Name Individuality

When I started writing this post, I meant for it just to be a celebratory announcement of a girlfriend’s new baby.  However, as I wrote, it digressed into a post about baby names.  Ah…baby names yet again.

Back in May, in this post, I wrote about my friend H announcing her pregnancy.  Well, it’s six months later and baby Nora was born last week.  I had been checking in on H’s Facebook every couple of days to see if there was any baby news.  On Wednesday, I saw a congratulations posted on her wall.  No status updates from the new mom yet, no word of a name, but a confirmation that the little girl had indeed arrived. Just a few hours later, a mutual friend from our knitting group forwarded a mass email that H’s husband had sent out early that morning.

At that point, she was still “as yet to be named baby girl,” so the suspense of the baby name was still there.  H had said that they were trying to limit her first name to six letters since their last name is so long, so I thought Tim and my favorite girls names were pretty safe, but there was always the chance that H would use one of them.

I wrote about the baby name race in an earlier post, and I still believe that two people in the same friend circle can name their child the same thing, but I know I would have been disappointed if she had used one of the names we loved.  If we choose to use the same name, we would look like we were copying.

The following day, H sent an email announcing the name Nora Marie. I know another friend who loves that name and would like to use it for her own daughter one day, but it was not on our short list.  I had a small sense of relief.

This desire to have a unique name, a name that no one else you know has used, is a fairly recent one.  Last summer I read an article by Laura Wattenberg titled “Your Baby is Unique, But Her Name Isn’t” and when I located it and reread it today, I wanted to just cut and paste the whole thing here.  It’s so good!  It’s about how the top 25 most popular names in the country represent fewer and fewer of the total names given.  Although there are many names that I think of as “trendy” or “popular,” the actual number of babies given those names each year is much less than the number of babies with the most popular names in the 1950s.

According to the article, the Internet was one of the major factors in causing this alteration in the concept of name individuality. When people started to think about names in the context of unique usernames and email addresses, when they started to type their names into Google or Facebook, they found dozens of other people around the world with the same name.  Their name was “taken” by someone else.

Another factor cited by Wattenberg, was the publishing of the most popular baby names by the Social Security Administration.  They didn’t start tallying the names, ranking them and publishing the list online until 1997.

Another point in the article I thought was particularly interesting was that today we “approach naming more like an exercise in branding.” We want to best position our children in life’s marketplace.

Wattenberg said that on our way to uniqueness, our tastes have become even more alike.  It reminds me of how when some kids want to be unique and set themselves apart from the conventional norm, they end up all looking alike with colored hair and piercings and “alternative” clothes.  The same is true for hipsters.  To be different, they all end up looking alike with horn-rimmed glasses, beards, skinny jeans and tattoos.  While we may like the idea of distinctive and unique names, today’s popular names actually end up sounding quite similar to each other.  They commonly start with vowels and end with “n.”

That’s why we have all the Ardens and Ashlyns and Owens and Aidens.  As Wattenberg put it, “contemporary names…travel in phonetic packs.” A third of today’s boy’s names end in the letter “n” opposed to a more even split of endings in decades past.

I can’t claim that I am above these trends.  I like many a name that begins with a vowel and/or ends with an “n.”  I want my child to have a unique name, or at least one that isn’t super trendy or in the top 25  (or 100) most popular names.  I have thought about how the name will “brand” the child, how if my child wants to be an artist, writer or musician, I want his or her name to be interesting and memorable.  This article really nails it on the head.

Welcome to the world, Nora.  What brand of baby are you?

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