the lengths some people will go. Choosing a name based on the location of a baby’s conception is one example. Paris, London, Savannah: They all sound so romantic. Dewy-eyed with nostalgia, Mom and Dad gaze down upon their tiny Dakota, who wriggles in his sleep, perhaps popping a thumb out of his perfect oval of a mouth while simultaneously kicking aside the cashmere coverlet his great-grandmother lovingly crocheted for her first child in 1950. “Dakota,” Mom sighs. In another household, one with the same creative ambiance as Dakota’s but far livelier, Mama and Papa and kids are rushing out the door for a trip to their grandparents’ ski house for the holidays. “Have you packed your retainer, Boston? Remember to use the bathroom before we leave, Aspen! Sydney…Hampton! Get a move on!” Lovely picture, is it not? But think about it. Should this creative trend take firmer root, we here in the U.S.A., would have classrooms full of kids named Parsippany, Scranton, Menominee, and Albuquerque. Imagine the names one would hear if this baby-naming fad spread elsewhere in the world. Hmmm! Dublin is kind of cute, do you not agree? But Baile Átha Cliath just doesn’t cut it! Further specifying the place-of-conception baby-naming technique scares me, to tell you the truth. I know that I would be sorely tempted to laugh out loud if I were introduced to someone called Volvo, even though I wouldn’t think about it at all if introduced to a Mercedes.
Naturally, one should consider the family name and many other factors when considering choices for a baby’s given name. My own top three cardinal rules are as follows:
- Rhyming names are never cute, with the exception, perhaps, of Jack Black and Faye Wray. Keep in mind, however, that Jack was born Thomas Jacob Black and that Fay is actually Vina Wray’s middle name; their parents did not intentionally burden them! Shaquille O’Neal is big enough to defend himself from any teasing. Your baby might not be so lucky. So steer clear of Isabella if your last name is Fratella.
- Creativity should not embarrass your children. If your family name is Gardener, do not name your daughters Ivy and Fern.
- If you have any aspirations for your baby, names such as Trixie, Taffy, Jim-Bob, and Biff will never make your short list.
When naming your own children, did you have to take anything special into consideration? If asked for suggestions for baby names by parents-to-be, what do you deem important? Did you ever consider a name for your own child and later thank your lucky stars that you rejected it? C’mon; you KNOW you have!
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