Stop Complaining About So-Called ‘Weird’ Baby Names

Proud papa Jay-Z with daughter Blue Ivy.

Proud papa Jay-Z with daughter Blue Ivy Carter. When I look at this photo, all I see is a loving daddy-daughter moment. How about you?

Joanna Schroeder thinks it’s high time we realize that diversity is good for society, even when it comes to unusual baby names like Pilot Inspektor and North West. 

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If you’re on social media, you’ve probably seen this theme:

Celebrity has a baby. Celebrity gives baby an unusual name. Maybe it’s Pilot Inspektor. Maybe it’s Moxie CrimeFighter. Most likely the one that sticks out in your mind is North West, daughter of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.

Cue people complaining about “names these days” and concern-trolling the poor little dear. “What kind of life will these children have? Won’t they be teased?”

Let me tell you about the life North West will probably have: She will be very loved, as it seems every member of the Kardashian/Jenner family has been so far. She will never lack for proper nutrition, never go without medical care. She will probably go to the best schools and get an excellent musical and artistic education. She will meet celebrities and people whose names are in history books. Judging by her parents, she will probably be beautiful.

Now, I’m not saying her life will be perfect or that Kim and Kanye will be the best parents ever. I don’t know them. I don’t follow their lives outside of the inescapable headlines that come through my timelines and the occasional gluttonous Keeping Up With the Kardashians marathon when I’m sick.

But if you’re clutching at your pearls because of the names people are giving their babies, you might want to look into getting a new hobby, because unusual names are here to stay.

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This month, GQ ran a piece by Drew Magary called The GQ Guide to Naming Your Baby, with a subhead that reads:

If name is destiny (Destynee?), then judging from the dumb-ass, intentionally misspelled, needlessly apostrophe’d names we Americans are giving our kids nowadays—Jaxxon, Branlee, Scot’t—we’re raising a generation of meth heads…

The 66th Secretary of State for the United States, and double name-offender according to GQ.

The 66th Secretary of State for the United States, and double name-offender according to GQ.

Now, I know he’s kidding about the meth heads, but with the way people erupt every time a celebrity announces the newest “Pirate” or “Daisy-Boo”, it’s not all that irrational to think some folks actually believe that a kid’s name could lead him to a life of crime.

Guess what? It’s all bullshit. Check out that poor mess of a human failure Condoleezza Rice, whose name violates not one, but TWO primary rules on Magary’s list: “Go easy on the ‘extreme’ letters” (such as k, z, and x) and “Do not use double letters if you don’t have to.” I mean, imagine how far that nice lady Condoleezza would have gone had she been named Jane…

Oh wait. That’s right. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

And that one guy, you know him, the guy with the funny, un-American first and last names. Barack Obama. Poor dude. If only he’d been called Jim, maybe he could’ve been a two-term President.

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But this isn’t only about people of color and the ways in which some white folks can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that the Black community has, in the last thirty years or so, embraced unusual names more quickly than white folks have.  Though that’s an important note to be made—one mark of a person I have no interest in being friends with is their willingness to make a joke about so-called “Black names”. If you can’t see how racist and colonialist that entire conversation is, you need to just step away.

But now mainstream society (read: white people) has jumped aboard the made-up name train and is riding it all the way to Bryndyn-town. As Magary notes, “Seemingly rational people are naming their kids Baylynn, and Daxx, and Nirvana. Ethans are becoming Aythans. Marys are becoming Jazzmins.”

Leaving aside the fact that every generation has a group of names the generation before finds irritatingly trendy or “made-up” (in 1987 my mother lamented that my friend Alisa was neither “Lisa” nor “Alisha”), we need to face the fact that once upon a time even the names Abraham and Sarah were new. You never know what’s going to stick. For instance, when Jaden Smith was born in 1998, most of us had never heard the name (his mom’s name is Jada). By 2012, the name Jaden (with variations like Jayden and Jaeden) was #9 in the top 100 baby names in America.

Dare you to find something wrong with this beautiful family.

Dare you to tell me one legitimate thing wrong with this family.

Above all, I think it’s high time we recognize the inherent problems with assigning more legitimacy to New Testament names like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John than names that come from other cultures and religions.

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Back to the Kardashians (sorry). Over the last few years more than one of my friends has complained that “Khloe” isn’t even a name.

Here’s the newsflash: Yes it is. You know how you can tell? Because it’s what her parents named her and also it’s what people call her. That makes it a name. It makes it her name. It’s okay if you don’t like it, but your dislike doesn’t make it somehow not legitimate or respectable.

My favorite quote on this subject comes from Penn Jillette, whose daughter’s name is Moxie CrimeFighter.

I think it’s pretty cruel to give a kid a name that others are going to have. I think it’s very important to have a unique name within any group you’re likely to be in. It’s more friendly to go to school being the only “Penn” then to have to be called by your full name, “Mike Jones” or whatever. I always felt sorry for the Mikes and Bobs. There’s just so many, how do you know when they’re talking to you?

I love the name Moxie, I love that’s it’s a purely American word, and those are rare, and I love that it stands for old fashioned spunk and energy. EZ [Jillette's wife] pushed for her middle name, “CrimeFighter” because EZ doesn’t have a middle name and thinks middle names are stupid. So, it’s just a joke. When she gets pulled over by the police she can show her license and say, ‘We’re on the same side, officer, my middle name is CrimeFighter.’

And while I like traditional names, I see his point. When I was in high school, every Sarah, Jennifer and Michelle hated having to be called by both first and last names, and one time I rode in a car with three different guys all named Josh. There’s even a great song from The Kids in the Hall called “The Daves I Know” that I think we can all relate to. And get this: I have an uncle named Dave, a cousin named Dave, a nephew named Dave, a brother-in-law named Dave, dated a guy named Dave and my first husband was a totally different guy named Dave. I bet you know just as many.

I’m not saying Dave isn’t a great name. I’m just saying that being one of twenty in your school might not be the best thing either.

Above all, what someone else names their kid is none of your damn business. Nothing is going to happen to society because your neighbor’s daughter is called Shauntoria or your kid’s best friend is named Atlas. In fact, with all this name diversity, we may be close to eliminating the entire concept of the “weird name”. Wouldn’t it be great if your kid could go to school and not worry about being bullied because of his or her name? That isn’t gonna happen if all the grown-ups keep bitching like this about so-called weird names.

So hop on board and enjoy what’s happening right now with baby names. It’s going to happen with or without you, so you might as well set an example for your kids on how to learn to love people not just despite of their differences, but because of them.

Lead photo: AP/the Carter Family

Jamie Oliver and family: AP

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About Joanna Schroeder

Joanna Schroeder is the type of working mom who opens her car door and junk spills out all over the ground. She serves as Executive Editor of The Good Men Project and is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on sites like xoJane, hlntv.com, and The Huffington Post. Joanna loves playing with her sons, skateboarding with her husband, and hanging out with friends. Her dream is to someday finish her almost-done novel and get some sleep. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter.

Comments

  1. My name is Christian, and I’ve had my name misspelled/misspoken for 44 year years now. I hate it every single time. Last time I checked, it’s the name of a pretty sizable religion, and people still screw it up.

    We can argue back and forth about the virtues of an uncommon name, but I can say that having a name that inspires people to say, “what?” every time they hear it sounds pretty exhausting to me.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Well, I have always had to say my name and spell it for people (except when I lived in the UK where everyone “got” my name immediately) and I don’t ever use my actual name at Starbucks because they never get it right and I never know who the coffee is for.

      But I would never have wanted a different name. I actually always wanted an even more original name. My sisters have names that were REALLY unusual in the 80s and both loved it. But to me, someone making fun of an usual name is just a shitty, schoolyard bully thing to do.

      I like the name Christian. You could’ve gone only by Chris very easily, but you clearly haven’t. There must be a reason!

  2. Melinda says:

    The sad fact remains, though, and I’ve worked in enough HR departments to see, that companies will almost always look more closely at the resume of a Sarah, a Rebecca, or a William before they will at a Jazleen, a Myckenzee, or a Deejohn.

    • When I see a tragically spelled name on a resume, I wonder what intellectual disadvantages their parents have burdened them with. Names like Mellanny, Kareena, and Brittanay all have correct spellings, and I wonder what is wrong with parents who can’t figure that out before they name a human being. A quirky spelling of a common name doesn’t eliminate the auditory confusion of addressing a crowd to find the “Sarah” you are looking for.

      This is a separate issue from having a ‘new’ name, like “North” or “Moxie,” which are both spelled correctly and show some creativity on the part of the parents.

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        I just don’t get how anyone decides what’s misspelled. Sure Moxy for Moxie – since it’s a word. But Is Britney considered a misspelling for Brittany, which is a region of France? And now that Britney is a more common spelling than Brittany, is it still wrong?

        How about Sara? In the Bible, Sarai became Sarah, not Sara. Is Sara “wrong”? I”m just curious where we draw the line on this.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      That link, above, shows the actual data about how HR departments are more likely to call in people with traditional names than names that sound “ethnic” or “Black”. That’s racism, or at the very least, classism. And while we have to recognize that as the reality of hiring practices (that they’re racist and classist) that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t rage against that system by speaking out against it.

  3. My sister and I both got trendy 70s names, and gave our kids entirely unique names. And yet, possibly hypocritically, I advise expectant parents to apply the “Doctor-Your Honor” test to names they’re considering, especially for girls, because the biggest offenders of “names you can’t take seriously” are given to girls, IMO. The test works like this: try saying your kid’s future full name with either “Doctor” or “The Honorable” in front of it and whether you can take them seriously. Names do matter: what you call a person or a product determines what we think of them, at least in part. You can come up with an original name that is pronounceable, spellable, and doesn’t make you snicker when you think of them being elected President, or have no reaction whatsoever to seeing it on a billboard for LIVE NUDE GIRLS. (Condi’s an exception, not a rule. And she could have done worse and been named something like “Taystee,” “Desire,” “Temptress,” or “Brandi.” If your name is Brandi, I’m not condemning you; I’m saying, your parents made your life harder than it had to be.)

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      I always had this rule: If you can’t see your child becoming Supreme Court Justice with that name, then you shouldn’t use it.

      However, now I think names are changing so rapidly that I don’t think there is one rule. I recently saw a pundit on TV whose name was Brandee and she was a PhD and expert in something totally obscure… I wish I remember what… something like aeronautical engineering or something. Anyway, I just think that the traditional name rule has dissipated, and we’re going to become way more accepting of diverse names.

      Beyond that, Justin, I know you well enough to know that you are doing it out of concern to your friends, and if their kid was named Brandi you wouldn’t make fun of them. Giving solicited advice isn’t the same as talking all over town about what idiots the parents are.

      Also, YES you have a uniquely named son!!

  4. Jonathan G says:

    Actually, Condoleezza Rice IS a poor mess of a human failure, and so maybe not the best example.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Your politics (or mine) shouldn’t distract from the immense success she’s had in her life. She’s obviously a driven, dynamic, intelligent and powerful person who rose to one of the most powerful positions possible in this country.

      If you disagree with her choices, fine. But no need to insult her as a human being.

  5. John Weeast says:

    I’ve always been a fan of unique names, but within reason. Remember in 1990 when Volkswagon started the Fahrvergnügen commercials? I heard plenty of friends saying they were going to name their kids that. If your name meant “driving enjoyment,” what you think about yourself or your parents?

    A name should have meaning to the parents. If it’s unique and has meaning, I’m all for it. Most celebrities give their reasons for names. And a lot of those that don’t, you can make sensible guesses based on the parents. With the health kick Gwyneth Paltrow was on, did Apple seem far fetched? Moxie Crimefighter doesn’t sound weird when you think of Penn and the backstory. My niece’s name is Kyrrie which is a variation of the name my sis-in-law used in online gaming. My other niece’s name is Ariel. Yes, I believe the first niece had some Disney input into it :)

    North just seemed like it was something to go with West, which is why it’s drawn some questions. If there’s some meaning behind it, besides making the name roll off the tongue, I think it would clear itself up. I think everyone expected a wild name from Kanye and Kim and North wasn’t wild. It just didn’t make sense and I think that’s what threw everyone for a loop.

    And from someone with a boring common name, I appreciate a unique or different name.

  6. Bunny Hankers says:

    Have to totally agree with Joanna on this one. What is the big deal, why is it anyone’s business but theirs, and why do people a)Think they have a right to tell other people what to call their children, and b)Think it’s OK to judge a person based solely on their name, which as you’ve already acknowledged, is not something they usually had any part in deciding in any case.

    I have friends with all kinds of names, and North just happens to be one of them. But do you actually think their name makes any difference to me? Do you think I heard their name & made a decision about whether or not I might eventually be friends with them? Do you think I would dismiss another person, that I know nothing about, based purely on their name? Eh no, I wouldn’t and neither would any right thinking non judgmental human being, because that would be illogical and unfair.

    What is ‘weird’ or ‘unusual’ to one person may be totally normal and mundane to the next and to bully or judge others based purely on their name rightly says a lot more about you than it does them. Picking holes in unusual names is just the latest bandwagon. How about we all act like adults instead of pretending we’re still in a playground and try be slightly less judgemental of others. How about we try getting to know a person and then decide how we feel about them, instead of dismissing someone based on a selection of letters, that happens to be their name? A name that may be unusual to us, but that they have had all their lives. Your ‘wrong’ may be someone else’s ‘right’, but that doesn’t make either wrong, it just makes them not you and you not them. Try bearing that in mind.

  7. I don’t think anyone is denying that creative thinking and variety are good things. However, there are instances when people just take the piss. Kiwis, especially: http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/05/02/new-zealand-updates-banned-baby-names-list/

    My name is Jonathan. Pretty standard. Jonathon, Johnathan and Johnathon are all cheap knock-offs.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Jonny I am so in shock over that New Zealand banned baby name list. I certainly see why “Anal” might be on a list like that (were you to be in the business of banning baby names) but Honour? I think that’s a gorgeous name. I know a family whose kids are True, Joy, and Spirit and they may seem like unusual names but you get used to them, and the children are these wonderful, warm kids. I think Honour goes with that… And I know three kids who are either Justus or Justice.

      It just seems so bizarre to be telling parents they can’t name their kid Justus or Honour or almost anything else.

  8. I agree. I don’t understand why people get so caught up in names. Isn’t someone’s character more important? My middle name is Magdala (courtesy of my mom -a happy Catholic). As an adult, I’ve learned to make peace with my name.

    Our oldest son wanted to name his brother Falcon which is better than the second choice: Wolverine.

  9. There comes a time when names that were first deemed “original” or different. Examples being Isabella and Ava for girls. And Dylan and Aidan for boys, are now SO common there are far more of them then there are children with more traditional names. I’ll use my sons’ names, Dennis and Edward as
    examples. So all these people who thought they were giving their children interesting names, in fact named them this generation’s Michael or Jennifer.

  10. As a lover of “unique” names, I’ve made long lists of names that are becoming more probable- some names and middle names that are taken from old names fallen out of use, and cool-sounding nouns that sound good as names, and regular names modified, that sound good in combination.
    If you think that “anything goes” in naming your baby, read this over and see how it sounds to you:

    http://www.facebook.com/notes/james-alfred-friesen/more-more-baby-names-middle-names-the-final-list/10150728156287511

  11. I should add- some are just funny and ridiculous but some are actually rather cool in a more generally appealing way. Like “Gypsy Cupcake”.

  12. When celebrities who scrounge for attention name their child “North”, I’m going to say it is my business because they make every single aspect of their silly lives my business. I know, I could look away, but instead I’ll assimilate the shame I feel for not looking away and go ahead and look, and comment.

    I suppose some commenters who have a pulpit to speak from do go a bit far with their concern, but then ironically, the concern for their overdone concern seems a bit………overdone.

    For real people, there is an issue. Regarding your standard Joanna, I used to say no one named XXXXX will ever become president or run a fortune 500 company, not that either is necessarily the gold standard of aspiration, but in any case we now have a president with a name that would have fit nicely in my XXXXX space, had I ever seen or heard that name prior to about a decade ago. So things are changing, and I tend to agree that we ought to be unique name neutral as best we can in our actual dealings with people.

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