The Name Game

Sometime in the next 2 months, I will become a father for the second time. There are the obvious concerns about household finances, sibling adjustment, and the overall transition from a family of three to a family of four. But unlike the first time, we have one major dangling participle: what are we going to name our new baby?
The first time around, it was a cinch. We had a boy name and a girl name picked out years before we were even married. We both had grandfathers with the same name, so it was easy to stick to the Jewish tradition of naming after the dead. And like most of our decisions in life, it was completely 50/50 – as both sides of the family had a part in the name.
Those of you who know me also know that what people name their babies is one of the (many) things that drives me absolutely bonkers.
I’m obviously not alone as the topic of baby names seems to be a very popular one. Just do a Google search and you’ll come up with countless websites, lists, articles, and books. The piece that really struck accord with me appeared in the NY Times Magazine in 2003. Where Have All The Lisas gone was a fascinating piece about the cyclical nature of baby names and how they relate to society as a whole.
Baby names seem to becoming more strange as the years go by. To me, it comes down to one thing: the parents’ quest to be different. Many parents don’t seem to take the time to consider all aspects of the names they choose and what effects it might have later in life. In the recent film Freakonomics – based on the book of the same name – filmmaker Morgan Spurlock tackles the subject of baby names as it relates to societal impact. The basic conclusion is that having an “interesting” name doesn’t directly affect your standing in life, but the factors that would cause your parents to give you such a name do.
Whether we like it or not, celebrities are trend setters. If your favorite Kardashian is pushing her kid around in a $900 stroller, it must be the best, right? Well, same goes for baby names. In the late 50’s and early 60’s, a name like Marilyn (Monroe) shot up the list. More recently, we’ve seen Mariah (Carey) and Kobe (Bryant) become much more common. We have also seen people bypass the actual celebrity and move straight to fictional characters. Sawyer (Lost), Addison (Grey’s Anatomy), and Quinn (Glee) are three that come to mind. And then, my favorite – giving your kid the same goofy name that your favorite movie star gave hers. Hello Brooklyn, Ryder, and my favorite, Bronx.
According to Morgan Spurlock’s conclusion though – it’s not a surprise that so many celebrities stray from conformity and choose names that had previously not existed. The celebrity world is inundated with dysfunction. The children of celebrities are born into that dysfunction and often times never escape it. So their goofy names aren’t to blame – it’s their genes and their environments.
Take the case of Enayla Santiago. We don’t know what will happen to this unfortunately named 6-year old girl. What we do know is that her unmarried parents had her at very young ages. We know that her mother’s parenting skills and judgement are severely lacking. And we know that Enayla is a name that was just made up – one that I cannot find anywhere else. The cynic in me does not have much confidence in Enayla – but not because of the strange name. I’m just not sure how this poor girl is going to get through life unscathed with a mother like hers.
As far as I can tell, Jews have three routes when choosing a name:
Category #1:  name your kid after a dead relative
Category #2:  screw it and name your kid Flower or Sunshine or whatever floats your boat
Category #3: Not crazy about Jerome? No problem – just use Jaden
I’m ok with #1 and #2, but #3 confuses me. I’m not sure how honored Uncle Jerry would feel knowing that you picked a name only popular because of Britney Spears.
If you come up with the name, do you reveal it ahead of time? Do you risk the unfavorable responses from your unsubtle friends and relatives? And then once the child is born, do you do the whole Facebook announcement thing? Old fashioned birth announcements be damned! Your former co-worker who you haven’t seen in 6 years needs to know the instant the baby arrives, right? The comment thread is filled with congratulatory messages (and that one Mazel Tov from your non-Jewish friend who always wanted to be a MOT). Inevitably, there will be comments in there about the name. 100% of those comments are positive – even if I name my child Osama Bin Laden Mandell, there would be someone who says, “beautiful name.”
So what about us? What are we going to do?
Well, my brother has monopolized the other dead relatives and my sister-in-law didn’t help that situation by relinquishing naming rights. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a big fan of the first letter trick. So, for better or for worse, we’re in category #2.
We started out with a short list and have narrowed it down to two possible names. Now we just have to wait and see. Or we can just have our 3-year old pick.
Stay tuned.