May, as any Catholic schoolchild can tell you, is the official month of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Which might make Mary an appropriate name for a girl born this month, except after a 400 year run, Mary is more than ready for semi-retirement.
The good news is that you can hold onto Mary’s symbolic value by choosing one of her fresh, appealing variations. And there are literally dozens of them, formal and breezily nicknameish, ultrafemme and down-to-earth. Some of the options:
MADONNA – There’s only one Madonna – and it’s not the plaster one in the blue alcove at church. The pop star has all but taken over this formerly holy name and rebranded it with a modern in-your-face sexuality. Do you dare use it for your child? Do you want to? Maybe not yet, but with names like Elvis and Scarlett gaining widespread popularity a generation or two after the fame of their original bearers, we all might end up having grandchildren named Madonna.
MAE and MAY – A mere handful of years ago, Mae was a quintessential old-lady name, barely baby-appropriate, but today it feels as sweetly simple as a warm day in the sun. Can be a short form for any of the Mary variations and also makes a good middle name.
MAMIE – Mamie is sassier than either Mae or Maisie, though definitely in the same family. An old-fashioned nickname that’s enjoying another day in the sun, Mamie was the name of President Eisenhower’s wife and is also the nickname of Meryl Streep’s actress daughter – both mother and daughter are properly named Mary Louise.
MANON – This French diminutive of Marie is very popular in its own right there and would make a distinctive and unusual choice here, but one with some genuine underpinnings. Parents considering Manon should see the French film, Manon of the Spring.
We talk a lot about the influence of celebrity baby names on the general population of baby namers, but just how potent is that influence in actuality? I thought it might be useful to take a closer look at some celebrity choices and see if there was some way to quantify their impact.
Of course there are, inevitably, other factors involved in whether celebrity baby names become popular. For instance, how high-profile is this celeb and how much has her child been seen in the media? What are other influences surrounding the name? A popular character in a movie or TV show? Is this a name that would have risen anyway, just as part of the zeitgeist or is it one that was never—or hardly ever—even heard before? Is it a vintage name that had been stored in the attic until it was brought out and sprinkled with some stardust?
Here are a few specific examples, giving the child’s and his or her celebrity parent’s name, the year of birth, and where the name ranked before, during and after its arrival.
AVA is an interesting case. Previously seen as an outdated, elderlyish name, it first showed signs of a revival when used by Aidan Quinn in 1989, but he didn’t seem to have the voltage to elevate the name above the 800’s on the Social Security list. Next came Heather Locklear, a major TV star at the time of her Ava’s birth in 1997: the name subsequently rose from #737 in 1995 to 259 in 1999. But it was following the more highly publicized arrival of Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe‘s Ava-named daughter in 1999 that the name shot up to #133 two years later—and then all the way to #5 (and probably rising) last year.
HAZEL was another name that seemed to have little potential for a comeback when chosen by Julia Roberts for one of her twins in 2004. It wasn’t even on the list in 1997, was at 681 when little Hazel Moder was born, but had risen to 359 three years later.
IRELAND is a clear-cut example of a name created by the celebrity culture, as it was unheard of when the daughter of Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin was born in 1995—a time when place names were heating up. By last year, there were more baby girls named Ireland than there were named Tess, Tia or Tanya.
JADEN is another proof of the Starbaby Effect. The son of Jada Pinkett and Will Smith was given this spin on the biblical Jadon in 1998, when it ranked #328; five years later it had zoomed to #82. Jaden’s sister Willow’s name is also on the rise.
JAYDEN. This spelling was already quite trendy when Britney Spears and Kevin Federline picked it for their son in 2006, but the maelstrom of publicity swirling around Britney and her boys surely contributed to this version of the name reaching its current standing of #11.
There’s no doubt that middle names have been taking on increasing importance in the hearts and minds of baby namers. They’ve stepped up from the inconsequential connectives –especially for girls–of a generation or two ago to full co-starring roles on the birth certificate. For many, it’s a welcome opportunity to honor a family member, preserve a maiden name, or use as a solid alternative for their child to possibly choose to use later on.
But for others, it’s place to be whimsical, to salute a creative hero, to use a favorite word or nature name they wouldn’t dare to put in first place. For examples of how this works, we need only to look to the stars, those beacons of extreme–if not bizarre– baby naming. So here are some nature, namesake, word and lovey-dovey endearment middle names they have used, followed by the name of the celebrity parent who chose it and their child’s first name:
NAMESAKES–real and fictional
It’s Pop’s turn! For Mother’s Day we took a look at some of the more interesting names of the mothers of distinguished people, and now we do the same for the paternal parent. Once more, it turns out that an unusual number of past (and a few present) notables have had Dads with interesting, and sometimes surprising, names. Here are some examples to prove the point:
ALLESSANDRO — Maria Montessori
ANDREJ — Andy Warhol
ARCHULUS — Truman Capote
Not many people are naming their babies Madonna….yet. But other formerly one-person names are now in play.
Elvis, for instance, not to mention Presley. Elvis Costello (born Declan McManus) seemed to break the spell on that one, along with one of the now-grown sons of actor Tony Perkins and photographer Berry Berenson. Today, Presley is the 340th most popular baby girl name, and there are 300 little Elvi born every year.
Other one-person names that are now fair game for baby namers:
There is, however, still only one OPRAH.