Baby Names

This is a guest post by Neil Street, co-publisher of Baby Names Garden, where you will find much more information about all kinds of baby names.

Here’s an indisputable fact – baby names, especially girl’s names, are becoming more diverse all the time. In the year 2000, the Top 1000 names recorded by the U. S. Social Security Administration accounted for almost 78% of all names. By 2009, the Top 1000 names accounted for only 73% of all names. What kind of names are parents coming up with that are not in the Top 1000? The answer, in many cases, is that they are making the names up.

Here are some examples of names  that did not appear in the Top 1000, but are actual names recorded by Social Security in 2009:

  • Khrystian
  • Nikolus
  • Zyvion
  • Mckenlee
  • Payzlee
  • Rayvin
  • Payzlee. Get it?

A growing number of parents are engaged in an escalating contest to see who can come up with the latest, most unusual, or totally unique variant on what used to be a fairly standard, run-of-the-mill name. (In this case, Paisley). But are they doing their children any favors?

Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on this topic, ranging from the “let it be” crowd, who argue that parents have a complete right to name their kids anything they want, to the “it’s child abuse” crowd who think parents who come up with names like Payzlee should have their parenting license revoked.

In a recent New York Times blog post, the author wrote that “Misspelling a child’s name won’t make Junior special, creative or unique,” and that parents should not condemn their kids to a lifetime of explaining how to spell “Shaiyahne.”

Meanwhile Laura Wattenberg, author of the The Baby Name Wizard, wrote recently in The Washington Post  that in their race to make names unique, parents have created more “sound-alike” names than ever, pointing to kindergarten classes full of Aidens, Aydens, Zaydens, and Braydens.

So how are some parents responding to the “unique” but “sound-alike” problem? They’re taking it to the next level, playing with phonetics, letters, and punctuation in ways that wouldn’t even be allowed in a Scrabble game. The new generation of unique names includes entrants like “Na-a”. How is that pronounced? It’s Nadasha. The “dash” is not silent.

The facts about this recent trend in baby names are not in dispute. The numbers don’t lie. But what hasn’t received much attention to date, perhaps because the children in question are still too small to complain, is the effect of such names on the child. Sure, it may be cute to name  your little bundle of joy Payzlee, or Shaiyahne, or even Brooklyn or Apple, for that matter. But the fact is, as we all know, kids do grow up. Eventually.

Fast forward thirty years, and the child is now all grown up. Na-a has earned a law degree from Harvard, and is interviewing for that coveted clerkship on the Supreme Court. Interviewing with the most conservative judge on the court. The interview begins with Her Honor saying “So how do you pronounce your name? Is that “Nah?” To which Na-a responds “No, your Honor. It’s Nadasha. The dash is not silent.” The wheels are already turning in Her Honor’s mind: “Do I want to hire someone with such a weird name? What else might be weird here”?

A growth industry in the future might be helping people change names they were saddled with in the early years of the 21st century.

There is a growing body of academic research that our names, for better or worse, are going to be pre-judged by people we meet throughout our lives. Whether in interviews, classrooms, or other social interactions, people with names that are perceived as more mainstream are given a subtle advantage over those with “unusual” names. The more oddball your name, the more you may need to work to overcome this subtle but real prejudice.

So what’s a parent to do? We all want distinctive, individual, meaningful names for our children. The good news is, our culture is filled with beautiful, elegant names that have endured for centuries, and that have meanings that people can discover and enjoy. Many wonderful names are rarely used today. And many names cycle through a phase of popularity, and then drop out of sight when lots of children receive that name, only to return a generation later. Popular names of today, like Isabella, Olivia, Ethan, or Jacob, were almost unheard of forty years ago. Today they are top names.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember, when looking for a baby name, is that you are giving a gift to your child. Part of that gift is to focus on how the child will feel about the name when they grow up. By looking at it that way, parents can step back from their own desire to make a name look really different, or cool, or clever. Names matter. What might look cool and unique today might just look ridiculous in thirty years. It’s not something to decide lightly.

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