Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Name Game

A few weeks ago, one of my Facebook friends posted an interesting article by Robert T Gonzalez on naming trends in the United States over the past few decades. It started out talking about how an incredible number of boys’ names end with the letter “n,” and then went on to take a look at some of those names. We’re not talking about old classics like Alan, Brian, Byron, Colin, Darren, and a host of others, including that classic among classics…John; we’re talking about names like Aiden, Braeden, Hayden, and…yes…Jayden.

In fact, he goes on to state that the number of “final n names” these days has increased simply by the number of variant spellings. Take Jayden for example; in addition to that spelling, there’s also Jaden, Jadon, Jadyn, Jaeden, Jaiden, Jaidyn, Jaydan, Jaydin, and Jaydon. Had they all shared a common spelling of Jaden, Jaiden, or any of the other variants, we’d have one name that rivaled the popularity of John, and fewer names in the pool. But because of those nine variant spellings of one pronunciation, and the same thing happening with Aiden and Braeden, we’re ending up with more “final n” names on the list, even though they’re the same to the ear.

What’s going on here? It’s not a change in how we name kids. Not at all. It’s a change in how we spell their names. Faced with a name that you really like, but that happens to be really hot at the time, rather than pick a totally different name altogether, parents are going for the more unique spelling of the one they wanted…as if that will make any difference to the ear. All of those Kaylees, Kailees, Kayleighs, and Kayleas are going to sound exactly the same when their names are called on the playground. It’s the same bloody name, and no one’s gonna hear the spelling.

Now, before you start talking about the pot and the kettle, I know. I know, I know, I know. I’m guilty of this myself. When our first daughter was born, I liked the name Sarah, but I also knew too many of them. As a teacher, I had six of them, in two different grades, at the same time. Some were spelled Sarah and some were spelled Sara. Not only did I already know too many of them at school, but at the time there were other kids that she would be around with the same name. Being one of a bunch of Keiths born in the mid-50s, I knew what that was like. I didn’t want her to have the same name as anyone she’d spend a lot of time around, I didn’t want her to have to deal with that confusion; so we decided on Devra, a decidedly unusual name.

Nine years later, our second daughter is born, and according to the deal we made, Cheryl got to name this one. She had her heart set on the name Sophia, because it meant “wisdom” in Greek. I, being the geek that I am, looked up the name in the charts, saw that it was in the top 50, and moving up every year. I begged her not to do this. I begged her for the sake of the kid, not to do this, not to saddle her with a name that every other girl her age would have. I begged her to pick something below 100…like Elisa. But she wouldn’t have it. She was adamant; the girl’s name would be Sophia. Fine, but I asked that if she was going to have the same name as half her classmates, could we at least spell it differently…could we spell it with an “f” instead of with the “ph?” She conceded on that.

As if it makes any difference when someone calls for Sophie at a soccer game. The heads of four players, and who knows how many spectators turn, no matter how it’s spelled. And I’ve added to the confusion of every teacher she’ll ever have…something that I should’ve known better than to do…all because I wanted her very common name to stand out.

And so I beg all of you who are in the position of choosing a name for a child to think carefully about this. If the name you absolutely love is also really trendy, either just suck it up and choose a different one, or keep it and use the common spelling. Don’t make up a new spelling so that it will look unique; it won’t matter on the playground or in the classroom, and will just confuse everyone who has to spell it.

Now what about my Sofia? Well, years later, after seeing just how many other Sophias and Sofias there are out there, Cheryl has conceded that I was right, and that she should’ve picked something else; but she also said that she was under hormone-induced madness at the time. And Sofie has her own opinion on this. One day she went to Cheryl in a very frustrated voice and said, “Mama, why did you have to give me a name that everyone else has? Why couldn’t you give me one that no one else has…like Susan!”

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