Jeff Mandell and Carin Mrotz are a couple of local Jews, each with a couple of kids. They also have a lot of opinions about parenting. Each month, they’ll share their perspectives on a single topic. Sometimes they’ll agree, sometimes they won’t, but in their own minds, they’ll always be right.
First … Carin Mrotz:
My very wise colleague, Jeff Mandell, once wrote:
“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”
When I was pregnant with my son (who will be 5 in June), we went with the first option. We’d decided that if we had a girl, we’d name her for my grandmother, Elsie, so when the ultrasound showed us a boy, we quickly agreed to name him for my grandmother’s favorite brother. We didn’t consult any naming websites or discuss with anyone the name we’d chosen, and so, a week after he was born, when Julia Roberts inexplicably named her new son after my Uncle Henry, too, we got online and discovered we’d picked a very popular name. In 2007, when our Henry was born, it was the 91st most popular boy’s name in the United States, and the 31st most popular in Minnesota. In fact, today Henry is more popular in Minnesota than in any other state in the country.
At first, we were a honestly bummed out. Nobody wants to look like they’re jumping on a trend, and incredibly, we were openly judged for our lack of originality. At Tot Shabbat, another mother told me the name Henry was “soooooo trendy right now,” and that she’d wanted her child to have a more original name, which turned out to be something with 7 Y’s in it. To be fair, what my husband and I call “Old Guy Names” are very popular. Maybe it’s because things are cyclical and everything eventually comes back into favor. Maybe it’s because, like me, as more people are waiting until our 30s to have children, we’re finding ourselves (sadly) with more departed relatives to honor. Maybe it’s backlash for the creative naming that has given us Bandit and Bendy and Alazae Nevaha (Bad Baby Names blog says that last one is a girl).
But really, what’s wrong with a name that’s common, or popular, or in the case of little Alazae Nevaha, pronounceable? Is naming our children a contest to see who can be the most unconventional? And if we all get creative with it, won’t creative names just become the new norm? What then? Naming children with pictographs? Hand gestures? If it’s true that there’s nothing new under the sun, is real originality even possible? And if it is, is it overrated?
Sure, when we yell “Henry!” at the Children’s Museum, at least 8 kids turn around. But my husband is a Michael, the most popular boy’s name for half a century, and he made it out of childhood unscarred by the commonness of his first name. The schoolwork his mother has saved bears a neat Mike M. in the upper-right corner, and in some years there must have been more than one Mike M. because his full name is spelled out. My name, on the other hand, is a creative spelling of the more common Karen, which my parents didn’t want to use for several reasons. So I’m Carin, and I was always the only Carin in my school. And having a unique name means that when you read “Carin is Ugly” on the bathroom stall door, it’s hard to pretend it’s about anyone but you. And those souvenir license plates and keyrings and magnets with names printed on them that everyone used to get on family vacations? I never found my name among the spinning racks.
There are a lot of things to worry about as a parent. They’ll get sick; someone will steal their bike or break their heart. They’ll shoplift, they won’t go to college; worse, they’ll get in to a college I can’t afford. The last thing I am going to worry about is that I’ve given Henry a name that – gasp – other people also have. I want him to be unique, creative; I want him to be an individual. I want him to be himself, whomever that turns out to be, I just don’t think that needing him to be the only Henry in his class has much to do with that. We gave him a name thousands of other parents gave their sons in 2007, and hopefully, we’ll also give him the confidence to stand out, to be a true original.
My son is one of a kind. He is a master of knock knock jokes. He’s a loyal friend. His favorite bands are KISS and Toots and the Maytals. He has ears the size of Kaiser rolls (these ears are among my favorite things in the universe). Someday he might be one of 6 Henrys in the second grade, but he’ll be the only one who’s mine, and to me, he’ll be the only Henry in the world.
But just in case, we named his sister Mir9iam. The nine is silent.
Then … Jeff Mandell:
Anyone who has known me for 5 minutes knows that baby names are high on my WTF list. Upon hearing ill-conceived baby names, I might ask one of these questions:
WTF is wrong with you?
WTF were you thinking?
WTF does that mean?
Or simply, WTF?
Dear Parents Who Choose Crazy Stupid Baby Names,
I’m here to tell you that normal names are just fine. Children born with normal names can actually succeed in life – and they have been doing so for thousands of years. The jury is still out on anyone named Maddox (who isn’t the Brangelina kid). There should be no shame in using classic biblical names. We all know how to spell and pronounce them. Plus, I’ve never questioned the judgement or mental sanity of a parent who named his kid Benjamin or Sarah. But pick Maddox, Blu, Bear, Apple, Brooklyn, Jayden (or Jaydyn, Jaydon, Jaden, Jadin, Jadyn), etc etc etc. and I definitely will question your judgement. I will also question the proof on the liquor bottle that you must have been drinking from that night.
I know you think that choosing one of these “unique” names will help your child stand out in a sea of other newish names, but it won’t. Maybe your name is super simple and you’re just projecting some sort of self-annointed creativity on your child. Or perhaps you’re trying to out-crazy your peers. Whatever the reason, I just say WTF?
The name need not make the person. Sure our current President is named Barack and his opponent this November is named after an old baseball glove. But the roster of former Commanders-in-Chief includes a lot more Johns, Williams, and James than Woodrows, Millards, and Rutherfords.
Something just tells me that when push comes to shove, we’ll never see a President Jaden Goldfarb. Plus, your favorite Great Uncle Jerome is turning in his grave. So from the great minds of a couple of really cool Jews (Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley), KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid.