As the Internet continues to recast the economic and social landscape of the United States, a new dot-com fad has arisen: the e-naming of babies.
As is well documented in William Safire's bestselling "On E-Language" (available exclusively by digital download on Fatbrain.com), the whole e-naming craze began with the term e-mail -- Al Gore's time-saving contraction for electronic mail, a widely used application of the Internet he invented.
Gore's convention quickly gained popularity, becoming, as some cybercommentators have noted, an e-clichi. As Alan Greenspan grappled with the shift from retail to e-tail, companies, products and Web sites sporting the e-convention became legion (and insufferable): not just iUniverse.com and E-Loan.com, but Emu.com and E-Mew.com and on and e-on. In no time, the trend spiraled off the Net and into "real life" with the e-naming of babies.
Yes, dot-com millionaires and ordinary folks alike caught up in Internet fever have begun e-christening the so-called "Generation E," born in the first decade of this new century. A recent survey of hospitals in Silicon Valley shows the emerging popularity of eJennifer, eMichael, iMichael, the thoroughly retro eEthel, and, a favorite among "Frasier" fans, iClaudius. The craze has also surfaced in the re-spelling of conventional names, notably eThan, iLene, and eLaine. Wait a generation and we'll surely see the "Mini Me" effect, in which those bearing a once trendy name usher in the likes of eBrittany, iTyler and iBrandon.
In Kansas, meanwhile, the old-fashioned girl's name Dot is in the midst of a popular resurgence (invariably followed, of course, by the middle name Com). "There's no place like homepage!" were reportedly the first words uttered by a 6-day-old Dot Com Baum from Lawrence, whose mother read children's classics aloud to the iNfant while Dot was still in the SEC-sanctioned quiet period of the womb.
Not to be outdone, the parents of boys have upped the e-ante: In some hip corners of the baby appellation world, IPO -- Initial Parental Offspring -- is gaining popularity as a first name, but only for the first biological son of a couple's first marriage.
This e-naming trend seems to have confounded pundits and medical experts alike: A spokesbot from DrKoop.com had no, and I quote, dot comment.
It seems the trend was anticipated by no one -- except lawyers. The first e-naming suit was filed by the Apple design team against a group of California parents, who have championed the name iMack for their sons. "Clearly, this is copyright infringement. We've already received a temporary restraining order from the Ninth Circuit -- friends and family must call these children i-boy or e-son until a final decision has been reached," noted Apple attorney Thomas Penfield Jackson, on temporary leave from his new position as Microsoft West corporate counsel.
E-naming has also provoked a furious response from the Jaded Organization of Habitual Namers (JOHN), headed by Jennifer and Michael Jones. In a recent press release, posted on their Web site, the childless couple notes: "JOHN advises parents not to engage in any type of baby-naming trend. History has proven that such trends only serve to damage children's self esteem and embarrass the nation. As a cautionary tale, we need only remind you of the unfortunate spate of 'place names' that infected the entertainment industry in the last century -- Tennessee Williams, Minnesota Fats, River Phoenix.
"You and your children will surely live to regret e-names," say the Joneses. "Frankly, we find the whole practice e-gregious."