I’ll admit it. I’m name-obsessed. When I’m handed a business card, I have to stifle the impulse to ask about the middle initial. (Is that D for David or Dennison – or Danger?) My loved ones have long understood that they cannot call to report that so-and-so had the baby without also sharing the child’s given name. I eavesdrop. I ask. Rarely is there a waking hour in which the topic does not cross my mind.
And yet, we name nerds mostly travel through the world in anonymity. Sure, our closest friends know that we’ll have something to say about every choice, whether the newborn in question is Harper Seven Beckham or the little boy down the street.
But there’s never a good time to reveal that you’ve been quietly judging, and so being outed is always the tiniest bit awkward. It happened to me earlier this week, with someone I’ve known for only a few months. Her first question – well, what do you think of my kid’s name?
Never have I been so grateful that she had chosen the sparky, stylish Milo long before we’d met.
Here are my nine picks for the most newsworthy hot baby names this week:
Amy – The new Christina Applegate/Will Arnett/Maya Rudolph sitcom Up All Night, billed as a “modern take on parenting,” debuts in a few weeks. Since all the stars are the parents of nicely-named youngsters themselves, I expected that the fictional daughter of Applegate and Arnett would have a great name. Piper, maybe. Or Adelaide. I watched the previews, listening and listening, not believing what I was hearing. Amy? The name that was second only to Jennifer in the 1970s? The name of Will’s real-life wife? Others have pointed out that Amy isn’t so outlandish. She’s a logical nickname for the popular vintage choice Amelia, and feels at home with favorites like Zoe and Mia. She’s been falling since 1977. Could the show reverse her fortunes?
Bert – Project Runway includes contestant Bert Keeter, the elder statesman of the new season. He won the first challenge handily. For most parents, Bert is Ernie’s BFF, the pigeon-loving, uni-browed half of the preschool set’s favorite odd couple. But Bert was also a Top 100 staple in the late nineteenth century, and big brother in the long-running Bobbsey Twins books. Bert’s siblings’ names – Nan, Freddie, and Flossie – sound fresh today. Now that Leo is mainstream, might hipster parents consider Bert?
Bruce – The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week 2011 just wrapped, so I’m compelled to mention the all-time best shark name ever: Bruce. Yes, Bruce. The cast of Finding Nemo included a Great White by the name, but Nemo’s striving vegetarian shark friend was named in homage to the fleet of mechanical sharks used to create the 1975 masterwork Jaws. Hollywood legend has it that the inspiration for the 1975 versions was Steven Speilberg’s attorney, entertainment lawyer Bruce Ramer.
Esther – Happy 90th birthday to swimmer-turned-Hollywood star Esther Williams, known for her elaborate aquamusicals in the 1940s. The million-dollar mermaid’s Old Testament name has been stuck in fashion limbo for years, but with choices like Eleanor and Beatrice on the rise, can Esther be far behind? Ewan MacGregor used the name for his second daughter in 2001. And in other birthday news, Saturday was the 100th birthday of Lucille Ball, whose name — both Lucy and Lucille – is also on the rise.
Indiana – Before Indiana Jones was the world’s most famous archeologist, the nineteenth united state was sometimes bestowed as a baby name – for girls. Then along came Dr. Henry Walton Jones and his adventures. Actors Casey Affleck and Summer Phoenix gave the name to their son in 2004, reportedly inspired by Summer’s late brother – River played a young Indiana in one of the movies. Now Ethan Hawke and wife Ryan have given the name Indiana to their new daughter, a little sister for Clementine – and half-sister for Maya and Levon.
Octavia – Today is August 8 – 8/8, doubly lucky in many Asian cultures – a fitting day to celebrate this numerical name. She’s a possible substitute for the oh-so-popular Olivia, and she’s also the name of actress Octavia Spencer. You might remember Spencer from her time on Ugly Betty, but starting this week you can find her on the big screen, as outspoken maid Minny Jackson in The Help.
Olivier – Oliver is big news, the #1 boys’ name in the UK and a fast-climbing choice in the US, too. But how about Olivier? The French form of Oliver is worn by another Project Runway contestant, as well as screen legend Sir Laurence Olivier. The pronunciation is a tiny bit challenging – instead of AW-liv-er, it becomes o-LIV-ee-ay. If boys can answer to Jeremiah and Sebastian, Joshua and Gabriel, is Olivier really too feminine?
Priscilla – I truly don’t think you should name your child after a cast member of Lifetime’s extreme reality series The Bad Girls Club any more than I think you should name your daughter Snooki. But after seeing previews for the current season, I’ll admit I had to look up the names of the, er, ladies. It wasn’t at all what I expected. Current contestant Priscilla wears a very prim and proper name. Past seasons have included Zara, Cordelia, Portia, Lyric, and Wilma. Not bad for a show designed to highlight women at their worst.
Turner – Harper is the Hollywood go-to name for girls, and Asher topped Nameberry’s Hottest Names of 2011 list. If ends-in-er names have really arrived, would Turner appeal to parents? There’s brave Will Turner from the first three installments of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Hayley Turner’s success as a professional jockey promises to pave the way for other women in the sport – she just scored another notable win. There are multiple possible origins for the surname – it could’ve been worn by a tower guard, a tournament official, or a craftsman who made objects by turning them on a lathe. The real question, of course, is whether Turner would be a sister for Harper – or a brother.