Naming a child is the ultimate power trip. It’s one of the first things we do as parents, and it comes with huge responsibility. A name, after all, sets the stage for a lifetime of interactions, laying the groundwork for how we see ourselves in the world and how we are perceived. That’s probably why some people—including yours truly—spend countless hours hunting for that one perfect, smart, interesting name. We make lists, play musical chairs with first, middle and last names and look up words in languages we can’t even speak (Gaelic, anyone?). We agonize because we want the name to be as special as our babies will be.
Sign up to get weekly email updates on your baby » But are we taking it too far? To put it less delicately, in the name of individuality, are we saddling our kids with ridiculous names?
Consider the following: Over the past two decades, about two dozen kids in the United States have been named Abcde. That’s right, their name is the first five letters of the alphabet. It’s pronounced “AB-si-dee,” and the “trick,” according to baby name expert and author Duana Taha, is “only obvious when you see the name written down.”
While the same statistics don’t exist in Canada, a quick online search yields that there are several Abcdes here as well. Like Big Bird making a song out of the alphabet, these Abcdes will be forever doomed to explain the rationale behind their beautiful-sounding yet ridiculous baby names. “Though acronym names and other ‘trick’ names aren’t to my personal taste, I can understand that the key to their appeal is that the charm, or trick, is separate from the name itself,” says Taha. “That is, people like the name Nevaeh because it works as a name even if you don’t know it’s ‘heaven’ spelled backwards.”
Perhaps today’s intensive parenting culture, which insists that every child is a special snowflake, is to blame. While it’s fabulous to not be one of five Jessicas in ballet class, who wants to be burdened with a pun, a play on words or an inside joke as a lifelong moniker—just for the sake of parents feeling like they knocked one out of the park? More often than not, parents who are aiming for “unique” only manage to land on “silly.”
From a quick—and thoroughly enjoyable—canvassing of friends and family, other alt-unique baby names out there include:
- Female (pronounced fe-MAL-ee)
- A-a (pronounced ah-DASH-ah)
- Ily (as in I Love You)
When it comes to these “U-Neek” monikers, it’s hard to see the rationale. In one case, Taha heard of parents who gave their daughter an unconventional spelling of a common name: MLE. “Say it out loud,” she says.
Unfortunately, there is a dividing line between unique and, well, unfortunate. But there’s also an ironic, twisted logic to the hunt: As more people avoid the Top 10 baby names from the previous year, the probability that they’ll land on another name destined to be more popular the next year increases.
If you’ve fallen in love with a name that, for whatever reason, cracked the Top 100 list last year, I have a controversial suggestion: Relax. In the 1980s, there were Jennifers in every classroom and most of them turned out just fine. I didn’t meet another Karen until I was 20 years old, and I’m positive that it damaged my ability to relate to other Karens. Plus, you lose out when you can’t find any cute personalized key chains, erasers and pencils with your name on them.
But how can well-meaning friends and family intervene when new parents appear to be teetering on the edge of a ridiculous baby name? “The key here is to check yourself,” says Taha. After all, it’s important to remember that names are a deeply personal decision. “If you’re really sure that a friend is making a mistake or even if you’re just curious, you can open up the conversation by asking what kind of image she hopes the name evokes,” she says. “Obviously, I would have an opinion if someone wants to name a child Garbage, no matter how cute she thinks it is.”
One danger with this conversation is that it brings up issues of privilege, perspective, cultural relativism and a culture prone to racism and sexism in hiring practices. Taha says it’s important to remember that traditional or Western names aren’t the only way to go. “For one thing, that’s boring,” she says. “For another, it can be culturally short-sighted.” We live in a modern society where most lucky young adults can travel, study, learn languages and marry whomever they’d like from any cultural background. Picking a ridiculous baby name could influence your child’s approach to this diverse, globalized world of ours, and that’s worth remembering.
When naming their two kids—one male, one female—friends of mine used what they called the “CEO test,” choosing name combinations that would serve kids well during a climb up the corporate ladder. Taha uses a “Supreme Court justice test,” which repeats the same process but with a different aspiration. (This, of course, sparks a discussion about what makes a CEO name, anyway?) At the end of the day, she says her best advice is to remember that kids won’t always be kids. After all, names are important as a child enters into the world in search of his or her own identity and personality. “By all means, call your daughter Fifi,” says Taha, “but make sure she has Felicia or Florence in her back pocket if she needs it.”