Whenever the Ides of March roll around, I am paralyzed with fear and horror. Not because of what happened to Julius Caesar (there may be no statute of limitations for murder, but that was a while ago).
No, I’m scared because I was born on the Ides — and narrowly dodged being named Ida.
I’m frightened of the terrible baby names.
Sure, Julius isn’t the greatest name, and you see very few Brutuses nowadays. But they’re better than the names most children are saddled with. The name “Julius” or even “Caesar” says, “Someone in my family might know about the ancient Romans, or possibly he just really likes salad and calendars.”
Names these days say, “No one in my family can spell.”
Think it would be fun to name your child “Waldo” or “The”? That’s a sign that you are probably not ready to have children yet.
Most people can agree that anyone who spells Susan with a silent T deserves to be taken out and tshot. More insidious are the Bad Names You Think You Might Be Able To Get Away With. For instance, the top two baby names in 2009? Isabella and Jacob. As in “Bella” and “Jacob” of Twilight.
As someone who has gone to Star Wars conventions and noticed the profusion of baby Lukes toted by fathers dressed as Imperial Stormtroopers, I know you can’t get away with this for long. “But Luke’s a normal name,” they insist. I think the life-size sculpture of Yoda in your front hallway might belie that claim a little bit. You just happened to name him Luke? That was a coincidence? Then why is his twin sister named Leia?
Once people were named for their relatives. Try being named for a relative 10 years from now, when your grandmother is named Madison and your uncle is named Jayden! We’re entering a vicious cycle, and it needs to stop.
According to a recent study, the range of names is much wider than it’s ever been – more and more people, especially in “frontier” areas, are picking quirky or unusual names for their children. It’s not just Sarah Palin anymore: Only one in four American children have a baby name from the top 50 names. And fewer than 10 percent of boys and only 8 percent of girls (in 2007) had names from the top 10. Part of this, the researchers theorize, has to do with the baby boomers, a generation accustomed to getting what it wants and making life harder for those who come afterward, by doing things like burdening the health-care system and naming their offspring after small planes.
It’s not that there isn’t appeal in variety. Ten percent of my high school class was named Sarah. By the time we graduated most of those girls had appropriated nicknames like “Karl” and “Not That Sarah, The Other Sarah” to avoid getting whiplash from assuming everyone was calling them all the time. So that’s no good either.
Still, this is just another manifestation of a society where everyone wants to be special without accomplishing anything deserving of the word. Strange names have been on the rise since the ’60s, when people started to value “distinctiveness” over conformity. But picking names to be unique and special is a slippery slope. Eventually, everyone’s unique, and instead of being the one Jayden in a sea of Jessicas, you’re a Jayden in a sea of Ceelos, Jamdens and Machailgos. Never mind the challenges it poses for would-be bullies — whom to mock? Everyone? No one? And can you really be a bully if you’re named Topanga? Once everyone has something, it ceases to be unique, like Crocs or polio vaccines. If there’s no drummer, is anyone out of step?
According to the studies, this stems from a rise in narcissism. This makes sense. Nothing says “I am incapable of seeing things through the eyes of others” like “I am about to name my child Zebulon.”
And it’s a vicious cycle. Strange names reflect narcissism. But they might fuel it too. Eventually there will be nowhere to go but down, with names like The Gravity and Look, It’s David!
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But a R.OS might stand out more in the reality-television applicant pool.