I love your baby’s name

here is something about me that is probably not surprising in the least: I love weird baby names. pilot inspektor? awesome. banjo? pretty damn adorable. zuma? totally works for me. I’m not sure I would want a name that sounds like a punchline (north west, tu morrow) but I would embrace being called moxie crimefighter or cricket. and I will never understand why people disapprove so strongly of apple.

perhaps a little more surprising, given my grammarian leanings, is the fact that I am fully on board with the creative spellings or invented names that are repeatedly maligned in web columns about “what not to name your baby” or “americans are getting worse at naming babies.” first of all, there is an unpleasant tinge of racism, classism, or both to those complaints. I don’t understand how you can embrace liberal, anti-racist ideals and then turn around and criticize made up names. second, I like those names. even if some of the urban legend names like lemonjello and orangejello are real, they don’t seem worthy of ridicule. lemonjello has a nice sound and cadence to it — it’s like angelo but with a little more zing — and there are so many good nickname possibilities. lem! monjo! even jelly roll would be an adorable nickname for a chubby baby, with a pretty great namesake behind it.

I also don’t believe that any particular type of name is going to lock in your child’s fate from day one. you can be a stripper with any name. you can be a supreme court justice with any name. people who tell you otherwise are just revealing their own judgmental prejudice. if you were okay with the idea of someone named mitt or newt being your president, you really can’t say anything about the implausibility of a president blaze.  plus, don’t you think that when today’s kids — who are presumably used to having peers with a variety of distinct and interesting names — grow up, they’ll be well equipped to handle the idea of, say, the honorable brylee alexxis johnson? give the kids a little credit.

trendy names are fine with me. I think aidan is a lovely name. I think jayden is a lovely name. maybe it’s not timeless, but is there something so wrong with having a name that belongs to the era in which you were born? if it’s okay to be part of the collective consciousness about things like food trucks, shoes, or rock bands, it should be okay to like the same names as your neighbors. disliking things just because they are popular seems like an endlessly frustrating exercise.

having opinions about specific names or even styles is completely reasonable, of course, whether due to aesthetic reasons or past associations. my own reaction to most of the names we considered was similar to my feelings about most parts of the country: not where I would choose to settle down, but I’m glad they exist. “that’s a beautiful name!” I said, many times, “but it doesn’t sound like the name of my child.” the nice thing is, there are enough newborn babies in the world — truly, probably in brooklyn alone — that all those beautiful names won’t go unused.

I think I wrote this entire post just so I could say this: let’s stop being bitchy about baby names. let’s embrace our preferences, but in a style that’s more ramona quimby than bill matthews. let’s take it upon ourselves not to make assumptions about parents who prefer the spelling jazzmyn over jasmin. let’s appreciate the names we like, and not get so worked up about the names we don’t.

… and feel free to test my resolve in the comments, but I really do like most of the names that get maligned by tastemakers. I also like most of the names that are popular with the hipster set. and I love the one-of-a-kind names that I’ve encountered on some of my students, including the names with accents, apostrophes, or multiple Qs. there’s something to be said for a little flair!

Posted August 5th, 2013 in whims & whelms.


  1. Mom:

    I’m stunned by the hatred expressed by the writer of notwithoutmyhandbag. I suppose living in Cambridge has sheltered me more than I ever imagine, but it seems like such a sad waste of a human mind to spend so much effort on hating and disparaging every one who doesn’t look, smell, and resemble in every way their own self. Scary. I’m not sure I’m ready for the real world yet.

    Chevrolet is a beautiful name. Hey, have you seen how Leilani has risen on the charts? Sometimes people just get inspired.

  2. Mom:

    I always thought that was one of the best things about names. You get to spell and pronounce your name however you like. Isn’t that the rule? It’s not like you get them from the dictionary and pass tests on them. Even words in the dictionary evolve. And how about the good american tradition of descriptive and powerful names like Sitting Bull? We could use more of those.

  3. Gwyn:

    Being a member of the Unusual Name Club myself, I think it would be interesting to see if the popularity of a person’s name has any correlation to their tendency to pick popular or uncommon names for their own children. While I wouldn’t change my own name, even for marriage ( I’m pretty sure that I, too, am the only person in the world with my particular combination of names), all three of my kids ended up with much more mainstream names. I guess I spent so much time as a child explaining how to spell and pronounce my name, and saying ” no it’s not short for Gwendolyn, or Guineviere, or Gwyneth”,and “no, my last name isn’t Polish or Russian, it’s Lithuanian.” that i just decided to avoid that for my own kids. My sister’s given name is more common than mine (as is her married name), and she chose names for her two children that, while they are not “weird”, are definitely not in the top 100, nor have they ever been.

  4. rabi:

    mom – I will admit to getting somewhat annoyed at the evolution of dictionary definitions, especially if the meaning of the word becomes less precise. and that one site I linked to was much less vitriolic than some of the criticism you can find on the web! 😮

    gwyn – I’ve definitely seen it both ways in baby name blog comments. the most common practice right now seems to be to go for names that are “unusual but not weird” (or whatever), and there are plenty of people who are like “my name was jennifer and all my friends names were jennifer so I want my child to have a unique name.” occasionally though there are the people who say “my parents named me [something totally off the wall] and I hated explaining it / being made fun of / etc, so I want my child to have a normal name.” but just as often there are the people who say “I loved having an interesting, different name and I want my kid to have that experience too!” …this is more or less my feeling except that I didn’t make popularity (or obscurity) a selection criteria with particularly large weight.

    it’s fun naming things!