Is naming your baby after yourself a flagrant display of narcissism? A shameful failure of imagination? The most disappointing decision two pop star parents could possibly make?
Yes! Yes! and how could they?, seemed to be the general vibe a couple of weeks back, after the gossip site MediaTakeout.com published an exclusive scoop claiming that Beyoncé and Jay-Z (real name Shawn) had named their newborn twins Bea and Shawn Jr., and the internet (read: thousands of total strangers who have no connection to Bey or her bey-bies) did not approve.
“I prefer Red Velvet and Purple Rain,” tweeted one underwhelmed non-fan. “Cute, but it ain’t Blue Ivy,” said another.
In the end, the “exclusive scoop” turned out to be bogus. While Bey and Jay have yet to publically confirm names or anything about their new additions, several more reliable sources have reported the names are Rumi and Sir, two names that, frankly, feel a lot more fitting for celebrity royalty.
But when did naming your kid after yourself become a parenting faux pas?
First, a little backstory: The tradition of giving a child the name of his parent—technically known as a “patronym”—goes back several centuries, when a child (usually a first son) was named after a parent (usually a dad) as a symbol of familial fealty. Generally the “Jr.” or “III” or “IV” status came with certain privileges and expectations around inheritance and/or taking over a family business. Originally popular among the upper class (think Thurston Howard III from Gilligan’s Island), the trend trickled down to the masses, peaking between the two wars and starting to phase out by the 1960s.
“The sixties is when we started to see the concept of individualism—new generations were rebelling against their parent’s traditions,” says Jennifer Moss, founder of the website BabyNames.com. Ross says the advent of therapy played a significant role in breaking the chain of generational naming: “Therapy lead to a greater interest in the emotional wellbeing of children and there was this new idea that it is best to give children their own identity.”
Fifty years later and the children and grandchildren of the individualist movement view naming their children as an important act of self-expression. We see this with celebrities whose super-unique baby names are an assertion of their own brands, as well as with regular people who agonize over “winning” the baby-naming game, to the point that some are even paying professional consultants to get the job done. Census data from the 1950s shows that 33 percent of boys and 25 percent girls had a “top ten name”. Today, that number is less than one percent for both genders—further proof of unique names are the new normal.
Other reasons for the near extinction of a “Jr.” reflect our evolving social landscape: the decline of extended families, the rise of single motherhood and the most basic fact that a lot of traditional practices have fallen by the wayside.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since we can look at the decline of patronymic naming traditions as a significant break from our patriarchal past. Sheila Embleton, a linguistics prof at York University says that, “for a long time, the family line was male and women came in and out.” The fact that women no longer feel the need to “honour thy husband,” in this way speaks to the rise of gender equality, as does the waning of a practice where the superiority of male offspring is baked in. (Now seems like a good time to note that Donald Trump named his first-born son Donald Jr., who named his first son Donald Trump III.)
Which is not to say that naming a son after his father is an inherently misogynist act. Certainly there are examples of daughters named after mothers (Ivana/Ivanka is pretty close). Moreover, the most compelling reason to reconsider naming a child of either gender after his or her parent has more to do with prudence than politics. “When two people in the same family have the same name, their information can be easily confused—people just look at names rather than the SIN numbers,” says Toronto accountant Molly Koster Cameron. It can also lead to credit mix-ups and even intentional fraud, where a parent or child will obtain credit under the other person’s information.
This is probably not why Bey and Jay opted for Rumi and Sir over Bea and Shawn Jr., still it’s nice to know their considerable assets are protected.