Monday, August 2, 2010

One of a kind kid

If you've been a sentient human being for the last, oh, ten years or so, you've probably noticed that there's a certain trend happening in the realm of baby naming. Increasingly, parents are seeking to give their children names that are unique, unusual, even invented. Strange spellings, last names as first names, words spelled backwards to make names (such as "Nevaeh"), opposite gender names, and shameless I-came-up-with-this-stone-drunk names--Brecklyn? Really?--seem to have taken over the market. The percentage of children who are given the top ten names on the U.S. Department of Social Security's list has shrunk significantly in the last several years (and even those top ten reveal the changing nature of baby naming). This article lists several revealing statistics, such as the fact that "in the 1950s, the average first-grade class of 30 children would have had at least one boy named James (top name in 1950), while in 2013, six classes will be necessary to find only one Jacob, even though that was the most common boys' name in 2007."

So what's the deal? Researcher Jean Twenge of San Diego State University theorizes that this trend toward interesting/unusual baby names represents a cultural shift toward ever-increasing individualism, which may have the unfortunate side effect of increased narcissism. And celebrities have clearly paved the way for regular parents to take the plunge and give their kids outlandish names (I give you "Bronx Mowgli Wentz"). Though I am no social psychologist, I've given this topic some thought, and would like to offer some theories of my own.

Those of us who have a common name grew up hating it; it made us feel common and unspecial. Believe me, I am a drop in the river of Sarah Elizabeths that feeds into the ocean of Sarahs. Growing up, kids like me sort of admired those kids with the weird names because they never had to use their last initial or some weird derivative of their name to be identified. They simply were who they were. (In college, I knew a girl named Jessica who went by "Seeca" because as a child, she had been in a carpool in which all the girls were named Jessica. Someone got to be Jessica, someone Jess, another Jessie. Seeca apparently drew the last straw.)

Essentially, we all want to be unique. We want to believe and know that we possess an identity all our own. I am no Generic, Dime-a-Dozen Sarah. I am Sarah Superquirk, Defender of Idiosyncrasy! I do things no one else can do; I think thoughts no one else can think! …Except that I shop at the same stores and eat at the same restaurants as all the other Sarahs (and all the other people, too). And I go to a giant church filled mostly with strangers, just like everybody else. And every new neighborhood I see being built looks exactly the same with the same three floorplans and limited variety of exterior flourishes.

Wait a minute…what if I'm really just like everybody else? What if my child, the extension of myself, is just like every other child being born today?

No, that can't be. MY child will stand out above the sea of Wal-Marts and beige stucco. MY child will be special. And I will show him how special he is by giving him a name--an identity--that will be all his own.

Just like everyone else.

And therein lies the problem (in my opinion) with the unique naming trend. If the majority of children have unusual or unique names, the value of that uniqueness diminishes. If you really want your child to stand out these days, you could really buck the trend by naming him something like Mike or Steve.

At any rate, I don't mean to offend anyone who has given their child an unusual name. Plenty of my friends--probably some of whom have enough grace in their hearts to read this blog--have done so, and their children (like their parents) are wonderful little people. But it isn't their names that make them wonderful and interesting. It is the essential self God has placed in each of them, and the tending and watering of those little souls undertaken by their parents. They will stand out as special people because they are special people who have been cultivated in their upbringing to be unique--not because of what's on their birth certificate.

What's your take? Especially if you've chosen an unusual name for your child?


  1. I love this post :) My parents wanted to give each of us (happened to turn into 9) unique names. Some of the names they picked ended up getting more popular as time goes on. Just in case you are curious here are the first and middle names of all my siblings. Evan Guy, Sonnie Lee, Rilie Dee, Brady Stephen, Camie Cee, Kale Patton, Morrie Zee, Jaycie Tee, Haddon Tucker. Kind of hilarious.

    At least for my name I get responses about it all the time. People sing to me when I meet them or tell me my personality fits my name..yada yada. It's been kinda fun at times and annoying at others. So...then we named our boy Rock. I guess when we chose that names I wanted it to be a reminder for Rock of who God is in his life. That He is his stability and strength all of the time. We also like thinking about Rock being the oldest in our family and that he could be some sort of foundation for his other siblings. We also wanted to have a story to go along with his name and his full name Rock Davidson Shay already has a good amount of meaning as his journey into the world was a unique one. Don't get me wrong...a lot of people ask us if we named him after the wrestler, so that's fun :) NOT

    I secretly want to name our next boy Steve...I think a little boy named Steve is absolutely adorable and hilarious. We'll see :)


  2. You've probably heard it from your mom or me before, but it was the only name we could agree on. And it's a good thing you weren't a boy - we'd already used the only boy's name we could agree on for your brother.
    For what it's worth, I don't like my name very much. Despite my delight in being a rural person, I think it sounds painfully hick. But it's a name your grandpa loved, and had picked well before I was born.