Is there any easier way to judge our fellow parents than by their children's names? A name is the first thing we learn about a person. It's how they're presented to the world. It's the defining declaration a parent makes when labeling his or her child. Often, parents plan for months -- sometimes even years -- for the perfect name, and we either approve of it, disapprove of it, or, if we're judgmental jerks (hand raised), make fun of it.
For anyone with even a passing interest in baby names, there's no better fodder than the countless name lists, round-ups, and slideshows. Each one serves as an indictment in its own way.
The lists of the most popular names? They allow us to sneer at the herd mentality of the masses. They let us know who will be in our children's classrooms, who we'll see on the playground, and whose pictures will clog our Facebook feeds. Don't know a Sophia? You will soon! (Of course, I know a Sophia, and you do, too. Everyone is named Sophia.)
Even more fun are the lists of the most unusual names of the year. Those allow us to turn our noses up at the weirdos who think their children will have a shot at normal life with a very abnormal name. Cheese? I mean, really? Even this hard-core dairy aficionado can't believe that eight sets of parents legitimately named their children "Cheese."
Before I had kids, I thought it would be best to err on the side of the unusual. After all, as a Jennifer, I have my generation's "it" name. My small high school class boasted seven (!) other Jennifers, and it's not even like my last name helps to distinguish me -- there are two other Jennifer Simons at my pharmacy alone.
I never thought I'd repeat this particular mistake of my parents', yet here I am, a Jennifer with a child whose name is in the (dreaded) Top Ten. Yes, I'm one of the masses who gave her child a common name. And, after getting used to it, I don't think it's a bad thing. Here's why:
When it came time to choose a name for my son, I didn't want something too far off the beaten path, like parents who deliberately searched for names not in the top 1,000 -- but I also didn't want something too trendy, something that would broadcast the decade in which my kid was born. Needless to say, it couldn't rhyme with "Aiden" and it couldn't start with a K.
Primarily, though, my husband and I had one basic requirement when it came to a name: it needed to have an obvious spelling and pronunciation. This was in part due to the fact that I grew up watching my mother's frustrations over her name. Not only was her name, Ileene, on the unusual side, but the fact that it was spelled strangely meant that she ended up spelling it out for people on a near-daily basis. Even now, in the age of emails and Facebook -- when her name is literally written for them -- people still can't stop themselves from misspelling it.
So, for our first son, we settled on "Noah," which means my husband (whose name is Matthew, also a fairly popular name) and I unwittingly gave our son one of the ten most popular names nationwide for baby boys born in 2009. And now, of course, it's THE most popular name. Sigh.
I didn't realize the extent of the name's popularity until my son went to camp last summer. In his class of 14, there were two boys named Noah, one boy named Noam and one girl named Noa. Granted, Noam and Noa are probably only found in the Jewish day school crowd, but still -- four of the 14 kids had similar names? That's ridiculous! Initially, I was sure that I had failed my son.
But I soon realized that none of the kids seemed to care. My son was Noah T. (he has his father's last name). The girl Noa was, appropriately, Girl Noa. Each kid grew into his or her own nickname. My Noah decided he would be Noah T. Rex and began hulking around, declaring he had sharp teeth and would only eat meat (OK, that was a different problem we had to tackle).
His class made me rethink some of my own prejudices about popular names. After all, what's the point of giving your kid a strange name? Even if you think you're choosing something totally unheard of, someone else out there will have the same thought as you. Even "Cheese," as unusual as it is, isn't wholly original -- eight families each thought they were naming their children something one-of-a-kind, and what did they get? A weird name that seven other kids also have.
Does an unusual name signify a child's special-ness? Whether our kids are named Edward, Sophia, Tuesday, or Atlas, they are all unique. Or Younique. Or Uneek. Well, you know what I mean. And no matter what his or her name is, each child still retains a distinct individuality.
Your kids are going to be the same people whether they're named Jason, Jayden, or Juice. (Hey, if Apple can be a name, why not Juice?) But which one will get them teased? Which one will they spend their whole life repeating and re-spelling?
There's no reason to raise eyebrows and complicate phone calls with a name just to prove your child is different. Your kids will be different just because they are who they are. Except for those eight kids named Cheese. Those kids will totally be the most normal, boring kids ever.