Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Call Me Ishmael ... Anything, 'Cept "Late For Supper"

In an earlier day on this blog, a post in 2004 considered the matter of naming children. Read it here with apologies for formatting that requires the reader to scroll down (big-time). This blogger met a boy baby in Tashkent and his PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) parents had named him "Huck." A little boy, named Huck, was born in the mid-1990s in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Come back to the raft, Huck.... If this is (fair & balanced) naming or dedicating something or someone new, so be it.

[x Denver Fishwrap]
Peculiar Be Thy Name
By David Harsanyi

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Perhaps no finer Christian name has ever been bestowed upon a child than the one Jermaine Jackson, of Jackson 5 fame, came up with for his son: Jermajesty.

We can forgive the famous for not being bound by the norms of civil behavior and branding their offspring Kyd or Suri or Trig or Satchel or Apple (or, apparently, any inanimate object that happens to be laying around), but what has happened to the rest of us?

Is there no better way to let everyone know how special your ├╝ber-gifted little one is than digging deep into Irish folklore, Apocryphal Gospel or Tolkien for a name? Is the humiliation of sending him to school with something as pedestrian as "Joe" too much to bear?

Researchers at San Diego State University recently confirmed what any parent who has arranged a play date already knows well: Ordinary won't do anymore. The study found that in 1955, nearly one- third of boys received one of the 10 most popular names. By 2007, fewer than one in 10 received a "common name."

In other words, according to researchers, in the 1950s your average first-grade class would feature at least one boy with the top name (James) while by 2013, it will take six classes to find only one kid with the top name (Jacob).

My childhood acquaintances were a monotonous blend of Jeffreys and Lisas and Tonys — and even "Butch," who, unlike today's Finn or Adonia (kids who, let's face it, have no choice but to be creative writing majors or strippers) is undoubtedly, unlike myself, engaged in some manner of productive and masculine work.

Live Science reports that researchers believe this explosion of unusual baby names is a cultural shift that ignores the once-valued "fitting in" and embraces the frowned- upon idea of "standing out."

Once I heard it put that way, I was completely on board and primed to name my next kid Davinity.

"When taken too far," the piece warns, "this individualism could also lead to narcissism, according to researcher Jean Twenge of San Diego State University." Twenge seems to have a major hang-up about the imagined plague of individualism sweeping across the American landscape (as if parents in the '50s wanted their kids to toil on assembly lines in life-long anonymity).

She goes on to explain: "There's been this cultural shift toward focusing on the individual, toward standing out and being unique as opposed to fitting in with the group and following the rules."

Though Twenge is a professor and I a mere writer with barely enough intellectual ability to use two mildly unique girl names I found lying around in biblical text for my daughters, I wonder what's wrong with standing out and being unique?

Why shouldn't parents desire their children to be distinctive? Why shouldn't children live with names that aren't common?

It's not like we need to fret too much about "following rules." Any individualism or free thinking is wrung from those little souls with ruthless urgency as public schools relentlessly instill the importance of "collective good" early and often.

Yes, one can lament some loss of cultural identity and continuity, because there are some conflicting messages being sent — say, Caleb Berkowitz or Jeremiah Yang. But diversity is our strength (and I have that on good authority, from numerous bumper stickers) and creative christening only adds richness to our society.

My hope is that we continue to name kids Jet, Juice Box or Whathaveyou. Then again, the process has become so atomized, in a few years you might start thinking about Mary or John. You know, if you're really going for something unique. Ω

[David Harsanyi is an award-winning columnist and editorial board member at The Denver Post and author of Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children (2007).]

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