Posted by Jay Livingston
What to name the baby has become more and more of a problem. A few generations ago, you could give a boy a name that had always been in the family. When is the last time your heard a parent call, “Junior, come here”? Parents in a high-status family could give a son a family name as a first name. Calvin Trillin used to say that his upper-class Yale classmates in the 1950s were named things like Thatcher Baxter Hatcher, III (and had nicknames like Mutt and Biff).
In more recent generations, parents have been choosing names the way they might choose a work of art for the living room. It has to be different – you don’t want the same thing that everyone else has – but not so different that it’s weird. And if you are a college-educated person of some taste, an enlightened person, you don’t want a name that’s the equivalent of those cottage-and-stream cliches or Elvis on black velvet.
My favorite baby-name book was Beyond Jennifer & Jason : The New Enlightened Guide to Naming Your Baby. As the title says, you want to get beyond the currently popular names – the book was first published in the 1980s – and note also that word Enlightened. The title of the most recent edition is Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana: What to Name Your Baby Now.
As the lede in a Huffington post (here) put it, “We’re always looking for baby names that are wonderful but also unusual.” It then offered a list of “100 great names given to fewer than 100 babies in the U.S. last year.” The names on the 100 under 100 are not so unusual as to be weird. Many are revivals (Winifred and Mamie, Roscoe and Chester), some are foreign transplants (Pilar and Romy, Laszlo and Aurelio), some are borrowed from other things – flora and fauna mostly.
Then are the last names that have become first names
- Mason (4th)
- Hunter (36th)
- Taylor (59th for girls)
- Tyler (63rd)
- Parker (74th)
- Cooper (84th)
Parker et. al are not so popular across the pond. Only two of these trade-names made the UK top 100 last year – Mason (27th) and Tyler (37th) – and I suspect that neither of these will turn up very often on the rolls of Eton. In Britain, if you want to suggest good family, you don’t give your kid a name like Baxter or Cooper. George, Harry, William, and James will do nicely, thank you, especially if they are prefaced by something like Prince.