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Essay

And What Name Will Phinnaeus Have for Mommy?

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 30, 2004; Page C01

Congratulations, Julia Roberts, and you, too, Mr. Julia Roberts, on the birth of your twins, little Hazel and Phinnaeus. But our joy over your Blessed Event is tempered by a couple of questions. To wit:

Hazel? And, more important, Phinnaeus?


Willis sisters Scout LaRue and Tallulah Belle share a fairly sedate last name. Rumer also has it. (Kevin Mazur -- Wireimage)

___ Survey ___

Cast a vote for the worst name given to a baby by a celebrity:

Apple (daughter of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin)
Audio Science (son of Shannyn Sossaman)
Fifi Trixabelle (daughter of Bob Geldof)
Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily (daughter of Michael Hutchence)
Jermajesty (son of Jermaine Jackson)
Moon Unit (daughter of Frank Zappa)
Phinnaeus (son of Julia Roberts)
Pilot Inspektor (son of Jason Lee)
Prince Michael (son of Michael Jackson)
Puma (daughter of Erykah Badu)
Rumer Glenn (daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis)
Sage Moonblood (son of Sylvester Stallone)
Speck Wildhorse (son of John Mellencamp)
Tu (daughter of Rob Morrow)

   View results

Note: This is an unscientific survey of washingtonpost.com readers.


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We know we don't live in a "John" and "Mary" (or "Paul") era anymore, that the traditional honor-thy-ancestors naming consensus of previous generations has collapsed under the weight of all those Caitlins and Connors and Briannas. But Phinnaeus and Hazel?

Hazel is retro by at least a couple of generations. The world stopped having Hazels around the time it stopped having Berthas and Gladyses and Mildreds. The last time Hazel was heard from was 1961, when Shirley Booth played a busybody maid of that name in a sitcom of that name. Phinnaeus is even more retro, as in Old Testament retro, and more obscure than such OT running mates as Methuselah and Obadiah.

But that's probably the point. Celebrity baby names these days are very . . . different. We say this not to pass judgment, but to point out one more way celebrities are not like the rest of us.

The list keeps growing. Demi Moore and Bruce Willis are the parents of Rumer Glenn, Scout LaRue and Tallulah Belle. Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay singer Chris Martin recently begat Apple. Sylvester Stallone sired Sage Moonblood and Sistine Rose. Courteney Cox Arquette and David Arquette are the proud parents of Coco. Singer Erykah Badu -- herself on the celebrity all-name team -- has a child named Puma. John Travolta and Kelly Preston named their boy Jett. Christie Brinkley's youngest is a girl named Sailor. The late rock star Michael Hutchence named his daughter Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily. Long-ago rock star Bob Geldof calls daughter Fifi Trixabelle to dinner. Soccer star David Beckham and Victoria "Posh Spice" Adams's brood includes Brooklyn, Romeo and a soon-to-be wee one who reportedly may be dubbed San Miguel. Supermodel Claudia Schiffer has a girl named Clementine, as does Cybill Shepherd. Rob Morrow, of "Northern Exposure" quasi-fame, dubbed his baby Tu, as in Tu Morrow.

We'd mention that Michael Jackson named one of his children Prince Michael, but this seems like the least Out There thing about Michael Jackson.

It was not always thus. Sure, back when, Sonny and Cher had Chastity, and Frank Zappa famously named his kids Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan and Diva. But for the most part, stars of an earlier generation tended to name their children the way everyone else did.

Having grown up on the west side of Los Angeles, I recall that the children of the showbiz people I went to school with had perfectly ordinary names. Buddy Hackett's son was named Sandy. Leonard Nimoy's boy was Adam. Jerry Moss (co-founder of A&M Records) named his kid Ron. The daughter of Larry Harmon (Bozo the Clown) was Lori, and the son of actor James Darren ("Time Tunnel," "Gidget's" Moondoggie) was also Jim. The most exotic it got was the daughter of '50s B-movie and TV cowboy Guy Madison. His daughter was named Dolly. I imagined that long after everyone had forgotten who Guy Madison was, his daughter was enduring wisecracks about first ladies and snack cakes.

Which raises the question about contemporary celebrity kid names: Isn't it hard enough being the child of a celebrity without having to endure additional commentary about one's unusual name? Hi, everyone, my name is . . . Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily?

Psychologist Cleveland Kent Evans, who studies names and their social effects, says the unusual-name trend among celebrities is a kind of self-reinforcing phenomenon. "I don't think of these names as coming just from celebrities so much as coming from creative celebrities, or at least those that want to be thought of as creative," he says. "It's the musicians and actresses and to some extent the visual artists who give those sorts of names to their children. You don't find the politicians and athletes giving names like that to their kids."

Apparently true. Sen. John and Elizabeth Edwards's youngest children, for example, are the pleasantly pedestrian Jack and Emma Claire. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky and actress wife Janet Jones have Ty, Trevor, Tristan and Paulina. Former heavyweight boxing champ and low-fat-grilling tycoon George Foreman was creatively uncreative (or maybe it's the other way around) in naming five of his 10 children George.

Brown University professor emeritus Lewis P. Lipsitt, an expert in human development, says children's names can have social consequences, both positive and negative, but that this is generally less important to their well-being than other factors, such as their relationship with their parents. He speculates that unusual names are a way to give a celebrity's child "a chance to be distinctive in [the child's] own right instead of just being known as [Celebrity X's] child."

As for being teased on the playground or in the classroom, that's far less likely when every other child in your exclusive private school is an Apple or a Rumer, says Evans, a board member of the American Name Society, which studies naming trends.

Besides, he adds, celebrities understand better than anyone what is -- and is not -- in a name. Julia Roberts? She was born Julie Roberts, but tweaked her name to avoid confusion with another actress. Maybe she shouldn't have bothered: Now there's a country-music singer named Julie Roberts.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company