Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Popular Name Debate

Among the 5,436 issues relating to baby names is the decision whether or not to select a popular name. Parents have very mixed feelings about whether they should let the times guide them or stay clear of names that are ever-popular right now. Here are the basics of the popular name debate so that you can decide for yourself.

The folks who support naming your child popular names support it by saying that the name is popular for a reason. If everyone likes Emma, why not name your child that? The name is one that has favor among parents at the time, and there is no reason to buck the trend. These parents also argue that their children will not have problems in school, at summer camp, or waiting for food at a restaurant. No one will be unsure how to pronounce Mason or Ian which may be the case if you name your child a less popular name.

Blessing a child with a popular name also will mean that they will not be teased. A child named Ethel when that name is not in one of its popular phases is asking for other kids to poke fun, argue these parents. Instead, one of 10 Madisons in third grade will be relatively safe. Since childhood can be traumatic enough, why not make it less so by giving your child a name that other children will like? Some parents select traditionally popular names, such as John, David, and Andrew for boys or Sarah, Elizabeth, or Catherine for girls. These parents believe that these names stand the test of time. There are Johns now just as there were centuries ago, and there is no reason to believe that the name will disappear. These solid names, then, are a good choice for any child.

The opponents of the popular name debate, many of whom have popular names themselves, believe that making your child one of those 10 Madisons is a disservice. Your child will be Madison B. or Madison R. or Madison F. She will never know if the teacher is calling on her or one of nine other classmates. These popular names can be detrimental for children who are constantly telling adults that they are not Madison F., who did poorly on her exam, but Madison R., who did well on his. The 1970s and 80s gave birth to plenty of people named Jessica, Amy, and Jennifer, and many of those people as adults hated the burden of those names.

People who do not want to name their children popular names also may have slightly political and cultural reasons for doing so. Some people want to honor their own ethnic heritage, be it Ghanian or Scottish. They do not want to give their children what have become fairly generic Americanized versions of other names. Instead they opt for Hamish instead of James. Other parents want to show others that they believe their children are different. They want people to remember their child's name so that he or she has a chance to stand out after a first impression on name alone.

The anti-popular name crowd believes that names should have meaning. You should search for the meaning of your child's name. If you want your daughter to be strong and empowered, you will look for a name that shows that strength regardless of its popularity. Some boys names may seem too frat party-ish, for example. Connor, Tyler, and Austin sound as if they are from affluent families, but maybe you want your child to have a name that does not promote that culture or a name like Bo that makes people think of athletes. You may want a name like the Vietnamese Duc, which means moral.

The popular name debate is likely to continue as some parents push for conformity to society's expectations, even beginning with baby's name, while others push for eccentricity, even this early in the game. When you are planning your own child's name, you should not allow this one category to be the only factor in your decision, but you definitely want to take it into account so that you did not think that you gave little Hannah a cool name only to find that it was the name of many other girls born around the same time.

By Julia Mercer

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