With seven billion people in the world already, naming a new baby could be seen as a challenging mission. Not that originality has been a significant concern until recently — think of all the Muslims named after their Prophet, and all the Christians named after one of the twelve Apostles or an archangel — but in a globalised culture, the multiplication of Mahommeds and Matthews could pose problems.
Even in my own close extended family there are three Michaels – a brother and two nephews, who have to be called by their first and second name in family communications. The fact that the two nephews also go by the name of Mike does not help a lot. Most of the first names in our family hark back to relatives, although in my own case it came from an older sister hearing it on the bus and thinking it was nicer than Brigid, which was the first choice.
Anyway… besides the quest for novelty (which can go to truly bizarre lengths) there is now a new set of considerations in choosing a name for baby. According to the New York Times, parents are turning to Google to check that their favoured name does not belong to a serial killer, porn star or sex offender.
The problem comes from globalisation of news about such individuals and from the fact that many people live a significant part of their lives online through social networking or other use of the internet. The Times says, “Some parents want names that are unique so their child will rise to the top of future search results.”
While there are no reliable statistics on the matter, a small survey on LilSugar, a parenting and pop culture site, found that 64 percent of respondents had Googled their baby’s name before settling on it.
Uniqueness seems to be a primary motive and has spurred an unspoken competition among parents to find the most original names, said Laura Wattenberg, author of “The Baby Name Wizard,” a guide for selecting a name. “Parents thinking of a baby name will type it in and say: ‘Oh, no, it’s taken. There are already three others with that name.’”
Hmmm. Just how many people are as in love with “uniqueness” as this, I wonder. Might they be outnumbered by the multitude who name their offspring after celebrities?
Personally, I think the traditional names have a lot to recommend them: family heritage, religious and cultural resonance for a start. Marriage, especially across national and cultural borders, introduces variety in a meaningful way through first and middle name combinations.
And I don’t think we should allow criminals and porn stars to put perfectly good names off limits. For every serial killer called James, there must be hundreds of thousands of decent men with that name.
How is the naming issue evolving in your family?