Baby Name Rules: Messiah, Seneca, and Milborough

September 22, 2013 Abby Sandel

Nameberry 9 by Abby Sandel of Appellation Mountain

Imagine that you were put in charge of names.

Effective immediately, you are the recorder of all given names, and no newborn’s birth certificate is official until it has received your stamp of approval.

After a giddy moment or two – think of all the names you’ll see! – reality sets in.  Will you impose rules?  What will the rules be?  Would you establish an official list of approved names?  Guidelines?  Is there an appeals process?

In the US and much of the world, we tend to respect the parents’ right to choose a child’s name, even if that name raises a few eyebrows.  Case in point: the baby briefly known as Martin McCullough has now been restored to his birth name, Messiah.

It’s not just about personal preference, either.  Last week’s name news also included the story of Janice Lokelani Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele, a Hawaiian woman whose 35-character last name was too long to fit on her driver’s license.  It’s not an invented name – it was her late husband’s unusual family name.  After some hassle, the state of Hawaii has agreed to change their database to accommodate longer surnames.

Visit a baby name forum, though, and the story can be very different.  Parents are admonished to “please spell it correctly,” to consider the child as a grown-up, to imagine how hard it will be to spell/pronounce/explain that particular name.

They’re just comments on forums, of course, at Nameberry and elsewhere.  But what if you were actually in charge?  Would you crack down on creative spellings?  Limit gender-bending baby names?  Ban names that weren’t in use a century ago?

This week’s baby name news was filled with unusual, even outlandish choices.  But none of them are – as of this writing – prohibited by law.

Gracelynn – Who would have guessed that MTV’s Teen Mom franchise would be such a big influence in baby names?  Season three mom Mackenzie Douthit and her new husband Josh are already parents to Gannon.  They’re now expecting baby #2, a girl.  Mackenzie sent out a tweet asking for G names for girls, and seemed to like a few – Giovanna, Gabriella, and Gracelynn.  Or maybe GracelynBoth spellings have caught on fast in recent years.  A reality television boost could make this name the next Addison.

Kalduram – We all know about KalEl Cage, named after Superman’s birth name.  How’s this for another otherworldly appellation?  Kaldur’ahm is the birth name of Aqualad.  He’s not Aquaman’s son, but he does share a very similar story.  Kaldur’ahm was born in Atlantis, and now fights the good fight here on Earth.  I spotted the slightly simplified Kalduram suggested on a message board.  At first, it seemed outlandish, but then, I rather like the similar-sounding Calderon.  No way of knowing if the parents will actually use the Aqualad-inspired name, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in a birth announcement.

Xula – In another baby name forum, a new mom vented her frustration.  The reason?  Her mother hated her granddaughter’s name – so much so that she refused to use it.  Xula – it sounds like Lula with a z – is already here, and the ink is dry on the birth certificate.  Does it seem like grandma is being unreasonably stubborn?  Yes, yes, it does.  And yet, the idea suggested by several posters: refuse to allow grandma and granddaughter to spend time together until grandma agrees to use Xula, and only Xula – seems unrealistic, too.

Porsche – Women who deliver in unusual places – airplanes, office buildings – usually make headlines.  But when the mom who delivers in a grocery store names her daughter Porsche?  And when Porsche is the youngest of four – sister Mercedes and brothers Alfa and Frank?  No wonder Joy Lowther is enjoying fifteen minutes of fame.  Should Porsche ever have a little brother, Joy is considering Bentley.

Ford – I find Porsche downright daffy, but Ford feels like a nice, solid name for a boy.  (More proof that writing rules for baby naming would be an incredibly challenging project.)  Old Country House blogger Lesli shared her three children’s names, plus her list of favorite names for a fourth.  I love so many of her picks: Bonnie, June, Ruth, August … and yes, Ford.

Seneca – In yet another forum, a poster asked if Seneca seemed masculine or feminine.  My favorite answer: “If it ends with ‘a’ it is feminine.”  Oh good, a clear rule.  Except … Ezra, Luca, and Asa would like to remind you that it doesn’t work – not even a little bit.  Still, the rule-maker was insistent.

Milborough – Let’s look at some useful baby name advice.  A reader asked Swistle if she thought Milborough would make a good baby name for a girl.  Swistle has some excellent tests for parents considering an unusual name – does it sound like a name?  Can it be worn by different types of people?  (Shy, outgoing, serious, silly.)  How would you feel if you saw it on a class list?  Were introduced to a teacher, store clerk, or doctor by the name?  Milborough wasn’t a hit with Swistle’s readers, but the post makes it clear that most of the tests are really about individual perception and preference.

Keion – Speaking of evaluating names, this post at the New York Times Motherlode blog made me think.  Nikisia Drayton and her partner are considering naming their son Keion, after a family friend.  But is it a mistake to a give an African-American child a “black” name?  Should the couple respell it to the more neutral Kian?  Some of our so-called name rules can be damaging, even racist.

Messiah – Let’s end on a high note, with the name that inspired this post.  He has a great sound.  (I’m a sucker for Elijah and Isaiah and even Nehemiah.)  The heavy meaning makes this one a non-starter for me.  Messiah is a lot to live up to, right?  And yet, I was downright delighted that the court overturned magistrate Lu Ann Ballew’s initial ruling that Messiah would have to answer to some other name.

Do you think baby naming rules would be a good thing?  What kind of rules would you put in place?  How many of the names on this list would pass your tests?

About the author


Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio. For a chance to have your questions answered, contact Abby at

View all of Abby's articles


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