A while back, Stan (OneSTDV) wrote a post about odd and unusual baby names and what they mean:
But as with most SWPL phenomenon, this younger cohort is mirroring black behavior in a parallel opposition to mainstream white culture. Extreme Hollywood examples such as “Apple”, “Suri”, and “Pilot Inspektor” reflect a growing trend amongst the SWPL class. These effete urbanites eschew mainstream/traditional choices in favor of “unique” and “special” names like Aiden, Elijah, Jayden, Nevaeh, Makayla, and Hannah. Are these choices outrageous? Not really, but they represent a conscious effort to individualize their children by opposing “boring” names that harbor historical sentiment.
I think that there is something to what he’s saying, but I think that he over-universalizes it. Frequently the names are not attempts at individuality at all but are simply following the pack. They heard a name, they like it, they apply it to their child. At least, I believe that’s the case for a lot of the names that he mentions. Elijah and Hannah are in the Bible and names don’t go back much further than that. The fact that they have a sudden resurgence has a lot more to do with herd behavior than an individuality banner.
I think for some of the really original names, that goes under the individuality banner. I don’t know how much of that is actual hostility towards middle America and what is not. When it comes to African-Americans, it obviously plays a role. That they would be unenthusiastic about perpetuating names from a culture with whom they have had a historically contentious relationship is no surprise. With swipples, I think it’s more of a mixed thing. I think some do want to distance themselves from middle America, though I have to say that it has always been thus. Names work their way down the SES-chain. In some cases, it’s less about differentiating from Middle America as it is differentiating from People Poorer Than You. The ultimate rebellion against middle America would be to adopt names that are a poke in the eye of their perceived enemy. If they really wanted to state their opposition to American culture, they’d adopt black names. Few, however, do. That’s why I think it has more to do with basic class dynamics than it does a desire to differentiate themselves from one particular group (”Middle America”). Even though it would not be inappropriate, I would be surprised if we have a whole lot of white Baracks graduating high school 20 years from now. And that guy is not only hated by the people they are supposed t0 be hating, he’s the President of the United States.
And another puncture in the theory is that it’s not just poor blacks and rich white swipples that are adopting these names. The first time I was introduced to a lot of outlandish names, it was in… Deseret. Not rich. Very white. Not hostile to middle America. 70% Republican. And no, they weren’t specifically Mormon names. Indeed, it wasn’t just the Mormons doing it.
Heather Horn from The Atlantic has another interesting post on “original baby names” in which it points out… they’re not that original. Not just insofar as they’re copying others by trying to break the baby norm, but the names follow certain patterns:
You end up with those six names that rhyme with Aidan in the top 100 names of the 2000s, and 38 of them, from Aaden to Zayden, in the top 1,000. The irony is that classic English names such as George and Edward, Margaret and Alice — the names that used to be standard-bearers — all have distinctive sounds. They aren’t prisoners to phonetic fashion; each of them sounds instantly recognizable. Contemporary names, by contrast, travel in phonetic packs. More than a third of American boys now receive a name ending in the letter N. (In decades past, the most popular boys’ names were more evenly split between a number of endings, including D, L, S and Y.)
This strikes at the one reason that I am ambivalent to unique names. Basically, there is value in throwing more names into the mix. As someone whose had name(s) shared with classmates throughout school, I can appreciate the diminished confusion by adding a Laetwyn in with a Lenny. Of course, it’s never worked out that way and the result is that you get classes with 27 Jennifers (a name that was not all that common before) and 15 Jasons. But I thought that the names that were punched up at least offered an alternative to that. Even they, though, have become entirely contrived.