Monday 26 February 2018

What's in a name? Kim and Kanye not alone in foisting unusual name on a child

Kanye West and Kim Kardashian have called their second child 'Saint'. But they are not alone in foisting a weird moniker on their unwitting offspring

Imponderable: Kim Kardashian and Kanye West named their baby boy 'Saint'
Imponderable: Kim Kardashian and Kanye West named their baby boy 'Saint'
Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan called their daughter 'Max'.
Ed Power

Ed Power

As the internet woke yesterday to the news that Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are to christen their second child "Saint", humanity was forced once again to contemplate the great imponderable of the age: why do celebrities give their kids such ridiculous names?

Admittedly, Kim 'n' Kanye are an extreme example, having already saddled their firstborn with the unfortunate moniker of North West (if this was intended as a joke, it was hard to see at whose expense it was directed other than their unfortunate baby daughter).

But they are far from alone, with the usually sensible Mark Zuckerberg last week announcing his baby daughter was to be called "Max" (a boy's name, if you haven't been keeping up). He was a billionaire at 25, yet not even Zuckerberg could resist the tradition of the famous burdening their offspring with bizarro names.

Then again, we get the A-listers we deserve and it isn't as if the rest of us are in any position to scoff. In 2014, for instance, 17 lucky newborns in the UK were named "Theon" - after a snivelling minor villain in Game Of Thrones. In further evidence of GoT's influence on the culture, 53 cherubs were christened "Khaleesi" and nine "Daenerys". Twenty years from now, you wish them well when asked their name by a Starbucks server.

In Ireland, especially, the trend towards unique/outlandish kids' names (delete as per your disposition) gathers pace. Those of a certain age will remember what it was like to sit in a classroom where 80pc of the children seemed to be named Conor, Colm, Mary or Sinead.

Nowadays, in contrast, we're in a hurry to proclaim our individuality - and that of our precious bundles - by choosing names that set the bearer apart from the masses. Hence, the surging popularity of names that would, in an earlier age, have drawn gasps from in-laws and a withering glare from the parish priest.

Examples include Noah (eighth most popular boys' name in Ireland last year ), Amelia (seventh most popular girls' name) and, further down the Central Statistics Office list, the X Factor contestant-esque Skylar, Destiny, Raven, Dexter and Braxton.

Other countries are often far less laid-back about baby names. Across much of the Continent, these must be selected from a pre-aapproved list - you can call your kid "Raven" only if the government says it's okay.

In Sweden, for instance, "Metallica", "Ikea" and "Q" are forbidden as first names - prompting one family to attempt to christen their newborn Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 in protest (permission was denied - a blow for individual freedom and lucky escape for the child).

In much the same vein, authorities in New Zealand vetoed "Lucifer" and "4Real" as names, and in France, a husband and wife were prevented from calling their daughter "Megane Renaud" because the local justice of the peace reckoned it too close to Renault Megane for comfort.

It is worth reflecting on what the children may one day think of all this. Many of us grow up not liking our name - I always hated "Edward" as it was inevitably shortened to something else. "Ed" was the best of a sorry bunch of options that also included "Eddie", "Ned", "Neddie", "Ted" and, bafflingly, "Edmund", as half my teachers insisted on calling me - as though I was being educated somewhere leafy and Edwardian (I was not).

Indeed, that was one of the reasons my wife and I named our oldest Niall and our twins Fiona and Cathal. They struck us as simple names, without a great deal of baggage. They weren't "trendy", yet not dreary or unimaginative (or so we told ourselves). In short, they were blank-canvas names, which our kids could make of whatever they wish.

Among the grown-up progeny of celebrities, meanwhile, there is evidence that they, for their part, might have wished for simpler names.

That was certainly true of Zowie Bowie, son of the David, and nowadays known to the world as Duncan Jones. He's a successful film-maker, a career that might well have been closed to him had he insisted on being referred to as "Zowie" (in other instances, an outré name can yield unintentional hilarity down the line - such as in the case of Storm Desmond, daughter of promoter Denis and in no way related to the Atlantic gales currently buffeting the country).

Irish names have also roared back to prominence of late - or at least a certain type has. It's past the point of cliché to make jokes about all the Ailbhes, Caoimhes etc taking the Dart to their fee-paying schools in south Dublin.

But the stereotype contains a nugget of truth, as the middle classes continue to embrace Irish names, just not the stodgy ones from their own childhoods (Oisin, Fionn, Saoirse and the aforementioned, much-pilloried Caoimhe were among the popular Irish names last year).

But in trying to be unique, is there a danger that we might not all end up the same? Consider the deluge of boys named "Jack" in their late teens and early 20s. In the early 90s, "Jack" was one of those old-fashioned names returning to fashion. Today, it's a way of dating someone before you've even met them.

"Naming rituals are central to cultures around the world and always have been. The names we choose for our children reveal our deepest wishes and desires," wrote Jean Twenge and W Keith Campbell in their book The Narcissism Epidemic. "We now wish so fervently that our children will stand out from the crowd that we equip them with unique labels from birth."

This, they argue, is part of an ultimately destructive trend towards raising our kids to believe they are unique and singularly gifted.

"The emphasis on self-admiration for children is relatively new," they write. "Parents may have always thought their children were special but until recently they did not expect the rest of the world to treat them that way."

The point was likewise made by Jennifer Griffin in her 2011 book Bring Back Beatrice, in which she argued that parents were subconsciously influenced by wider trends and their "unique" name was often anything but.

She didn't have to look very far for an example - Jennifer, she pointed out, exploded in popularity through the late 60s and peaked in the 70s. Forty-six-year-old Jennifer Aniston is thus much closer to the "typical" Jennifer than Jennifer Lawrence.

"Some parents," Griffin writes, "dislike traditional names and want to go with something really cool, really different. Like Madison. What a great idea for a girl! It's so unusual that nobody else will have it. Except that many parents are thinking the same thing. And many of them are going to chose Madison as well. Heed the baby naming cardinal rule - you can't go wrong with something traditional, no matter how popular the name becomes. My belief is that you are better off being one of a crowd of Emmas than one of many Madisons."

"I could try to lie about my age but my name will always give me away," she continues. "And there are so many Jennifers around that I will never be anybody's only Jennifer...Think long and hard before you give your child a name that is the most popular in the land."

Irish Independent

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