Is there any easier way to judge our fellow parents then by their children’s names? A name is the first thing we learn about a person. It’s how they’re presented to the world. It’s the defining declaration a parent makes when labeling their children. Often, they plan for months – sometimes even years – for the perfect name and we either approve of it, disapprove of it, or, if we’re judgmental jerks (hand raised), make fun of it.
For anyone with even a passing interest in baby names, there’s no better fodder than the countless name lists, round-ups, and slideshows. Each one serves as an indictment.
The list of the most popular names? They allow us to sneer at the herd mentality of the masses. They let us know who will be in our children’s classrooms, who we’ll see on the playground, and whose pictures will clog our Facebook feeds. Don’t know a Sophia, you will soon! (Of course I know a Sophia and you do too. Everyone is named Sophia.)
Even more fun are the lists of the most unusual names of the year. Those allow us to turn our noses up at the weirdoes who think their children will have a shot at normal life with a very abnormal name. Cheese? I mean, really? Even this hard-core dairy aficionado can’t believe that 8 sets of parents legitimately named their child “Cheese.”
Before I had kids, I thought it would be best to error on the side of the unusual. After all, as a Jennifer, I have my generation’s “it” name. My small high school class boasted 7 (!) other Jennifers and it’s not even like my last name helps to distinguish me – there are 2 other Jennifer Simons at my pharmacy alone.
I never thought I’d repeat this particular mistake of my parents’, yet here I am, a Jennifer with a child whose name is in the (dreaded) Top Ten. Yes, I’m one of the masses who gave her child a common name. And, after getting used to it, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Here’s why:
When it came time to choose a name for my son, I didn’t want something too far off the beaten path like these parents who deliberately searched for names not in the top 1000 but I also didn’t want something too trendy, something that would broadcast the decade in which my kid was born. Needless to say, it couldn’t rhyme with “Aiden” and it couldn’t start with a K.
Primarily though, my husband and I had one basic requirement when it came to a name: it needed to have an obvious spelling and pronouncement. This was in part due to the fact that I grew up watching my mother’s frustrations over her name. Not only was her name, Ileene, on the unusual side, but the fact that it was spelled strangely meant that she ended up spelling it out for people on a near-daily basis. Even now, in the age of emails and Facebook when her name is literally written for them, people still can’t help themselves from misspelling it.
So, for our first son, we settled on “Noah,” and my husband (whose name is Matthew, also a fairly popular name) and I unwittingly gave our son the fifth most popular name nationwide for baby boys born in 2009.
I didn’t realize the extent of his name’s popularity until my son went to camp this summer. In his class of 14, there were 2 boys named Noah, 1 boy named Noam and 1 girl named Noa. Granted, Noam and Noa are probably only found in the Jewish dayschool crowd, but still – 4 of the 14 kids had similar names? That’s ridiculous! Initially, I was sure that I had failed my son.
But I soon realized that none of the kids seemed to care. My son was Noah T (he has his father’s last name). The girl Noa was, appropriately, Girl Noa. Each kid grew into their own nickname. My Noah decided he would be Noah T Rex and has begun hulking around, declaring he has sharp teeth and will only eat meat (ok, that’s a different problem we need to tackle).
This summer made me rethink some of my own prejudices about popular names. After all, what’s the point of giving your kid a strange name? Even if you think you’re choosing something totally unheard of, someone else out there has the same thought as you. Even “Cheese,” as unusual as it is, isn’t wholly original – 8 families each thought they were naming their children something one-of-a-kind and what did they get? A weird name that 7 other kids also have.
Does an unusual name signify a child’s specialness? Whether our kids are named Edward, Sophia, Tuesday, or Atlas, they are all unique. Or Younique. Or Uneek. Well, you know what I mean. And no matter what their name is, each child is a wonderful snowflake full of their own distinct individuality.
Your kid is going to be the same person whether they’re named Jason, Jayden, or Juice (hey, if Apple could be a name, why not Juice?) But which one will get them teased? Which one will they spend their whole life repeating and re-spelling?
There’s no reason to raise eyebrows and complicate phone calls with a name just to prove your child is different. Your child will be different just because they are who they are. Except for those 8 kids named Cheese. Those kids will totally be the most normal, boring kids ever.