When Pam and I wrote our first name book, Beyond Jennifer & Jason (back when Jennifer & Jason were still baby names), we had a little section called NAMES THAT ARE TOO MUCH TO LIVE UP TO, listing examples that had such a potent image that whey would overpower an innocent babe–including such biblical temptresses and goddesses as Jezebel, Salome and Venus. Well, things have now changed to the point where those names and others equally powerful have slipped into the mainstream. Why? Partly the current anything-goes atmosphere, partly some tipping point moments, such as:
JEZEBEL: WHY? Scheming, promiscuous New Testament hussy; name came to mean hussy. DEFUSER? Feminists started to see her as a victim, became the name of a hot weblog. Name still means hussy.
LOLA: WHY? Sexy 19th century Spanish dancer/courtesan Lola Montez, sexy Marlene Dietrich character in The Blue Angel, sexy Pajama Game song ‘Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets’. DEFUSER? Madonna nicknames baby Lourdes Lola, Kelly Ripa mentions daughter Lola every mornining
SALOME: WHY? Deceitful dancing New Testament seductress, seen as even worse in Oscar Wilde play and Strauss opera; DEFUSER? Not sure, but it was defused enough for TV actress Alex Kingston to use it for her daughter.
Yet for every celebrity that inspires a rash of little namesakes, there seems to be another, equally attractive and popular star whose name doesn’t become famous, at least for babies. Oprah may have the power to catapult books to bestsellerdom and even to influence presidential elections, but the millions of moms who love her don’t seem to love her name. Madonna may have legions of fans over several decades, but there’s still only one Madonna. Okay, two.
Maybe you’ll say that the problem is in the names Oprah and Madonna themselves and true, those might be difficult monikers to carry. But that doesn’t seem to always be the reason a name doesn’t achieve the star power of its original bearer.
Case in point: Diana. We were sure, through the long reign of Princess Diana, that her name would rise up the charts. It’s a beautiful name with classic roots that sounded neither dowdy nor trendy. But Diana, as a name, never took off.
A lot of the other hot and not celebrity-influenced names are similarly difficult to figure out.