Thursday, June 30th, 2011

You Named Your Kid What?

baby-names/ Thorsten Steinhaus

A friend just named her child with a celebrity-style moniker. Think an obscure shade of blue and a Greek god for a middle name, just to make sure he cant fall back on that one: Azure Poseidon. These days, the desire to name your child in a way that stands out is not for the rich and famous alone. Watch out Apple, Moses and Audioscience—the mainstream is following right behind you!


I have an unusual name myself, so I have an opinion on the subject. Although I recently saw it trending as an up and coming name for boys thanks to Kellan Lutz, the buff blonde from Twilight, I was always the only Kellen in class. Not once have I found a tiny license plate with my name on it, nor any other name-bearing tourist trinket. As a kid, that used to really bother me.


I love my name now that I’m an adult, and I am frequently complimented on it. At age nine, however, I petitioned my mother to allow me to legally change it to “Rose” or “Pearl.” It seems I was nine going on ninety. I wanted a name that described my personality at the time, which was decidedly more conformist and feminine.


My parents got my name from a therapist who was counseling my mom and her then-girlfriend. The therapist seemed aware that their relationship was not meant to be, and suggested they work on something basic together, say a baby name. My mom advocated Kelly, but her girlfriend was aghast, proclaiming that, “No Kelly would be in the White House,” and offered Virginia or Helen. The therapist, who perhaps by then was sure they wouldn’t last, gave them a name—Kellen—which she explained meant “Amazon” in Gaelic. What more could they want? We’re talking early eighties lesbians here. I’ve never found that meaning in any baby book, but if she faked it, well done!


The other Kellens I’ve come across are mostly boys, not Amazons, and tend to be products of football-loving homes, usually inspired by the dynasty of Kellen Winslow Sr./Jr. who played for the Tigers, Chargers, Browns and Buccaneers between them. It has led to some funny introductions. When I’ve asked them if they too were raised by radical feminists, they’ve often answered, “No, football fans.” I’m lucky I’m rarely asked to further explain myself. It has also taught me something about reading too much into what a name says about someone.


I’ve joked in the past that names say a lot about people. Don’t hate me, but I’ve never met a really sweet Vanessa (Vanessas of the world, prove me wrong!), and likewise I’ve also never met a catty Emily. As in the movie Heathers, certain names have weight; names might possibly mold you. You can even put your name in this website and it will describe your personality: It had mine in it, but we’ll have to see how long they can keep up with the world of names.


Fifty years ago you stood a decent chance of guessing someone’s name correctly. These days it’s near impossible. The number of names in use is also growing exponentially. Even traditional names are getting funky spellings: is that Christopher spelled with a, c, k, ph, f, s or z? Everyone is looking for a way to distinguish their child. An article on talks about the trend towards unique names and what names communicate. With so many names, it may become harder to decipher what they say about the recipient or their parent’s characteristics.


Regardless of parents’ intentions in naming, people definitely judge you on the basis of your name. 20/20 did an expose where they sent resumes out with “white-sounding” and “black-sounding” names on them. The “white-sounding” names got called back 17% more. The Freakonomics authors wrote a chapter called “Would a Rashonda by any other name?”, in which they attempted to trace how names move through culture, and suggested that names are an indicator of parents’ background and class. Recent studies have said there are correlations between names and levels of maternal education. Names like Alexandra and Benjamin correlate to well-educated mothers while names like Travis and Amber do not.


I am not sure what a wacky celebrity style name says about your mother’s education. If anything, it has more to do with modern culture’s obsession with individualism, with which I am equally afflicted. I am disinclined to name any future children of mine anything too popular, and I feel bad for my younger brother Ethan, who once felt his name was special but now is in the boy’s top ten. If I had to guess a random guy’s name, I might start there.


My crazy-naming comrades admit a sort of boy-named-Sue challenge was behind their decision. They believe all those mispronunciations by teachers and teasing from peers will build character. The parents have very common names themselves, just for the record, so their hypothesis is conjecture. But if I’m being honest, nowadays I am pleased as punch that female Kellens are few and far between, so maybe my friend is doing the right thing in the long run. Thoughts?

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Kellen has watched other people parent for years. She has worked as a babysitter, infant teacher, nanny and in continuing education and quality improvement for childcare providers. She aspires to be a foster parent someday.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsDianne Hofner Saphiere   |  Friday, 01 July 2011 at 12:15 pm

    We thought about pronouncability across different languages, as well as familiarity across cultures. We also wanted a name that meant something to us: carry on a tradition of family, friends. We settled on the name “Daniel” for our son. Familiar to the Abrahamic faith traditions and pronouncable in many languages, though the “l” can sound like a rolled “r” in some. He’s named after a good friend who passed away in a helicopter crash. He’s happy iwth it; we are, too.

  2. CommentsEmily   |  Sunday, 03 July 2011 at 1:12 pm

    I have my catty moments, they seem to be coming on more frequently as I get older-and out of my older sisters’ shadow.
    Obviously, Emily is one of the most popular baby girl names in recent history, so I may be afflicted with the subconscious desire to give my-as yet non-existent-children off the wall names. For now, my cats have suffered (Pippy and Freyja).

  3. Commentsclaire niala   |  Saturday, 30 July 2011 at 12:19 pm

    i have a fondness for strong and unique names like yours – there are so many common names – set your child up for being ‘someone’ by giving them a name that has meaning.

  4. CommentsInternational Baby Naming Laws–Are They a Good Thing? | InCultureParent   |  Thursday, 04 August 2011 at 11:18 pm

    […] my last column I looked into a friend’s wacky baby-naming. As it turns out, the degree of freedom we enjoy here in the States with regards to baby names is […]

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