June 7, 2013
So I’m sitting at the dentist’s office, and I happened to pick up the issue of People magazine that proclaimed Gwyneth Paltrow to be the most beautiful woman in the world—if your dentist is like mine you realize that this was my best choice from a selection that ran the gamut of ancient copies of Highlights for Children (Goofus texts while eating, Gallant doesn’t), Time Magazines from the Clinton era and Field and Stream—and the article mentioned that she had two kids named Apple and Moses. Now I realize that the combined attributes of a having a name like Gwyneth—that last made the list of popular girl’s names, right behind Guinevere, during the reign of Arthur—and being an actress probably earns you a little “creative flexibility” in bestowing names on your progeny, but one has to ask, “what in the heck was she thinking?” Doesn’t she realize that these two are going to have to carry these monikers around for the rest of their days? And what about the burdens she’s placed on their future schoolmates? Could she at least give them a break by giving her kids wedgies before they get to school? Obviously, my quest for a simple annual teeth cleaning got me thinking about the importance of careful planning when naming our offspring.
First and foremost, as in the case of the aforementioned Paltrow children, you are not the one that is going to have to live with the consequences of an ill-fitting first name. Take Percy for example. Perfect if you’re an a 19th century English butler, but for a 21st century young man that name leaves room for only two extreme outcomes in life. One, you’re a whiz with interior design, or two, you can take out an entire biker bar with a pool cue. To emphasize this point further, my daughter once went to school with a boy named God’swrath—you can’t make this stuff up—great if you grow up to be a bodyguard for Jay-Z but not so much if IRS agent becomes your chosen profession. Makes you understand what Johnny Cash meant when he sang “A Boy Named Sue”.
You need to make it easy on folks. My marketing guy grew up in Detroit where every other kid was Italian or Polish. I think to give all of their teachers a fighting chance at pronouncing at least part of a kid’s name correctly on the first day of school, he grew up with a preponderance of fellow pupils whose parents had anointed them with names like of Mark, Dave, Rick, Donna or Julie. This trade-off did lead to a number multiple first name situations (three or four Mike’s in a single class for example) throughout the years; a problem that was easily solved by appending the first letter of the family surname name to the first. He himself says that he didn’t realize that his first name wasn’t “SteveF” until he reached junior high. But leaving this concatenation issue aside, I think this is a valid naming strategy. If your last name has more than four different consonants—and one of them is a “z” or a “j”- the shorter, more traditional name is a good way to go.
I recognize that this whole naming thing can be trendy, even if your parents aren’t an actress and a rock star, but let’s try to be a little careful here. According to the Social Security Administration, two of the fastest rising names last year were from the TV show about life in the Middle Ages called “Game of Thrones”. While I don’t think this will result in a plethora of future classrooms populated by Arya B.’s or Theon W.’s, both seem to have the same degree of lurking playground danger normally associated with the likes of Erwin or Edna. Let caution be your guide. The noogie you save may be the one with your kid’s name on it. Lately it seems that parents are gravitating toward the more traditional name choices for both boys and girls. Sophia, Emma and Isabella topped the most recent list for girls, and all seem to carry with them a touch of the “Jane Austen” air that just seems to reflect better on the fairer sex than those associated with states (Dakota) or continents (Asia). Jacob, for the more biblically minded or those whose father’s always wanted to be a “Jake”, headed the list for boys followed by the stalwart and solid Mason and Ethan. As in the case for girls, geographic first names should probably also be avoided for boys, unless you wish to raise the best hold ‘em player in the dorm in which case, by all means, choose the name of a major city—might I suggest “Cincinnati”.
This naming thing can be tricky and I don’t think any parent should take this responsibility lightly. Psychiatrists make their whole livings out of things like this. And let’s face it, your kids are going to come up with enough reasons to hate you on their own without you giving them a head start. So do you homework and avoid the celebrity “look at me, I gave my kids goofy names syndrome”, and odds are your future bundles of joy will grow up to become normal and useful members of society. And just to finish up, in reviewing the list of the Top 100 baby names list, it failed to list either Apple or Moses. I rest my case.