Friday, May 6, 2011

What's in a name?

I've got to admit it: I love reading about baby names, I love talking about baby names, I love discussing with new parents how they came up with their baby's name, and I love participating in "What shall we name the baby?" discussions with expectant parents.

It's especially fun right now, when this sweet baby nephew was born recently and this sweet sister-in-law is expecting, too (and baby's name is still taking shape, so to speak). I really enjoy hearing names get "tried on" as a mom and dad get closer to a decision.

Deacon Greg Kandra shares, today, an article from the New York Daily News about popular baby names:

What's in a name? A nationwide obsession with "Twilight," Teen Mom and celebrities, it seems.

The most popular baby names of 2010 are Jacob and Isabella - both lead characters in the hit romantic vampire novels-turned-movie.

The names topped the charts for the second year in a row, the Social Security Administration revealed yesterday.

Jayden, one of Britney Spears' sons, is the fourth favorite name in the U.S.

And the nation's fascination with reality television has propelled Maci and Bentley, the mom and son characters from the hit show "Teen Mom," to become the fastest trending names.

Now, I do think that there's a danger in adopting pop-culture names for one's children--and that danger is that the name will only enjoy a brief surge in popularity before diminishing, leaving your child and half his college graduating class with a name like "Bentley" while nobody much younger or older has ever even heard of the name.

But I'm not one of those Catholic bloggers who gets all stern-eyed about the idea that every Catholic child should have a moniker like "Aloisius Willebald" or "Quieta Ursula" just because those are saints' names (and naming a daughter "Quieta" is just begging for her to grow up and become a champion hog-caller, or something equally loud). I have no problem with those who make choosing a saint's name a priority; I respect those who name every daughter "Mary" and every son "Joseph" and then call each child by their middle name (or a nickname, though it can be a little weird to be introduced to "Joseph-Marcellinus" and then be told that he's called "Stinker" for reasons that go back to his toddler days and are better left unexplained). Names are personal, and nobody should have to defend their choice to use only the names in the Roman Canon, for instance, or only the names of martyrs, or whatever the case might be.

However, I do bristle a little at the uber-Catholic notion that gets circulated every now and then which interprets the idea that parents are supposed to give their children a decent Christian (e.g., first) name which is not associated with evil, with anti-Christian aspects, with trivial or commercial interests, etc. as a positive command to parents to choose only the names of canonized saints. I have never been able to discover any such requirement in Church law; and it's rather easy for us to forget that names like "Alexander," "Barbara," and "Apollo" were rather well-known pagan names before there was ever a St. Alexander, a St. Barbara, and a St. Apollo (of Heliopolis, in case you were wondering).

There are reasons to avoid naming your child "Beelzebub" or "Harpy" or "Jello(tm)." But using a perfectly good name that is more or less acceptable in your community and does not have overt anti-Christian or commercial connotations is fine; it is not necessary that your child's first and middle names all come from the lists of canonized saints.

Now, if you're actually naming your baby after a werewolf or vampire character or a teen mom and her baby as an act of admiration of these people or fictional characters and a desire for your child to grow up like them, then I think you've got issues (to put it kindly). But let's face it: expectant moms all over the world have a tendency to hear a name and the sound of it for some inexplicable reason that doesn't become clear until the child's about five and you're shouting both his or her first and middle names along with a command that he or she take off those muddy boots this instant! which somehow makes that odd connection you had with the name long ago come into sharp focus. What's in a name is, in the end, just a part of that special bond of love and affection we have for our children--even if they grow up and sometimes not-so-secretly wish that Mom had gone with her second choice, because somehow being named "Samantha" and called "Sam" would have been more fun than Erin...



Alisha De Freitas said...

Can I just say I LOVE your name? Really. I think it's awesome.

I've got some negative feedback about Z's names, but I don't care. Zion Immanuel or Zoe Lyne Hope is just waiting to come out!

Red Cardigan said...

Thanks, Alisha. :)

And I love your baby names!!

Melanie B said...

Of course this ignores the fact that Isabella was in the top ten baby names well before Twilight came out. In fact I suspect the heroine of the novel was called Bella for the same reason my eldest daughter is: for some reason there seems to be a zeitgeist for names. I didn't set out to pick a popular name. In fact I was horrified to learn my daughter's name was so popular. I really wanted my kids to have names that were rare, different. I always wondered what the mothers of all the Jennifers were thinking. Why did they do that to their daughters? Now I know that it's just something about the name that sounds right not only to you but to everyone else in your generation. I've never read Twilight and don't intend to and am rather annoyed that in most people's minds my daughter's name will be associated with a wimpy vampire-loving heroine of a sappy romance thriller.

I agree I think Erin is a lovely name. When I was younger I always wanted to be called Alexandra, Alex for short.

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

Love your names! But then again, I've got a thing for Z names too.

The Sicilian said...

Names are personal, and nobody should have to defend their choice to use only the names in the Roman Canon, for instance, or only the names of martyrs, or whatever the case might be.

So...any chance there's a Moon Unit Manning amongst Kitten, Bookgirl and Hatchick?

Red Cardigan said...

Sicilian: ha! Very funny.

Actually, I think "Moon Unit" would fall under the general rule that parents shouldn't inflict names on children that they will have to defend on the playground. I wonder if Apple Paltrow would agree.

Deirdre Mundy said...

They probably should have just called her "iPaltrow." :)

Personally, I AM hugely in favor of giving a child two saints' names. After all, why gyp them out of an extra patron saint? And it's not like there aren't plenty of good Saints names.

Of course, to most people "Cecilia" and "Maximilian" and "Benedict" seem as bizarre and made up as
Kayfrayden and "Prius", so maybe I didn't do so well with the whole "fairly normal" thing. ;)

JMB said...

I'm a Jennifer! My parents named me after the actress Jennifer Jones who stared in The Song of Bernadette! I was born in 1966 so I was a bit ahead of the Jennifer craze in the 70s. That being said, now I'm known as Jen B, in order to keep track of all the Jens I know in my circle of friends. Let's see, there's JenB2, Jen S, Jen D, Jen F, Jen A, etc.

And sometimes you just never know that you are in the pack. When I was pregnant with my oldest (who will be 16 in July), we wanted an unusual name. We chose Aidan! Ha ha. In his freshman class of 150 at an all boys school there are 3 other Aidans. There's a whole slew of the them coming up the pike.

Anonymous said...

When I worked for a Catholic diocesan newspaper in the early 1990s I began to notice the name "Ryne" cropping up repeatedly in lists of First Communicants submitted to us by area parishes.

Baseball fans will recognize immediately the connection to Chicago Cubs second baseman and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, whose peak playing years occurred in the mid-1980s. So I imagine there are probably a bunch of late-20-something guys out there, primarily in the Chicago area and downstate Illinois, carrying the moniker Ryne.

Interestingly, Ryne Sandberg himself (born in 1959) was in turn named after another Major League Baseball player, relief pitcher Ryne Duren.


Anonymous said...

Some years ago, a Russian-born Jewish immigrant from Israel was to be baptized into the Catholic Church (eastern rite) with his young daughter whose name was "Meital», meaning "dew drop" in Hebrew.
When the priest asked me what I thought would be a good Christian name for her, I replied "Why not let her keep her given name? She might become a saint Meital." So she was baptized Meital (I think the Russian version of Mary was added".
Elise B.

John E. said...

However, I do bristle a little at the uber-Catholic notion that gets circulated every now and then which interprets the idea that parents are supposed to give their children a decent Christian (e.g., first) name which is not associated with evil, with anti-Christian aspects, with trivial or commercial interests, etc. as a positive command to parents to choose only the names of canonized saints.

Hey Red,

When I read things like this as well as some of the things you've written about folks being home-schoolier-than-thou, I can't help but think there a lot of folks out in the social groups you move in who would do well to tend to their own knitting.

It makes me really appreciate my own tendency toward social isolation...

Anonymous said...

Agree with Elise. One never knows if their child will grow to be a canonized saint! We are all called to sainthood.

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

We try to choose names related to saints, not because we think it's a rule, or should be a rule, but because we like giving our children atleast one patron saint to connect with. All of my kids have been fascinated with their names and their name saints. They love learning the meaning behind their name and the stories of the lives of their name saints. I can't imagine them getting as excited about or interested in finding out that their name meant "graceful battle maiden" or "elf ruler". And most people I know who admit to being named after celebrities or characters are pretty dispassionate about it, some even embarrassed by it, once they reach adulthood.

The whole "they could be the first Saint Etheline" argument kind of falls flat with me since there is always the possibility that they could enter religious life and have their name changed anyway.

And you could make the argument that all names, except for Hebrew names, were once pagan, but times change. Sometimes a holy person helps to infuse a name with Christian sentiment. I know a little girl with the middle name of Sienna which would just be considered a city in Italy if it weren't for St. Catherine. The Dictionary of Patron Saints' Names makes a noble effort to find Christian sentiment in the most popular and sometimes unusual name whether it's by studying the history of the name or the meaning.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is that we had a HUGE sense of relief the day we learned the names of our adopted children. I don't know what inspired their birth mother to avoid trendiness, but we definitely would have made some changes if necessary.

Tony said...

Whem my wife had just given birth to our second daughter, we were sitting in the hospital room, and we overheard a conversation in the next room.

It seems that a 15 year old girl just had a baby, and wanted to name her "Tazmania Devil". The nurses were desperately trying to talk her out of it, but well... you know teenagers. My wife was looking in the following Sunday paper and foud "Born to Jane Doe, a daughter, Tazmania Devil.

Fast forward to today. We recently saw in our local paper:

Born to Tazmania X., a daughter...

...are you ready for it?...

Sarah. :)

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

It seems to me that the uber-trendy names seem to crash and burn proportionate to how quickly they rose to popularity. It's not scientific by any means, but this list of most hated baby names seems to indicate that. I think so many people, hearing the name over and over quickly decide that they are, well... over it.

beadgirl said...

Hah, Tony, that's awesome and not at all surprising!

I'll admit to rolling my eyes quite a bit when I hear certain names, but I think at a fundamental level my problem (and yes, I realize it is none of my business) is when parents choose a name or come up with "creative" spelling specifically to be cool or different. Which could be hypocritical of me, because I have an extremely unusual first name, but in my name's defense there is a whole story and several generations of family members involved in the creation of my name.

Anonymous said...

My 67 year old mother is named "Judith Ann"- just like every other woman of her generation. (Judy Garland.)

Jacob and Isabella are lovely names, but those children are going to hate how many people they meet with their same name. My mother certainly did.

Anonymous said...

Names are very regional as well. In the midwest, there seems to be a lot of the trendy names in the suburbs. names bandied about the soccer field of 11 year old girls are McKenzie (spelled any old way you like), McKenna, Emma, Kaitlyn, and Grace. You can't swing a cat in Indiana and not hit an Emma or a Grace. I should put Sarah on that list as well. We know in our immediate circle (class, neighbors, and family) five, count them, FIVE Sarahs. I do love that name though. The name that sticks in my craw is "Hunter". Not as bad as "Gunner", but still extraordinarily aggressive for a name. sorry if I stepped on any virtual toes, but I really dislike those names.

Deirdre Mundy said...

We actually know quite a few "Lydia"s and "Olivia's" as well. (Also Indiana)

I always struggle with the Lydia's, because, of course, the first question that springs to mind is "Are you named for the tattooed lady?"

Nârwen said...

Lydia is actually a biblical saint's name - so is Tabitha. But the pop culture associations make both of them a bit iffy.

Among the babies and kids of my acquaintance I know three Lucys, a Margaret Mary, a Lillian, and a Salome Rose . (The last two are called Lily and Sally, respectively.) There's the twins, David and Gabriel, and Magdalene. There's also Magdalena and her little sister, Inez, plus Victoria, Isaac, Antonino, Roman, Peter Theophane, Alexander, Joel, two Maximillans and two John Pauls. It seems that my friends tend towards traditional names with obvious religious associations. (Even "Roman" was named for the pilgrimage to the Eternal City his parents took on their honeymoon !)

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

I'm curious. How do you pronounce "Salome"? There is actually a St. Romanus who could be claimed as a patron for any little boy named Roman.

Nârwen said...

"Sal-oh-may". She was one of the women who witnessed the Crucifixion and who came to anoint the Lord's body, only to find that He had risen.
From cross-referencing Scripture, it can be determined that she was the wife of Zebedee and the mother of the apostles St. John and St. James the Greater.
Unfortunately, we know from history that the name was also borne by the daughter of Herodias who had St. John the Baptist executed - though Scripture only names her mother. This Salome tends to get more press than the saintly one. :(

It is probably a Hellenized version of the Hebrew name " Shulamith", which means 'peace' .

Bathilda said...

Salome is also an opera.

Nârwen said...


Yes, it is an opera - based on the life of King Herod's stepdaughter. As I remarked, the nasty Salome tends to have gotten more press and artistic attention than the saintly one - at least in recent centuries.