Be careful not to get too carried away, you might walk away with twins named Faldoe and Choby.
Naming a baby is a big decision. We hope that the right choice will have a positive effect on our child’s life, and worry that the wrong name might be a lifelong burden.
The current lists of Top 100 Popular Baby Names tell an interesting story. In 2012, familiar perennials like John, Andrew, Anne and Louise don’t even make the top 50. Meanwhile, Isla, Sienna, Xavier and Cooper are all in the top 20. This generation’s quest for unique names has made the uncommon common.
We clearly like unusual names, but usually, the ones we choose are well-used. So where does one find a genuinely unique name these days? One that is both stylistically and statistically unique? The only hope these days is a risky voyage out into the murky fringes of the name pool.
“Can I really call my little girl Harmonica?” you wonder. “Will she hate her moniker, and me?”*
Clearly, there’s a line that shouldn't be crossed when choosing a name for your baby. On one side of the line are the names that modern parents quest for: unique, interesting or quirky. But step over that line and you've all but guaranteed that your child will one day try to break your teeth with a bar stool.
Statistics prove this beyond doubt, but for me, the best proof is always anecdotal - especially when it comes in the form of a fictional story from a Johnny Cash song.
'A Boy Named Sue' tells the story of a man seeking revenge on an absent father who ruined his life. Dad’s crime wasn't getting his son the iPad 3 when the iPad 4 had been out for months; Dad was responsible for “that awful name”.
As the story goes, Sue eventually tracks down his father in a sleazy bar, gets busy with the bar stool, before getting a very belated explanation:
Son, this world is rough
And if a man’s gonna make it he’ gotta be tough
And I knew I wouldn’t be there to help you along.
So I gave you that name and I said goodbye
I knew you’d have to get tough or die
And it’s that name that helped to make you strong.
In the world of this song - a world of drifters, whisky and universal gun ownership, a bad name could spell death. But in Australia, 2013, a dodgy name isn’t quite a death sentence. So we can afford to get a little creative. If you want to call your kid Braxton, you can. Hey – what about Braquestonne? Nice.
But could this search for ever more original names be sending some of our kids down a similar path to the Boy Named Sue?
Recently I met a couple and their new baby son, who was named Jekyll.
“Cool name,” I said, not actually thinking that. “We really like it,” they said in unison.
I was intrigued – after all, it’s a bold choice, Jekyll. “Was he the evil one, or was that Hyde?” I asked. They didn’t know, they said. “We just like the name.”
What? If you’re going to skirt that close to the line, shouldn't you know what you’re getting your kid into? Shouldn't you at least know if your baby is the evil one?
Maybe its got something to do with vanity. It’s a nice feeling when friends say how much they like your baby’s unusual name. But would we be so vain as to take credit for it? Of course not.
“Yeah, we’re really lucky,” we say “The name just sort of found us!”
Well played. But let’s be honest – this is no ordinary name. Someone rather brilliant had to choose the name, using their vastly superior taste.
“Harmonica is a bloody cool name and we chose it. Boom! Thank you very much.”
If you’re secretly trying to win the baby naming championship, just be careful. Get a bit carried away and the next thing you know, you’re walking out of the hospital with twins called Faldoe and Choby.
If you are sure that you want a unique name for your baby, a more sensible approach might be to try to strike the perfect balance between unusual and established. A long-forgotten gem from a distant past perhaps; comfortably on the right side of the line. What could possibly go wrong? Well ...
If you really go out on a limb and choose a name best known for having never been anyone’s name, ever, you’re putting all your eggs in the exclusivity basket. And are you prepared for this sledgehammer: discovering there’s another Bovarie at playgroup. Spelled the same. Ouch.
A more serious risk for the unusually named child is a life of shame via association. I call it Same-Famous-Name-Shame. That’s what happens when some child with the same name grows up to be a notorious hate figure. Obvious examples would be Adolf, Osama or Delta.
Long-standing common names have layers of associations, accumulated over generations of familiarity: Sally is approachable; Darren is a bogan. It would take more than one prominent example to completely change these names.
But truly obscure names don’t have that buffer. Virtually overnight, a name can be redefined by coincidence or circumstance.
Take the story of Jem. Jem was a boy growing up in the 1980s. While his parents had undoubtedly made an unorthodox choice, no one could really say that the name Jem crossed the line. But then this happened.
Out of nowhere, the cartoon series Jem and the Holograms burst onto our TV screens, instantly capturing the attention of children everywhere by being a cartoon, on TV.
Up to this point, there had never been a famous Jem in all the world. Jem’s parents had probably hoped it would be him. But it wasn’t. And it was a girl. A truly outrageous cartoon girl who led a double life as the sexy lead singer of an all-girl rock band. This wasn’t good for Jem. He had a girl’s name and every kid in the playground had proof: she was on the telly and had holographic micro-projectors in her earrings.
From that point on, every night at the dinner table, the boy named Jem studied his parents with resentful eyes, listening to Johnny Cash on his walkman, dreaming up his revenge.
I tell ya, life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue
*Not the children’s real names. All names have been changed to protect the sensitivities of those involved. Apologies to anyone called Harmonica, Braquestonne, Jekyll, Choby, Faldoe, Bovarie or Jem.