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?