Photo: EPA/Guillaume Horcajuelo
Yesterday morning at 9:10 AM EST, capping off several months of anticipation and speculation, George and Amal Clooney announced the safe and happy arrival of their joint production—a boy and a girl named Alexander and Ella. And the world reacted with a resounding, “meh.”
“Amal Clooney Gives Birth to Twins with Beautiful, Average Names,” declared NY Mag. “[T]hey’re practically boring,” quipped Harpers Bazaar. “Wake me when Beyoncé’s twins arrive,” wrote … OK, nobody wrote that, but somebody really should have.
Because this is George Clooney we’re talking about—a guy who joked he wanted to name his kids “Casa” and “Amigo after his tequila company. A guy whose effortless swagger has long defined a certain type of zero-frigs cool in image-obsessed Hollywood. Moreover, this is Amal, a woman so accomplished her engagement prompted the headline “Internationally acclaimed barrister Amal Alamuddin marries an actor.” A woman whose substance is matched by her style and whose style is matched by no one (see bridal chic, maternity chic, courthouse chic). Is it any wonder we expected the Clooneys to school us all in the art of aspirational baby naming?
And then we get Alexander and Ella, two names that, while perfectly fine, are also perfectly ordinary. Alex (the 11th most popular boy’s name in America last year) is the showoff from your softball league—the guy who always insists on post-game fist bump. Ella (#17 for girls) is the woman who always brings baked goods into work. So yeah, not offensive, just totally underwhelming, and so far from what we were expecting, which begs the question: What were they thinking?
On Twitter a lot of people have praised the Clooneys’ “refreshing” decision to opt out of the arms race that is celebrity baby naming. That’s certainly one theory. Another is that in an era where unpredictable celebrity baby names have become hopelessly predictable, choosing names like Alex and Ella is in fact a pretty radical act.
Take footwear trends: There are periods when high heels are in, and they just get higher and higher until some cool girl shows up at the party wearing a pair of Birkenstocks—and then all of a sudden everything else feels hopelessly dated. By naming her kids Alexander and Ella, it’s almost as if Amal has arrived at the Met Gala in Levis and a hoodie and still manages to out-fierce the dozens of women whose body-con dresses suddenly look hopelessly contrived by comparison.
The Clooneys, for the record, aren’t the first famous parents to go normcore with their name selections. Anne Hathaway’s decision to name her son Jonathan in 2016 felt downright subversive. Scar-Jo has a daughter Rose, Jimmy Kimmel has a William, Kerri Russell has a Sam. Even Zooey Deschanel (the poster child for contrived quirk) named her son Charlie, though his middle name is Wolf.
Those of us who enjoy the absurdity of over-the-top name selections of course still have plenty to scoff at. In just the last few months, we’ve welcomed Mick Jagger’s new son, Deveraux; Megan Fox had a Journey; Rob Kardashian attempted to one-up his many creatively-named nieces and nephews with his son, Dream. When Amber Tablyn and David Cross debuted their daughter on Instagram Tablyn said they had named her Dauphinoise Petunia Brittany Scheherazade Von Funkinstein Mustard Witch RBG Cross Tamblyn-Bey Jr. She was kidding. The child’s actual name is Marlow, which may also sound edgy and avant-garde, but it probably won’t for long (Sienna Miller, Jason Schwartzman and Susan Sarandon’s daughter Ava Amurri have also welcomed baby Marlow/es in the last few years).
Duana Taha, author of 2016’s The Name Therapist says that for most parents, the quest to be unique is still a huge priority. “That is probably the primary concern I hear about is people worried that their names will be too common,” she says. It’s why contemporary parents go routing through their family trees and history books for inspiration, and ironically, it’s also why seemingly uncommon names selections go mainstream faster than you can say, “That’s enough banjo playing, Silas/Ezra/Isla/Amelia!” Basically when parents look to the past, they all tend to go at two if not three generations back since the names of their own parents never seem particularly cool. As a result, the same people who try so hard to be outside the box, often end up landing squarely in it.
By choosing names that seem specifically engineered for a non-reaction George and Amal are kind of saying, we just don’t think “the box” is all that important either way. Aren’t there more important things in this world than cool baby names?, as they sip tequila and save the world and set a new standard in coolness.
So where does that leave the rest of us, and more importantly, where does that leave Beyoncé? Hard to say. If a concerted non-effort is indeed the new black, then the recent past may be the most untapped treasure trove: Keith and Linda Carter-Knowles. Bet nobody is predicting that.