My pregnant friend had settled on a name—Olive. And then she saw a baby announcement two weeks ago: “Meet Olive Louise,” it read. The announcement came from Facebook, and from a “friend” she has only seen once in 14 years, but she’s decided against the name for fear it will be too common, and is back to searching the Social Security lists for the year’s top baby names, and scouring the name blogs.
The web has opened our eyes to world-wide naming trends, and my generation of Jennifers, Laurens and Ashleys, who were disappointed to be one of five in our classrooms, feel a new sort of power: Our children will not suffer the same fate. I watch my friends register their children’s twitter handles and create their Gmail accounts before they’re born, and part of the naming process is considering whether the name’s domain is still available on GoDaddy.
Nameberry’s own Linda Rosenkrantz once said: “In the past, people didn’t really know just how popular names were except possibly in their own limited geographical area—now there is almost no way of not knowing, which has engendered a frenzy of avoiding names in the Top 10, or Top 20—all the way to the Top 1000.”
No matter what your naming style, this trend—finding a unique moniker—is finally cutting across all social barriers and educational backgrounds. Those who laugh at Blue Ivy, or mock North West, still scoff at the parents who give their children a name we think is too common. It makes me wonder if this trend is harmful.
Why, in an age of digital bullying, Google search, NSA privacy concerns, and over-sharing on social media, do we feel it’s wise to give our children a name that no one else has? I don’t think we’re considering the consequences.
As much as we like to imagine our little guy as valedictorian, or as his high school soccer star, we ought to be honest with ourselves: Benedyct (with that “Y” that makes him more special) might one day find himself with a DUI, and perhaps even [gasp] a mug shot. A study published last January in the Journal of Crime and Delinquency shows that 38% of white men, and nearly half of black men are arrested before the age of 23. If a mug shot still feels unlikely: sexting, bullying, and times we’d like to forget, but accidently uploaded onto YouTube, are pretty much life today. If there is one thing we have learned by 2015, it’s that Google search results are not always kind. The web is a digital Scarlet Letter for many. By giving our children these wonderful, undiscovered, one-of-kind names, I believe we are threatening their privacy.
In this digital age, we are not just our child’s parents; we are also their publicists. Our children’s photos will end up online. One day soon, Persephone–Ambrose will want a social media account. You won’t always see what she posts. Changing schools is easy compared to erasing what we put online, and her unique name won’t make the process any easier.
A common name is less searchable. With a name like William, web results are easier to manage. I personally shudder to think of what regrets I’d have if I’d used Instagram or Facebook at age 12, during a time when my thoughts and ideas were forming, and my mind developing. I think about what I’d never be able to take back.
We are raising a generation facing this reality, and because it’s so very real, I say to my pregnant friend: It’s time to consider Elizabeth or Emma. If it were a boy, John and Jacob are lovely. Finding your future child’s name at the top of the Social Security list isn’t such a bad thing, and there is no need to change the spelling. If your little Jackson does want to become a reality star who owns the web, he can change his own name to Jaxzon, but please, don’t do it for him.