Jewish World Review July 31, 2001 / 11 Menachem-Av, 5761
"How about Velveeta?" I ask Jason Black. "What if they wanted to name your child Velveeta?"
"Sure," he says, "why not?"
Black and his wife are selling the naming rights to their new baby boy - due this weekend - to the highest-bidding corporation. The minimum bid is $500,000. For that amount, the family will agree to "an unveiling ceremony" and all the publicity. They will name the child after whatever product the company desires. Fast food, detergent, deodorant - anything's fine, except guns or cigarettes.
"We have standards," Black says.
What a relief.
Black, 32, and his wife, Frances Schroeder, also 32, are not poor. He works as an editor in New York City and makes enough that his wife can stay home and take care of their two other daughters, neither of whom carries the name of an oil filter.
He insists that his child will thank him one day. He says he is only looking out for the future of little Snickers or little Pine Sol.
"This was never about need," Black says calmly. "This was about opportunity." Isn't it always?
This was just a matter of time, wasn't it? We already sell the naming rights to stadiums, airports, charity events. Two college kids recently offered themselves as human billboards for any paying corporation. The whole country is one big Prudential/IBM/Weedwacker Invitational.
And we already shipwreck ourselves for money ("Survivor"), get married to strangers for money (Darva Conger) and air our dirty laundry for fame (Jerry Springer).
So why should it shock anyone when someone combines it all, selling off the time-honored tradition of naming a child? ("Yes, it would have been sweet if we could have named him for his father or grandfather. But too bad. We took the check. That's how we got our little Roto-Rooter.")
At the altar of commercialism, the first sacrificial lamb - uh, child.
"Aren't you concerned about your boy going to school," I ask Black, "if his name is Scooter Pie?"
"Not if we're good parents," he says, "which I think we are. We will take the time to explain to him that we were trying to be proactive and give him a future."
(I can hear it now: "Son, we were only looking out for your best interests. Besides, there are lots of kids named Clorox.")
What's astounding is Black's calmness. He is not a foolish man. He is educated, reasonable and rational. He honestly thinks there is nothing wrong with giving away something as sacred as a child's name for a paycheck.
"It's not a paycheck," he insists.
"What do you call $500,000?" I ask.
"A trust fund," he says.
Remember that movie "The Truman Show"? It was about a child who was televised from birth. He was born to sell products - only he didn't know it. At the end of the movie, when he realizes what a pawn he has been, he breaks free.
The movie was meant to shock. In Black's case, it seems to have inspired. He says any company offering half a million bucks might want more than just a name, and that's OK, too: "We would agree to further obligations, provided it doesn't interfere with our son having a normal life."
As normal as you can get when your name is Wheat Chex.
You want to holler, right? You want to scream? You want to shake this guy and yell, "Don't you realize how shameful this is?" And then you realize the sad truth: You would be wasting your time.
Black says the naming sale "will set our son apart from the rest of his classmates. It will make it obvious that he is a special child."
07/25/01: Hey, there's no television on my ice floe!