What's in that name?

New parents weigh 'unique' vs. 'odd,' 'earnest' vs. 'precious,' 'bold' vs. 'bully bait.'

Thank you, Uma Thurman. The actress named her new baby – this is true – Rosalind Arusha Arkadina Altalune Florence Thurman-Busson. Hollywood has a long tradition of foisting upon us wacky baby names like Banjo, Moxie, and River. Politics, too, has been a godsend for unusual monikers – think Tagg or Trig. Finding out about Baby Thurman's name reminded me just how stressful I found naming our new baby son.

Was it always like this?

Amazon.com heaves with books that provide parents with matronly advice on naming newborns. But the books only further complicate things and play on people's vulnerabilities. The zillion parenting websites out there are also patronizing. (Top baby names for "future achievers"? Andrew and Addison, according to MomsWho­Think.com.)

Things used to be simpler. The top baby names for newborn boys and girls in the 1880s were John and Mary. The only thing that changed half a century later was that James dethroned John for most popular boy's name. Today's top-trending baby names are Sophia and Jacob. Or, if your area code is 212, they are Isabella and Jayden.

Too many baby names these days feel lifted from a bad Bravo sitcom or broken Tom Cruise marriage. That only adds to the stress of not falling into that trap. What if the name sounds too corny or clichéd? What if I found out after the birth certificate was issued that there's a mass murderer with the same name? (That almost happened: My wife and I briefly considered Anders as a boy's name, until we heard about the Norwegian shooter.)

Baby names have gone from biblical to a form of branding, which may be why a recent study by Gurgle.com found that more than half of first-time parents regret the moniker they chose. The evolution of baby names mirrors that of corporate identities. Just as iconic names like General Electric or IBM have given way to Pinterest and Zynga, John and Mary have made room for Moonbeam and Zuma.

It was only a matter of time before you could outsource the naming of your baby to Corporate America: Last year, Groupon offered parents $1,000 for the naming rights to their first-born child.

Names, like brands, go in and out of fashion. You have to think about how it shortens, as well as the potential for schoolyard cruelty, before making a final decision.

We ruled out Marcus because my wife didn't like Mark (or the pharmaceutical-looking Marc). Sebastian, my favorite, was nixed because it shortened to Seb, which doesn't sound like anything.

My wife liked Oscar, but then I reminded her of my last name, which rhymes with "wiener." She was fond of Irish names like Caleb and Seamus, whereas I preferred old Hebrew names, like Saul and Zev. But my wife found them too old-timer-sounding. And neither of us is Jewish.

Too many names these days come off as overly self-conscious or precious sounding. We ruled out all seasons, months, and colors. We worried about monikers that sounded like good names for pets (Lazlo fell into that category). I wanted unique – after all, I have siblings named Reggie and Jacinta – but not too unique, for fear of seeming pretentious. I've always had a soft spot for the end of the alphabet. Some friends of ours stole "Xavier," so that name was out. Winston had a nice ring, as did Wesley. Wesley also shortened nicely to Wes.

After my wife gave birth, I remember her looking up at me as our new son clung to her chest, crying. "Wyatt?" she asked me. I smiled and nodded. A few days earlier we had been watching "The Daily Show" and noticed the name of the correspondent Wyatt Cenac. And so Wyatt Owen Beehner was born.

The name, of French origin meaning "water," was ranked 66th by BabyCenter.com. Here's hoping it never cracks the Top 10.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to What's in that name?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today