My wife and I began negotiations on baby names a few weeks after we confirmed the gender of each child. Negotiations might seem like a strong word choice but it was a contentious process that required family and friend assisted arbitrage to narrow down the list of options.
I favored boy names like Oscar, George and Samuel that sounded like stalwart men of the 1700s. She preferred names of highly trafficked airports. I loved names like Piper that evoked mental images of a ponytailed girl proudly collecting bugs at recess. She preferred the last names of dead presidents.
I’m not a lawyer but I’ve watched enough OJ shows and documentaries in the last three months to know that naming a child is a painstaking chore akin to jury selection – any conflict no matter how minor results in dismissal.
You want to name your son after your dad, who has the same name as the guy in high school who got to second base with your wife and then bragged about it to all his buddies? Over her dead body.
Does your wife want to give your daughter the same middle name as her mom, which happens to be the same name of the lady at work who cracks her gum all day long and microwaves Lean Cuisine shrimp scampi in the break room three times a week for lunch? Over your dead body.
And then there’s the unwanted outside advice that seems to pour in from everywhere. I had this exchange with a friend a few years ago as my wife and I began tossing around names for our firstborn son.
Him: “We really liked the name Aiden, but let’s be realistic. You can’t call a kid that.”
Him: “Because kids are going to call him AIDS.”
This bizarre conversation opened an entirely new concern about naming our children. In addition to avoiding the name of anyone my wife or I despised, anyone my wife dated, and any annoying celebrity, politician or athlete, we were also supposed to add potential negative rhymes to our list?
We ultimately failed at the task on both occasions, deciding that any unfortunate name calling would build character. Kid #1’s name rhymes with “pooper” and some idiotic tweener will undoubtedly chant “barker” at my poor daughter.
Each summer the Social Security Administration releases their annual list of top baby names, including the most popular names by state. Let’s take a cursory run through North Carolina’s top ten and come up with a bunch of utterly superficial reasons why I could never name my kids any of them, shall we?
William? Future figurehead of a powerless royal family. Noah? Not a Knicks fan. Mason? Jar. Liam? Oasis. James? “This bed is fiyah, with passionate love!” Elijah? A hobbit. Jackson? Dead singer who took awkward naps with kids. Jacob? Too biblical and I don’t like vampire movies. Carter? Peanut farmer. Aiden? Not when you have friends like mine.
Am I being shallow and idiotic? Of course I am. That’s the point. Let’s move onto the most popular girl names in North Carolina.
Emma? Ross and Rachel’s love child. Olivia? Newton John. Ava? Annoying Instagram star riding her parents’ coattails. Isabella? Jack Donaghy’s insane ex-wife. Sophia? The First. Abigail? Dear Abby, I have a problem and am willing to wait three months to hear your pie-in-the-sky solution. Madison? Avenue. Harper? Maybe but I’m only halfway through “Go Set a Watchman.” Elizabeth? A queen who was famous for her virginity (I might be open to that one). Charlotte? Seriously, the House of Windsor is pointless.
Now, before you chug the last two inches of your mochaccino, put your top-ten-named-kid down for a nap, and start firing off angry Mailbag emails, I’m not deriding anyone’s choice of names. There are quite a few names on that top ten list that we considered for our kids. Everyone’s experiences and opinions are obviously different, which means for every person who loves one name you’re going to find one who would never chose that name for their own kid.
Here’s what a friend of my wife’s said when we told her the three names we were considering for Kid #1: “I don’t like the last one, it sounds like a dog’s name.” That’s the one we chose, and I am constantly meeting dogs that share his name. Last week a woman was walking by our house when her dog ran up to my son. She sternly yelled the name of her dog and my son, who spent at least ten minutes trying to reconcile why he thought he was being yelled at by a neighbor when she was actually yelling at her dog.
My daughter? On more than one occasion a person heard her name and asked, “Is that a family name?” Translation: “Wow, that’s weird?”
My name – which has dropped 40 spots in the ranking since I was born in 1975 – is pretty simple yet still doesn’t make any sense, according to Kid #1, with whom I recently had this conversation.
Kid #1: “Why do you go by Jon if your name is Jonathan?”
Me: “Because my parents named me Jonathan and called me Jon.”
Kid #1: “They should have just called you Jon.”
I can’t argue with that. It’s just a sound, logical conclusion. Your name is your name, whether you like it or not. It never dawned on me to have an opinion about it.
At least my parents were smart enough to take into account our somewhat unusual last name and not name me something like Cosby or Peep. Or Dick. “Oh, that’s obvious,” you say?
The parents of the head of the World Anti Doping Association (Dick Pound) weren’t so thoughtful. Neither was the family of the former executive editor of George magazine (Richard Blow). There is not one, but two White Pages listings for a Mr. Harry Paratestes. Harry, not Harold.
Perhaps the most intimidating part of naming a kid is the unknown. There are a half dozen people in this country over the age of 24 with the name Justin Bieber. Up until a few years ago, Justin was a lovely name to match with Bieber. Justin a cool sounding drawl that matched perfectly with the punchy Bieber. Now? Ouchy.
Once a week I go grocery shopping at Harris Teeter. When I moved here 17 years ago and signed up for a VIC card, they input my last name as Snow. Which was fine until Sansa decided to betray her sister, their dad went to Westeros and got beheaded, and his love child (spoiler) nephew moved to the wall where he was killed and brought back to life. Now, at least twice a month, I have this conversation after the cashier scans my card.
Cashier: “Did you find everything you were looking for Mr. Snow? Hey, Jon Snow? Like Game of Thrones! Right onnnn.”
Me: “No, my name’s Show.”
Cashier: “It says Snow on my screen.”
Me: “I know. My last name still isn’t Snow.”
Clearly this is a loosely tangential example that could easily be extinguished if I took the time to go to the customer service desk and update my contact information. But someday I’m going to meet Mr. Bieber and this way I can profess empathy.
The fact of the matter is that there’s nothing you can name your kids, or I can name mine, that will meet universal acceptance. It’s a deeply personal decision on which only you and your partner must agree.
Plus, maybe something amazing could happen? Maybe you name your son Donald (ranked 441) and 20 years from now he meets a girl named America (ranked 961), who’s been down in the dumps lately? He keeps telling her that he’s going build her a fence in her yard to make her feel safe. He says he’s got all these plans to make her great again, despite the fact that she’s already great and all he’s really doing is preying on her insecurities? Maybe a friend named Hillary (unranked) tries to get her friend America to dump Donald and move in with her, while America just feels like her greatness is being dragged down by both of them?
Or perhaps you name your son Briar (#998) because you live in a patch. Or maybe you name your daughter Princess (#998), or Kensington (#971) or Royal (#755) because you’re absurdly riveted by the British Monarchy. It’s your child so do whatever floats your boat.
But don’t join the 212 parents in the United States last year who named their sons Achilles. That’s just weird.