Baby branding

Why the current cultural obsession with unique -- and sometimes bizarre -- baby names?

Topics: Broadsheet, Motherhood, Love and Sex,

News flash from the land of flamboyant parenting: Those wacky New Zealand parents who wanted to name their baby boy “4real” (but were foiled by a New Zealand law prohibiting names beginning with numbers) have now settled on a more familiar moniker. Superman, as he will be called in official contexts, will still go by 4real in the home.

I’ll admit, I’m one of those people who like weird names, but this level of weirdness verges on abuse. What happens when the kid’s grown out of the superhero stage or when instant messenger handles like 4real are really embarrassing? It suggests that baby naming officials — in New Zealand at least — have their work cut out for them. They told the BBC that they had recently rejected the names Satan and Adolf Hitler.

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A recent Wall Street Journal article (covered here) made much about the new culture of naming in which anxious parents read dozens of books and even hire professional naming consultants to help them “brand” unique children. Of course, parents who misuse their naming power are not a new phenomenon. My father’s cousin’s last name was Butts; was there any excuse for the parents naming the baby boy Harry? And what justifies the teen mother I knew who, at the height of the local crack crisis, decided to name her baby after its father’s source of income: L.A.Money? Now that corporate branding has saturated our culture, don’t be surprised if more doting parents name their kids after a soon to be released operating system?

My inexpert opinion is that the current preoccupation with baby naming mirrors our cultural obsession with personal expression in a time when our individual sense of political power is on the wane. In an ideal world, having a baby expresses faith in the future — a faith many parents so conscious of food additives and melting ice caps may not have. In naming a baby you get to engage in a massive act of pure parental projection — perhaps for the last time.

So maybe that’s why the state gets involved in such matters — like protecting a child from disease, maybe the idea is that communities need to protect children from names that might hurt them in the future.

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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