A number of years ago, I made a dire prediction that parents would someday sell the naming rights to their babies to the highest bidder. Sure enough, within a year came the announcement that the music website IUMA.com was offering five grand to anyone who named their newborn Iuma. Several families took the bait. Despite this promotional gambit, the website faded into even greater obscurity, eventually disappearing entirely from the internet in 2006, but presumably some of those little Iumas are now in grade school, constantly forced to spell their odd name and explain its derivation. (It's probably too much to hope that one of these couples were David Letterman fans and named a subsequent sibling "Ioprah".)
Then, last month, without any corporate bribery, Karen and David Hartle of Bloomfield, Missouri, voluntarily named their newborn son "ESPN". The proud new mommy told a reporter from the Sikeston Standard-Democrat, "We actually saw a special on ESPN, and they had it as a baby's name, talking about several people who were naming their babies that. Usually they were putting a vowel in (between the p and n), but we decided not to." Their original plan was to name the boy Reed Espn, "but when he was born, he looked more like an Espn."
I'll leave you to puzzle over what qualities would make a newborn look Espn-esque.
Now, I realize that most common given names have become merely an agglomeration of vowels and consonants which society has agreed sound suitably first-name-ish, without much thought given to their underlying significance. As Bruce Willis stated so memorably in "Pulp Fiction", "I'm American, honey. Our names don't mean shit." Baby books will tell you that Eric means "complete ruler", but having such a powerful name hasn't led anyone to mount a campaign to draft me for high office.
Obviously, a certain amount of variety in naming is wise when the planet has 6.6 billion people who need to be differentiated. My parents' Cold-War generation could definitely have been a bit more adventurous, given the overabundance of Marks and Scotts and Julies populating my high school. But did we learn no lessons from the Sixties, when flower power (and strong hallucinogens) led to an embarrassing outbreak of embarrassed children christened with such hippie-dippie names as Rainbow, Sunshine and, in at least one known case, Chastity? True, Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa came to embrace their unusual monikers, but David Bowie's son Zowie Bowie rebel-rebelled, preferring in his teens to be called Joey Bowie and now reportedly going by the name Duncan.
Unfortunately, the current trend is not limited to kooky celebs and has seemingly evolved into a nationwide can-you-top-this experiment in alternative spelling. We should have seen it coming, given the thousand different permutations of Antoine which can be found in the rosters of the NFL alone, but the proliferation of non-intuitive spellings now threatens to reach toxic levels. For the year 2006, the website babycenter.com tallied 45 variations on the girl's name Mackenzie, including Machkenzie, Mackenziee, and Makynzi, while the already unusual boy's name Caden was twisted into at least 32 alphabetical contortions.
Curiously, today's parents aren't showing much originality from a phonetic standpoint. According to the most recent stats from babynames.com, the top four boys' names are currently Aiden, Caden, Braden and Jaden, with Hayden coming in at number 11. All of these sound-alikes are then, in pursuit of individuality, stretched nearly beyond recognition via the inclusion of unexpected and unnecessary letters. Pity the poor teacher of the future coping with a roomful of Aedans, Caydunns, Braiiedns and Jaydәns.
Perhaps the most egregious example I've encountered were the triplets from Gays Mills, Wisconsin -- Allexzandrya Brookelyn Chamberlain, Annaleese Bryetta Chamberlain and Allivheiya Brehnna Chamberlain -- who last month joined their older sisters, Madde and Kloee, in what will soon be known around Gays Mills as the Pain-in-the-Ass-to-Spell Chamberlain family. By comparison, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin look positively sane for naming their child Apple.
Seriously, shouldn't child services be allowed to step into a situation like this? Can't the Chamberlains at least be severely fined to compensate for the countless man-hours which will be wasted in the coming century as their children laboriously spell their names to EVERY GODDAMN PERSON THEY MEET FOR THEIR ENTIRE LIVES? Not to mention all the fruitless gift-shop searches for a souvenir license plate reading "Alliveheiya".
Please, parents, you may think you're celebrating your child's wonderful specialness by giving them an extra-super-duperous name unlike anyone else on earth, but you're just creating headaches for the world at large and saddling an annoying lifelong burden on your oh-so-unique child.
If you really need to express your creativity that badly (and I do mean badly), inflict these experimental handles on your pets. No dog is going to get the crap beaten out of him on the playground because the other dogs think he has a stupid name.
I can't promise the same for poor li'l Espn.
Lord help him if he sucks at sports.