American rock band Modest Mouse’s song Black Cadillacs (2004) has a particularly wonderful opening:
And it’s true we named our children / After towns that we’ve never been to
Inside a song filled with negative imagery about graves and funerals, the suggestion is that there are better modes of naming children. Even in those cases where the parents might even have been to the places they’re using as first names – think the Beckhams’ son Brooklyn or Alicia Key’s baby Egypt – the names are still regularly considered unusual at best, crass at worst.
The recent birth of Beyoncé’s baby Blue Ivy and the release of the 2011 Victorian baby name report has again put the name game on the agenda. Once again magazines will print the top 20 crazy celebrity offspring names and newspapers will again spotlight the latest peculiarities. This week granted Beyoncé fans the opportunity to analyse whether husband Jay Z’s favourite colour was the inspiration and treated snobs to a chance to eyeball a list of bastardised incarnations.
So what motivates the bizarre creations, the peculiar spellings and the gifting of one’s offspring the burden of learning the phonetic alphabet just to order a Papa India Zulu Zulu Alfa over the phone? And what becomes of the Pilot Inspektor, Apples and other oddly named celebrity spawn and their Victorian non-celebrity Beyden and Blayde counterparts? Surely no one holds public office, performs heart surgery or works on a construction site with a name like Fifi Trixibelle?
Presumably every parent sees their child as unique, as special, as distinct from all the other red-faced screamers in the nursery. So what better way to acknowledge this than with a unique, special and distinct name? And if you’re a celebrity of the paparazzi-tipping-off ilk, surely a sure fire way to get yourself - and your offspring - remembered by the plebs is with a name that, even if widely loathed and lampooned, won’t soon be forgotten?
Infamy of course, isn’t the only rationale. For some, shuffling about the Scrabble tiles to concoct something vaguely pronounceable also allows parents to demonstrate creativity. Rather than simply reading the baby name book like all their lazy Lamaze class colleagues, instead, they made up their own. One might even speculate that a little parental smart-arsery is involved. Surely when actor Rob Morrow named his daughter Tu, or Nicolas Cage named his son Kal-el, some parental tittering was involved.
A couple of years ago I had a lovely student with a particularly odd name. My quizzing of him prompted him to quiz his parents about it. Academics, they turned out to be. Who wanted to give him a name to challenge him. Sociological inquiry or child abuse? Such a fine line!
For the celebrity babies with their fruity, flowery, off-beat, off-kilter names, perhaps all that is tinseltown and fame and wealth makes any name without a high Scrabble score seem bizarre. In some Melbourne schools something similar might unfold, in others however, I dare say such names serve merely as grounds for getting hassled and harangued.
Of course, it’s hardly all doom and gloom: every name has its calamities, even for those thoroughly innocuous ones that dare use real vowels instead of Ys. With my name for example, the heartbreak lies with no descending characters and thus a missed opportunity for extensive swirling and flourishing. Even with a two syllable, thoroughly Anglosaxon surname, I still have to spell it every time: “Rose like the flower, Warne like the cricketer,” as cringe-worthy as the descriptor feels.
And even then, for a kid who gets mocked mercilessly for a decade or so, the ludicrous moniker needs not be permanent: there’s always the option to follow the leads of Woody Allen and Doris Day and a host of other celebrities and simply change it.
To some people American state first names, names with apostrophes and accents, soap star tributes and Star Trek influences - or in the case of my aunty’s offspring, after dogs that “ran away” - are tacky, classless and sentence the child to a lifetime of ridicule. To others however, such names exude mystery and originality. Good names, upstanding names, old-fashioned names are all thoroughly subjective and reveal little on their own except our own prejudices.
Besides, today’s Jaxson and Jazmin will be tomorrow’s grandpa and grandma and suddenly a name that looks pretty ridiculous today will seem thoroughly institutional during roll call at Shady Pines in a few generations times.