Snipe Hunting the Popular But Well-Liked Baby Name

I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, because The Interwebs provides an endless series of handy lists that encapsulate the year. Top Ten Tech Fails of 2012! Thirteen Trends We Hope Will Die in 2013! Or my personal favorite: Guinness World Records Set in 2012 (most slam-dunks by a parrot in one minute? I’m in).

There is also Babycenter’s Unusual Baby Names of 2012. For this list, 500,000 parents sent in their child’s name, and a minimum of two babies had to have each name for it to make the list. “So it’s not a fluke!!” the site assures us, rather breathlessly. They also point out that, in an online survey they conducted of about 4,000 respondents, “picking a unique name” is consistently most important. If you scan that list, you will indeed find many unique names: girls named Shoog. Boys named Burger. More boys named Pawk. Congrats, parents: these names truly are unique.

And here is where we lose the thread, isn’t it? One of the most fun things about expecting a child is choosing a name. It’s a giant responsibility: this is not a game you’re playing. This is a human being, who will move through life under the label you’ve chosen. Pretend that, every time your desk phone rings, you are a man who has to pick up and say, “This is Mango.” How does that feel? Does it feel like you have the corner office? …… Cuz you don’t. “Mango” isn’t the CEO. I won’t be trusting my brain to Dr. “Jazzy,” Neurosurgeon. And “Excel?” Probably won’t. These are names that a ten-year-old gives her hamster. And before you say, “But my child will rise above those low expectations!” I ask you: why are you setting up low expectations to begin with?

The problem is when parents confuse “unique” with “better.” “I don’t want my child to have any of the names in the top 100 list,” they say. Okay, sure: but remember this: these names are popular because they are well-liked. They lend themselves well to both children and adults. They take on the characteristics of your child, instead of defining them. Once, an acquaintance was telling a story about trying to locate her toddler daughter at a church daycare: “I said, you know who she is! Her name is ____! It’s an unusual name!” And I thought: so when you gave others a description of your baby– a child who does not yet understand English– your primary descriptor was her name?! That’s another thing: just as the top 100 names are popular because so many people like them, a less popular name will be, well, less popular. This, then, is sometimes why parents keep the name A Big Secret.

Ah, the Big Secret. “We’re not telling! We don’t want to hear negative opinions! We don’t want anyone stealing our name!” they shout– and then Baby Michael is born and you’re like, “THAT was your secret special name??” Or they proudly present Little Gorgaphone, at which point it’s safe to assume that they KNEW everyone would say, “Um, that name sucks?” — and rather than take into account what it would mean to the child to have a name that many people find unfortunate, they said, “Nah– we’ll seal the deal first. That way no one can tell us they hate it to our faces!”

I’m not saying that all unusual names are automatically terrible, nor am I saying that all popular names are great. I do not care for the name Ethan and it’s massively popular; my friend’s littlest child is named Rory and I love it. What I’m saying is that, when the biggest motivation in naming a child is to be the most unique, the most out-there…. well, you might do well to also consider this: in the end, your baby’s name is not about you. Before you go crazy, consider whether you’d like to move through life as Fedora Batman. And please: whatever you choose, it should be pronounceable. Imagine that you have two resumes in front of you, all equal except that one person is named Kelvin and the other is named Caoimhe.

Who do you call first?


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