What “designer-named” babies portend for our society, cont.

Samson writes:

The issue of baby names is dear to my heart; I have strong feelings about it indeed. Several years ago I worked for a short period on the pediatric floor of a hospital, and was horrified by the names I encountered. By far the majority were these trendy, non-traditional types, to the point where I remember being practically ecstatic to meet a baby named Andrew.—“Wow, a real name,” I thought!

I imagine that this experience is equally common for teachers, daycare workers, etc.

In my view, there are at least three reasons why the abundance of these names is a terrible portent for our society:

1) As you say, it indicates a fundamental failure to take anything seriously, as well as a dismal lack of foresight and contemplation. The fact is this: when a parent names a child Nadylea (for instance), the biggest thing on his or her mind is not the child’s future. It’s not the meaning of that name or how that name will be perceived by others as an adult. No, it’s whether or not the name is “cool” or “clever.” This is what happens when you have a society, like ours, in which people are essentially teenagers well into their childbearing years. (I feel particularly strongly about this tonight, Lawrence. A long-time friend of mine has recently had a baby and named him something ridiculous. I wanted to shake my friend and say, look, are you still 19 years old, that you think this is actually a good name?) Such people are not suited to tackling important political or social issues.

2) It signifies an ongoing rejection of tradition in general. In junior high school, we read the short story “The Lottery” (available online, I’m sure). If you haven’t read this story, the gist is that there is a village whose people have inherited a “tradition” that is outrageous to modern sensibilities, yet the villagers continue the tradition because, well, it’s tradition! The moral of the story is that not all “traditions” are worth upholding, which is true so far as it goes, but the point of introducing the story to teenagers was undoubtedly to instill the doctrine that traditions should always be questioned and likely discarded.

In fact, however, traditions are part of what bind a people and a nation together. A people without a sense of shared history and traditions is no people, just a collection of individuals. Such a collection cannot hope to survive or work together to solve important issues. And names are very much one of these important traditions. A names with a rich history evokes … certain thoughts or themes. These modern, made-up names? Convey nothing but the idea that ancestral ways are not worth conserving or even considering.

3) This one may be the most controversial, but think it over and I’m sure you’ll grasp the significance: the preponderance of trendy, “cute” baby names is symbolic of the male abdication of family responsibility. As one of your readers points out, baby names are not merely “baby” names—they are going to be adult names as well, and no man worthy of the title allows his son to be named “Cody” or “Jayden.” When you meet a baby with a name like that, you can be sure of this: the mother named that baby. Either the father was not present at all, or she overruled him, or he actually agreed that this was a good name for a boy. All three scenarios are horrifying for anyone who believes that men have a responsibility to wield authority in the family.

Given that there are still a minority of parents giving their children traditional names, I would be very, very interested to see whether adults with traditional names fare better, and are more-well respected, than their peers. I bet so.

- end of initial entry -

Steve writes from Palm Beach:

On the subject of baby names, enclosed find a copy of a receipt I received today from my dry cleaner. Note the clerk’s name, Jerkishia. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.


Derek C. writes:

The trouble starts well before adulthood, too. We don’t need to elaborate on how much fun other kids will have with the name, but there is also the trouble teachers and authority figures will have just getting the right spelling. I have friends and family who have chosen these odd names, usually surnames or trendy locations, none of which follow any known tradition or have any phonetic logic. When we were naming our son, there was a British variant spelling my wife proposed, and I asked her, “How much time will we effectively take off his life by forcing him to respell his name over and over and over and over until the day he dies?”

Honestly, to anyone reading this post, children’s names should meet two qualifications:

1. Is it established? Be creative on your own time, not your kid’s time. 2. Is it the established spelling? Aside from the odd “Keith” with its “e” before the “i”, the orthography should be intuitive.

This brings up another reason to distrust Sarah Palin: look what she did to her five kids. Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig. Of course, Bristol continued the tradition, saddling her poor kid with the name Tripp. Granted, it’s not as bad as some of the horrifying names you get out of the ghetto, but that’s not much of a bar to clear.

Derek C. continues:

Samson’s mention of not seeing many Andrews actually brings up another problem. Here in Houston, we have the opposite problem. We have way too many Andrews. Maybe parents think they are doing their kid a favor by giving him a step up in line alphabetically (Try Aaron next time, guys!). We have so many Andrews in my son’s life, we distinguish them with prefix names: Soccer Andrew, School Andrew, Little Andrew, Cousin Andrew, etc. The same holds for Emma, Jacob, and some other names. Kind of a different direction than your main post, but, please, everyone, try not to use the same name everyone else is using. There are lots of names in the Bible, Homer and Shakespeare to choose from. I’m not saying you have to call your kid Priam, Obadiah, Jehosaphat or even Zerubabel or Agamemnon. How about going with the second called disciple for a change instead constantly calling on poor Andrew? Adam, Peter, Daniel, Elizabeth, Jeremiah, Matthew, Thomas, Mary, Martha, Deborah, Susan, Esther, these are all fine names from which your kid won’t have to hide his head in shame, or—almost as bad—raise his hand with almost half the class when it’s called out.

[Deleted Name] writes:

Here’s a fun website that shows the popularity of various names over time. You type in a name a get a graph of its ups and downs over the past century or so.

I was amused by your commenter Jane. I have a daughter named Jane and when I introduce her to people some of them look surprised and say nothing, some think her name is “Jade” or “Jayden,” and some start gushing about how wonderful it is to meet a child with a normal name.

Richard S. writes:

My parents and their peers were first generation Americans. Their parents were Jews who had immigrated to America from Poland and Russia. And yet every one of their first generation American offspring were given mainstream American names, perhaps even consciously Anglo-Saxon names. My father’s name was Chester. My mother’s named was Ann. She had four sisters named Rose, Flora, Sadie and Mary. My uncles were named Carl, Joseph, Philip and George. And that generation named their children Richard, Janet, Arthur, Robert, Laura and Rebecca, to name a few. My point? They understood. At the very least let us not put an impediment in our child’s future path. And for that I am grateful. Profoundly so.

LA replies:

On a side point, thank you for using the term “first generation Americans” correctly, which is rare today. “First generation American” means the first generation born here. But today “first generation” is commonly used to denote immigrants, as in the nonsensical expression, “first generation immigrants.”

Daniel O. writes:

The article quoted—Have celebrity baby names gone too far?—ends with the following remark by Pamela Satran: “Parents try to superimpose what they want their child to be through the name, [but] your child will be what they [sic] want to be. The focus should be on parenting.” While the article addresses a serious social issue, it ends by giving a liberal non-solution to a liberal problem. It is thus not a real answer to this sociocultural question. The celebrity-stimulated naming crisis is not the ‘superimposition’ of names, but the superimposition of liberal names which are morally void (amoral) or simply perverse (immoral). It is perfectly normal, and even morally right, for parents to guide their children, and to emphasize certain valuable qualities in their children’s names. All traditional and Christian names have meaning—that is the very reason why names are assigned to newborn persons. If you want your son to be strong, then give him a ‘strong’ name as well; if you want your daughter to be intelligent, then also give her an ‘intelligent’ name. It is sad that Pamela Satran, who owns a baby naming website, seems to be ignorant of this obvious fact.

LA replies:

I agree with your remarks about Satran’s statement, “Parents try to superimpose what they want their child to be through the name, [but] your child will be what they [sic] want to be. The focus should be on parenting.” Satran is a liberal who thinks that each human being is completely self-made out of his own will and preferences. She is blind to the ways in which parents and society influence the development of a child, including through the name the parents give the child. People who favor designer names MUST believe this. The must believe that it makes no difference what they name their child, because the child’s “true self” (based 100 percent on the child’s own will and preferences) is completely independent of such factors. This leaves the parents free to give the child whatever crazy name they want. They deny all responsibility for the formation of the child, by embracing something called “parenting,” which means, not parenting in any recognizable sense of the word, but facilitating the child in his self-willed creation ex nihilo of himself.

Paul K. writes:

The New York Post article on celebrity baby names quoted in the previous entry (“Celebrities consigning their offspring to life-long oddity and probable madness”) says, “That concern inspired Sweden to establish a law that bars parents from giving names that could be detrimental to kids’ welfare.”

It would really be encouraging if Sweden would bar the practice of naming boys “Mohammed.” That would be beneficial to the whole society’s welfare.

James H. writes:

I have had it confirmed by a reliable source (a relative is a government official and is socially prominent in suburban Atlanta) that there is a burgeoning trend among professional black women of changing their made up birth names to Anglo-Saxon names. It seems that it is not a good idea to post a resume on Monster.com, etc. with names such as Laqueesha or Shanneeta.

Ha! Here are some of the suggestions for Laqueesha and Shanneeta that came up on Google Spellcheck: Lakeisha, Lakisha, Latisha, Shanta, Shandee and Shantee.

A reader writes:

I was curious to try out the website that [deleted name] mentioned for finding the popularity of names through time. Naturally I had to enter my own given name, Dylan, and the results were interesting. The “curve” started in the 1960s, peaked sharply in the 1990s and is now in decline.

All through grade school I distinctly remember being teased for my name and the introversion this seemed to precipitate was matched (or exacerbated) by some innate tendencies. I think there were times when I wished I had a “normal” name but as I grow older I increasingly appreciate having my name. Now it seems to be a “cool” name and I have observed for some years now that it is popular name among young children. I feel like the early band of us, including one woman I know, paved the way for easier travels among the later generations.

All but a very few people think that it is taken from Bob Dylan but it was from Dylan Thomas instead (there is some debate on this among my parents!). I believe Bob Dylan took his name from Dylan Thomas also. I consider my first name to be an atypical but “literate” sort of name, a name that can generate associations with the past that are meaningful. This stands in contrast to so many modern names with connections to nothing more than untethered self expression.

Kristor writes:

Given my given name, I feel especially qualified to comment in this thread. I have always loved my odd Christian name. But that’s because, while relatively rare in this country outside of Minnesota, it is not uncommon in Sweden, the land of my forebears. It is a traditional, venerable name. And so, although I have had to correct the way people spell it roughly 8 billion times, I don’t mind at all. It helps that almost everyone really likes it. Clerks are always looking at my drivers license and saying, “Wow, that’s a neat name.” “Swedish,” I always say, “very old.” It is important to me that they know it was not just something my folks made up out of thin air.

The other thing I like about my name is that my parents gave it to me fully cognizant of its meaning and import. They named me for the great Swedish theologian, Krister Stendhal. “Krister” is the Scandinavian version of the Greek “Christian.” So my name means “of the Anointed One,” or else, more simply, “anointed.” It fits, no? For I was baptized and anointed at Whitsuntide as a priest in the order of Melchizedek, when I was yet a babe. This gives me great happiness. My name signifies my priesthood, and vice-versa; the relation between the two is a synecdoche of the mutual signification by which all things are to each other meaningful, and thus convene as an orderly world; so that I and my name are connected meaningfully to all things. That is part of what a good name should do in any language, whether English, Cherokee, or Hebrew. And that is why so many cultures have felt that to know someone’s given name was to know who they truly are, and was therefore to have power over them. That’s why no one may utter the name of God, except for the High Priest who offers his life as a sacrifice for the people each year at the Day of Atonement. Saying the Name, the High Priest invited death; his survival of the rite was one sign of God’s favor toward Israel.

When I first began to find out about Christianity, it rather amazed me that all the old-fashioned Biblical names had really mind-blowing meanings: Salvation is the Lord’s, or Appointed to the Lord, or some such. The old Biblical names are Hebrew versions of the names popular in 17th and 18th century Britain and America, that were quotations of Scripture: “Preserved from Harm,” or “Blessed is the Man.” They are every bit as spooky and significant as the American Indian names that the hippies copied for their children. More so; for they refer to a highly developed and sophisticated metaphysics, and to an ancient mystical tradition. Such names, given to children, signified ultimately that the parents were living toward God, and aiming their children toward God; toward the best and highest and most beautiful thing that life could be about.

Names that merely sound cool and vaguely British (if only because they are ancient words), like Chase or Tripp or whatever, are in themselves meaningless, albeit euphonious and reassuring. They are sounds that say nothing, and so signify nothing—like a real estate development in the middle of the treeless landlocked prairie named “Woods Harbour.” And this indicates that the parents are living their lives toward nothing that they could possibly articulate in words, and are aiming their children toward that same vague nothingness. It’s a dispiriting thought.

But it isn’t nearly as dispiriting as the names given to so many black children, which often seem designed to aim them at chaos or evil.

LA to Steve from Palm Beach:

What did Jerkishia look like?

Steve replies:

Well, not too much imagination is required as to what she looked like. Around 50 pounds overweight, dark complected (natch!), and tattooed. Speaking of tattoos, when I was growing up in New York in the 1960s the only tattooed women one would see would either be residing at Rockland State Hospital or at the freak show at Coney Island. Just a week ago, I saw a young women with a tattoo of Frankenstein on her left shoulder and of Dracula on her right shoulder. The deterioration of our culture seems to be proceeding at supersonic speed.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 10, 2011 03:55 PM | Send

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