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If you were to go solely by the tabloids, you might think that every celebrity’s baby boy was given the name of a New York borough or a Disney character or was his parents’ quirky Scrabble-letter invention.

Au contraire.

There is a very  healthy segment of show biz parents who are creating a major backlash to this trend–either that or they just like conservative, classic names.  Instead of screaming ‘Hey-look-at-me!’ (and my mama), these names  provide a sort of protective coating against that kind of often mocking attention, a layer of dignity and tradition.

Evidence?  Here, just looking at boys born since the Millenium, are some of the timeless classics, in their complete, traditional forms, that have been recent celebrity choices–not that they always succeeded in making their bearers paparazzi-proof.  (And, by the way, I’d be  interested to know if you think the preference for this kind of name relates to the celeb’s own personal or public image.)

ALEXANDERNaomi Watts & Liev Schreiber, Lauren Holly, Wolfgang Puck

CHARLESRussell Crowe, Chris O’Donnell, Cynthia Nixon, Emily Robison

CHRISTIANMarc Anthony, Pete Sampras

CHRISTOPHERChris O’Donnell

DAVID — Mo’Nique, J. K. Rowling

FRANKDiana Krall & Elvis Costello

FREDERICK — Mayim Bialik

GEORGEKristin Scott-Thomas, Eva Herzigova

HARRYDavid Letterman

HENRYHeidi Klum & Seal, Julia Roberts, Emily Robison, Rachel Weisz, Jack White & Karen Elson, Minnie Driver, Norah O’Donnell, Steve Zahn

JACKMatt Lauer, Joan London

JAMESSarah Jessica Parker & Matthew Broderick, Isaac Hanson, Colin Farrell, Kirk Cameron & Chelsea Noble

JOHNBono, Vanessa Paradis & Johnny Depp, Bridget Moynahan & Tom Brady, Julie Bowen, Nancy Grace, Lauryn Hill & Rohan Marley

JOSEPHTracy Lords, Cathy Moriarity

SAMUELNaomi Watts & Liev Schreiber, Jack Black, Elizabeth Vargas

THOMASJack Black, Dennis Quaid

WILLIAMKimberly Williams & Brad Paisley, Mary Louise Parker & Billy Cruddup, Clay Walker

In addition–though it’s not quite the same thing–there are the nickname versions, like Kate Winslet’s Joe and Charlie Sheen’s Bob, and the not-so-timeless semi-classics like Rainn Wilson’s Walter. And of course, there are the female equivalents–Amanda Peet’s Frances, Kelly Martin’s Margaret–but that’s for another time.

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Middle-Name Management

The attitude towards middle names has changed radically over the last generation.  No longer are they thought of as throwaway connectives, the way they were in the era of Karen Ann, Debra Sue and Jamie Lynn: parents are now giving almost as much thought to the middle name as they do to the first, carefully weighing its meaning and its rhythm and sound in combination with the first and last names.

And now middle names even have their own separate set of trends.  One of these is to follow the British royal tradition of using two (or more) of them, perhaps to honor both grandparents, as Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin did with Apple Blythe Alison (both grandmas) and Moses Bruce Anthony (granddads.)  Another is to use it as a place for a name that you like but consider a bit too risky for lead position–as in starbabies Alice Zenobia and William Huckleberry.  The middle spot is also ideal for honoring a cultural hero (or two)–we’ve heard Lorca, Lennon, Amadeus, Bela (for Bartok, not Lugosi), and Kafka, to cite a few.  Another interesting–and endearing–trendlet we’ve spotted is using the nickname of an honoree instead of his/her full name (Amanda Peet’s Frances Pen, Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber’s Alexander Pete) in middle position, making for a more intimate connection.

Older traditions continue to survive as well.  The venerable practice of using Mom’s maiden name in that place, for both boys and girls–as well as a grandmother’s birth name which might otherwise be lost to history–is thriving.  It can also be a safe slot for a family or friend’s name you want–or feel obligated–to use, but not necessarily as the name your child is known by.  In any case, giving your child a great, imaginative middle name gives him another option if–perish the thought!–he’s not happy with your first choice.

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