my parents, baby name trendsetters
volcano and I have made it to the third trimester, which I suppose means it’s time to get serious about preparing for her existence as an independent creature who needs, among other things, a place to sleep and a legal name. to my surprise, the hardest part of choosing a name for volcano wasn’t settling the question of her last name (spider and I each have our own, though they are similar enough that my suggestion to give volcano a mashup was half-serious). it was performance anxiety.
“I just don’t know how we can ever do a better job than your parents did,” spider said. “I mean, rabi [w]. it’s such a great name.”
I agree with him, of course. I love my weird, unfamiliar, arabic name. it’s not the rarity that makes me like it so much, but the fact that I’ve never met another rabi in my life probably makes it easier to feel like the name is perfectly mine. I don’t think my parents set out to give me a completely unique name, but they do seem to have been way ahead of their time as baby-namers. I’ve always been kind of fascinated by their accidental anticipation of the zeitgeist, but our recent delving into baby name data has thrown it into even clearer relief.
in 1981, my parents went to the hospital with two baby girl names that are so unusual you can’t find any real data about them, and gave me the one that caused so many disgusted reactions (“you named your baby girl after rabies?”) that they freaked out and decided to add something a little more normal and feminine. thirty years later, that name had climbed to the top of the charts.
wolfram alpha estimates the following age distribution for people named audrey:
and the most common age is all of two years old, which means even the five-year-old audrey I knew might be able to claim she was an audrey before it was cool. I don’t identify as an audrey, but I’m still impressed with my how my parents were nearly a generation ahead of the trend. even moreso when you consider that, if I had been a boy, I would have been named jasper. for the first twenty five years of my life, whenever I mentioned my alternate-universe moniker, people would visibly cringe. “wow,” they would say, “you really dodged a bullet there.” even people who thought rabi was too boyish or foreign or just plain abnormal agreed that it was a huge win that I hadn’t been saddled with a name as hideous as jasper.
and then, three years ago, I heard someone in the next aisle of the grocery store tell her toddler, “jasper, don’t poke the peaches.” he, too, was a little ahead of the curve; most of the jaspers in the world are still two and under.
by the time my sister was born in 1984, my parents had either forgotten about jasper or remembered a conversation my father had with a friend he lived with in spain. according to the story, during a wine-soaked evening, the two men had agreed that dylan was a solid name for a baby boy, belonging as it did to both dylan thomas and bob dylan.
but my sister was a girl, so she didn’t get to be dylan. instead, she was given yet another name that is currently dominated by the two-year-old set. I think there’s a decent chance that supervising volcano’s future playdates will feel oddly reminiscent of the scene in my own 1980s childhood living room, just because of the names.
although they settled on it back in 1984, my parents didn’t get to use my brother’s name until 1991, so he’s not quite as far ahead of the curve. the most common age for people named dylan is a relatively mature nine years.
it’s still kind of impressive, right?
the name we’ve chosen for volcano falls somewhere in between the total obscurity of rabi and the on-the-cusp trendiness of the other names my parents used. it’s a normal enough name that I won’t be surprised if volcano meets a few others in her lifetime, but I wouldn’t really care if it were in the top 100, because I like it. it’s a name I would be happy to have myself.
still, I smiled when I plugged my own name into wolfram alpha, after looking up those of my siblings. while it correctly figured out that those words were names of people, this is what it spit out in response to rabi:
if the internet had existed in 1981, I wonder if my parents would have willingly given me a name that I would share with an island of fiji? and a volcanic island at that! I guess I really don’t fall too far from the naming tree after all. (no, volcano’s name isn’t really going to be volcano. don’t think I wouldn’t do it, though.)