the issue last week, in “Names, destiny, and freedom,” and in an entry last night I
that Alicia Silverstone (I have no idea who she is) and her husband have named their son … Bear Blu. And now the singer Mariah Carey and her husband have named their son … Moroccan Cannon. The
that there’s a problem here.
Have celebrity baby names gone too far?
When pop star Mariah Carey and her husband, Nick Cannon, announced the name of their newborn twins last week, people were expecting something … a little out of the ordinary.
Their daughter was named Monroe—after the tragic starlet Marilyn—which was maybe not so surprising. But their son was landed with a doozy: Moroccan. To make matters worse, the couple proudly stated that he was named after a room in their home, which is decorated in the style of the North African nation.
Perhaps someone in Carey’s family had already grabbed the name “Libyan.” Whatever the case, Moroccan Cannon was coined.
“There’s a tricky thing about naming your kid an adjective and the last name is a noun,” says Laura Wattenberg, the creator of babynamewizard.com, a Web site that helps guide the baby-naming process. “It can sound like a phrase—or a professional wrestler. Names that are adjectives tend to be more divisive than nouns.”
Last week, the Social Security Administration released the list of the most common names of 2010 (Moroccan did not make the list, thankfully), and the most popular were relative classics such as Isabella and Jacob.
But within celebrity circles, the name game has become a star-studded race to see who can patent the coolest new handle for a kid. Gwen Stefani’s 2 1/2 year-old son is called Zuma. Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz named their 2-year-old boy, Bronx Mowgli, after the borough and character in Disney’s “Jungle Book.” Just yesterday, Alicia Silverstone christened her newborn son Bear Blu.
Look back further and it gets even stranger. In 2003, actor Jason Lee named his son Pilot Inspektor (yes, that’s with a “k”). Two years later, kooky illusionist Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) dubbed his firstborn daughter Moxie CrimeFighter.
But as Carey names her child after her home décor, the trend has gone too far. Publicity-hungry celebs may be damaging their kids with names that will make them stand out in the schoolyard or the workplace—and not in a good way.
“Similar to other celebrities, [Carey and Cannon] are creative people by nature, and they like publicity,” says Jennifer Moss, founder and CEO of BabyNames.com.
Of course, now that children can earn celebrity parents magazine covers and advertising deals, they’re part of an A-list brand; their kids’ names are a brand extension.
“I was hoping that I was mistaken when I heard [the name] was Moroccan,” says Rosie Pope, a “pregnancy concierge” and star of Bravo’s “Pregnant in Heels.” “Underneath it all, the motivation is sweet, and they just want something unique for their child. But everything goes a bit far and … the children have to live with it for the rest of their lives.”
That concern inspired Sweden to establish a law that bars parents from giving names that could be detrimental to kids’ welfare.
The 1982 edict states that “first names shall not be approved if they can cause offense or can be supposed to cause discomfort for the one using it, or names which for some obvious reason are not suitable.” Swedish courts have approved the names “Google” and “Lego,” but “Metallica,” “Superman” and “IKEA” were rejected. New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Denmark and France have similar rules.
If only Jermaine Jackson—who in 2000 bestowed the “royal” moniker Jermajesty on his child—was living in one of those nations when his son was born.
In the land of the free and home of the brave, however, no such respect is given to children.
“[Moroccan] just strikes me as dumb,” says Richard A. Epstein, a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. “I would not do that to a child. It’s not an issue of conformity; it’s an issue of prudence. But we can’t ban it.”
“In Europe, they don’t have the same constitutional conditions that we do,” he adds. “If the US were to establish a government registry of names, it would give rise to some serious constitutional challenges under the First Amendment.”
In 2008, a national debate erupted when a New Jersey store refused to make a cake for 3-year-old Adolf Hitler Campbell. The parents were vilified, and baby Adolf and his sister, JoyceLynn Aryan Nation, were taken by social services.
“It’s clearly a diverse population, and things are changing. But I would rather have a list of four names that are banned, like in the Hitler case, than 80 names that I was able to use,” says Epstein.
Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman agrees that European-style name registries would violate American values, including free speech. “They would also go against the American ideal of self-invention,” he adds.
Of course, level-headed kids are legally allowed—at age 18—to change their names. Just look at Duncan Jones, the son of rock god David Bowie.
Born Duncan Zowie Hayward Jones, the 39-year-old was known throughout his youth as Zowie. “I was a grumpy, surly, upset, confused person, and of course I had the burden of a lot of people’s preconceptions about who I was,” he told Britain’s Daily Mail.
At 13, he called himself “Joe,” later settling on Duncan Jones when he turned 18. Now a celebrated film director, he most recently helmed the thriller “The Source Code.”
While Zowie put his name demons to rest, it may not be so easy for other children, especially those without famous parents. “Celebs obviously can get away with a lot more because of their special place in society and the public eye,” says Dr. Lawrence Balter, a child psychologist and NYU professor. “But for regular people, having an unusual name might [create] a potential problem for future employers or schools. As a regular person, you should use common sense so your kid doesn’t get ridiculed.”
Measuring the effects of an odd name is difficult, says Pamela Redmond Satran, an author behind baby-name Web site nameberry.com. “It’s a subject on which there is only anecdotal evidence. Nobody has done a long range study,” she says, “though there was a 2008 study that said boys with strange names are more likely to end up in juvenile detention centers.”
Even in New York, the most egotistical, hyper-branded city in the world, offbeat names will ultimately backfire, says Pope.
“Parents try to superimpose what they want their child to be through the name,” she says. “[But] your child will be what they want to be. The focus should be on parenting.”