Jewish World Review
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) It ain't easy being a boy named Sue, as Johnny Cash once sang. But is it any easier being a boy named Del Monte? Or a girl named L'Oreal?
In what may be the strangest baby-naming trend in recent years, parents are turning to the grocery aisle, car dealerships and department stores for inspiration.
Cleveland Evans, a psychology professor at Bellevue University in Nebraska, analyzed the names of 4 million babies born in this country in the year 2000 and discovered a nascent and unusual trend: Parents naming their babies after products.
Talk about your material girls and boys.
Although there were hundreds of thousands of Ashleys and Emilys and Joshuas and Jacobs born that year, Evans was intrigued by the more unusual names. There were 55 Chevys, 12 Camrys, 7 Courvoisiers (named for the cognac), 17 Dodges, five Darvons and six Ronricos.
That's just the boys.
The girls' names included 298 Armanis, 164 Nauticas, 36 Cateras (a Cadillac) and six Cartiers. And there were an astounding 442 girls named Essence a name inspired, he believes, by the magazine.
"Everybody is looking for something different," says Evans. "So they are going out and finding names."
We're all products of our time. But some of us bear the trademark more than others.
Atari Bigby, for instance. The 22-year-old junior at the University of Central Florida says that in elementary school, he withstood lots of teasing about his name.
Even though his grandmother, who came up with the name, insists he wasn't named for the computer gaming-system of the 1970s and `80s the Xbox of its day he felt the sting of the unusual name.
"In elementary school, I didn't like the name," recalls Bigby, "but as I grew older and realized that no one else had it, I liked it." Besides, says Bigby, who is now one of UCF's star football players, "when you have an unusual name, it looks better on the back of your jersey. And my first name and last name are unusual."
DeLorean Winzens can relate. A 21-year-old English major at Stetson University, Winzens was named after John DeLorean, whose name was in the headlines in 1982, the year she was born. Her mother kept reading the name "and liked the way it sounded," says Winzens.
In school, teachers repeatedly tried to shorten her name, calling her "Dee" or "Dee Dee." Winzens resisted, even though she had mixed feelings about her unusual name.
"It kind of bugged me, because I didn't know anybody with the same name," says Winzens. She eventually came to embrace her distinctive name, though. And when she has children, she's thinking an unusual name might be just the ticket. "I wouldn't give my children a common name," Winzens says. "I'd want them to have something very creative and unique."
Of course, DeLorean wasn't the first child to be named after a goody that Mommy or Daddy saw in a store or in the news. "There have been girls named Chanel since I started collecting names 25 years ago," says Evans. "Chanel was just a last name in France before it was the perfume."
Likewise, Tiffany was a store before it was a name for girls and one of the earliest examples of product placement.
In the 1980s, some Americans turned to television for inspiration. For example, the name Ashley was a boy's name until 1983, shortly after the character Ashley Abbott appeared on The Young and the Restless. The name spread like kudzu across the country, immediately jumping to the top of the charts and holding forth there until 1997.
Similarly, in the 1990s, Americans began naming their babies after places witness the explosion of Austins, Dakotas, Savannahs and Arizonas.
But in a twist that surprised even Evans, he discovered five girls born in 2000 who were named Disney. That's right the perfect vacation destination.
Although American parents clearly have a history of seeking out unusual monikers, the concept of naming a child after a consumer product is, with a few exceptions, a new phenomenon.
But there appear to be some general guidelines that parents use. Above all: When naming children after products, select high-end, luxury goods. You don't run into many children named Hyundai. Or Kmart.
"They choose names partly because of the luxury attached," Evans says, "But they will also select names that sound like other first names that are popular."
Camry sounds like a feminine version of Cameron, while Lexus sounds like a variation of Alexis. Chevelle, he notes, sounds a lot like Danielle or Michelle. And Catera "sounds enough like Catherine that it could be a girl's name," says Evans. "Plus it's a fancy car."
Celica may not be a fancy car, but perhaps the parents of the five Celicas born in 2000 don't have champagne tastes surely what led the parents of 15 daughters to name their children after the bubbly.
Still, social scientists are pondering this question: Why do parents bend over backward to give their children names such as Infiniti, Guinness and Rayon?
Blame it on the incredible diversity of choices Americans face every day, says names researcher Herbert Barry III from the University of Pittsburgh.
"There used to be three major TV networks; now there are five or six networks and a lot more cable channels," says Barry. "There used to be a single-screen movie theater; now there are a dozen screens. We're not only more ethnically diverse, we have more diverse hobbies, we play more diverse sports."
It just makes sense that Americans won't settle for the same plain-Jane names anymore. Indeed, when Barry studied the most popular names for girls and boys from 1900 to 1999, he discovered that girls' names started becoming more diverse in the 1950s during the Nancy, Karen, Deborah, Susan era while boys' names were pretty predictable until the 1980s, when names like Justin, Jason, Brandon and Nicholas reflected parents' desire for unconventional boys' names.
Although there are still plenty of Hannahs and Emilys, Matthews and Christophers, the top 10 baby names are given to a far smaller number of children.
"The intrinsic purpose of a name is to distinguish people from others," says Barry. "But in previous years, people wanted to avoid a name that was too unusual. They wanted a name that would be popular, wouldn't be ridiculed."
Today, however, parents don't want their little Ashley to be the 22nd Ashley in kindergarten. So they're scouring the Internet to find the most popular names and working hard to avoid them.
What they're coming up with is definitely uncommon.
Take the 29 babies named Skyy, for instance. Although Sky has been popular since the 1960s, the spelling of Skyy gave away its origin - Skyy vodka.
"One of the names that surprised me was the number of Evians, the bottled water," says Evans. "There were 10 boys named Evian and 15 girls. That was one I hadn't quite thought of before."
Nautica was no surprise to Evans, who'd seen that one gaining ground. But the name has become almost exclusively female. Armani, by contrast, still seems to be a unisex name perhaps the Dana of its time. In 2000, he found 273 boys named Armani and 298 girls.
But Evans recently discovered that he'd overlooked one category of brand names guns. Scanning the 2000 list again, he discovered 14 Rugers.
Still, that may be better than one child name Evans ran across in 1998: Buckshot.
And though he found five children named Darvon in 2000, Evans thinks it's unlikely that naming children after drugs will become popular. So don't expect to see a spate of Viagras, Celebrexes or Nexiums.
And before you shed a tear for poor little Timberland (as in the shoe) or the 6-year-old twins Camry and Lexus (whom Cleveland Evans met recently), consider the tale of DeLorean Winzens.
Even though the luxury car with the stainless steel body and gull-wing doors was long gone by the time Winzens was a teenager, all of her friends knew what a DeLorean was thanks to the car's prominence in the movie "Back to the Future."
The car itself was very cool. And over time, Winzens has come to think her distinctive name is pretty cool too.
"As a child, I thought it was a weird, unique name," she says. "Now I think it's a beautiful, creative, unique name. Very few people I meet don't have something to say about it.
"And people never forget my name."
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