Naming In The News

Beat Society To the Punch In Labeling Your Kids

Posted on Wed, Apr. 14, 2004, Tallahassee Democrat

A few years ago, I dismissed it as hearsay when a friend told me she'd started hearing about babies named Cristal, as in the favorite champagne of millionaire rappers, and Alize, a fruity wine found on grocery store shelves.

I think my exact response was, "You're lying."

Thanks to psychology professor Cleveland Evans, I'm eating those words.

By analyzing Social Security records, he's discovered an increase in baby names probably inspired by brand-name products.

Over the years, Evans, a professor at Bellevue University in Bellevue, Neb., has found evidence of kids named Shasta, Pepsi, Clinique and Dannon - even twin girls in Nebraska named Camry and Lexus. They are not to be confused with three sisters in New Jersey named Mercedes, Catera and Celica.

In 2000 alone, the world welcomed 571 Armanis, 1,267 Harleys, 29 Skyys (like the vodka), 164 Nauticas and 28 Cartiers, to name a few. There were also seven boys named Courvoisie, almost certainly a riff on Courvoisier, the pricey brandy.

True, these aren't mass movement numbers, and who knows if the names speak to a specific parental longing or if Mom or Dad just thought it sounded good.

Still, few of these pass the playground test. Imagine yourself demanding, through gritted teeth, that little Verizon or TiVo get his little bottom over here this instant. Could even the kid take you seriously?

This is at least partly an example of our label-conscious culture, and our embrace of high-end products. When I did a story a few years ago about luxury goods for infants - silk shantung skirts, designer toiletries, cashmere sweaters - one PR person actually told me, "Babies are the newest accessory."

Couldn't this just be a poor man's version of the Prada baby bag or Gucci booties?

But as silly as I think some of these names are, I'm not sure the impulse is terribly different from that of more conventionally minded moms and dads. The names we give our children can be quite revealing about the aspirations we have for them - or ourselves.

Entire Web sites and books are dedicated to helping parents, particularly anxious first-timers, capture just the right name to help set junior on a path of esteem and success. I own a dog-eared copy of one of the baby-name bibles, "Beyond Jennifer and Jason," which actually separates names into categories like "the classics," "Volvo names," and "handsome rogues/nice guys." (Our son Jared's name fell into the handsome nice guy camp, but he's only 4. We'll see.)

Whatever you want to convey - wealth, artistry, rugged individualism, beauty - there's a name to match. Evans said that while many people might consider the product-name trend gauche, it's just another method that parents use to help their child stand out in a crowd.

"It's more obvious when this happens," said Evans, who has studied naming trends for 30 years. "A fairly popular name for girls in the African-American community is Precious. With (the name) Armani ... it's the same sort of impulse, trying to say, 'This child is very special.'"

And it could be a lot worse. In fact, the most egregious baby names that Evans has come across aren't brands at all. Try Lucifer or even Tragedy, which turned up in Florida. Of course.

"Obviously, naming your child Camry or Lexus is not the same as naming your child Tragedy."