Choosing baby names in the wired world

Are we now choosing names based on "image fixation" and our cultural Facebook obsession? What the names we choose say about who we are.

Photo: JillLang/iStockphoto

Choosing a baby name used to be a simple process: name the kid after a family member from a previous generation, put the back-up name in the middle, add on the surname and call it a day.

Nowadays, it’s a lot more complicated than that. According to Mireille Silcoff’s National Post article “What baby names mean these days (and why they matter so much now),” today’s parents suffer from what she calls “image fixation.” We live in a world where people can see every detail of your life with one simple click of a mouse — which leaves this generation of parents to choose a name for their child that reflects who they are as a person.

This really made me think about my own “image fixation,” and whether or not I’d let it affect the process of choosing names for my own future children.
My baby naming days are far off in the future (and I can almost hear my father’s sigh of relief), but I’ll admit that I’ve had potential names for my future son or daughter picked out since I was a little girl (and I’m sure I’m not the only one!). I even like to peruse baby naming books or websites occasionally, simply to see what the current trend is for baby names.

But do the names that I have a fondness for really reflect who I am as a person? What does it say if I chose a plain and classic sounding name like Ruth or Harold? Does that mean I’m old fashioned? I don’t think choosing a name that was popular three generations ago is cause for anxiety, but I see how it could prevent some people from wanting to go the “boring” route.   
When I was teaching English in China, I was allowed to give an English name to any of my new students that didn’t already have one, and I didn’t always use my powers for good. Six months into my one-year teaching contract, I had already used up all of my favourite guilty-pleasure names on students: Buffy, Chandler, Oprah, Hermione, McLovin, all of the principal characters from Dawson’s Creek, all of the principal characters from Titanic, an entire class of four year olds named after words relating to the Superman comics, and at least three boys named Bort (The Simpson’s shout-out, anyone?). After reading through this list, I can only surmise that a lot of people could probably tell a lot about who I am (and particularly what I like) by reading over my class list… and also that I’m a huge nerd. Perhaps my own penchant to personally brand my students with names that reflect my life and interests proves that I’m just as image fixated as modern parents.
There’s also the option of going the trendy route, another theme in baby naming that Silcoff discusses. Lately it seems that there’s a tendency for parents to give their children names based on hot, current or trending topics — with the main choices involving popular characters that they’ve loved in recent books, television shows, movies and pop culture. The temptation to get adventurous with names is far greater than staying predictable. Indeed, The Huffington Post reports that there has been a significant rise in newborn girls named Severine and boys named Mingus (both in the top 15 baby names for 2013 so far). Choosing to name your baby something distinctive and culturally significant would lead me to believe that person was trendy, unique and modern, traits that anyone would love to be associated with.

When it comes time for me to name my children, I’m hoping that I’ll settle on a unique name that means something personal to me — but sounds nothing like Mingus.

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