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Keli Goff

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Does a Bad Baby Name Make Someone a Bad Parent?

Posted: 12/07/10 08:49 AM ET

If telling someone their baby is not cute is one of the world's most unforgivable (and punch-worthy) crimes, then telling someone they gave their kid a bad name may be a close second.

And yet there are times when, whether we want to admit it or not, both harsh realities are true. While one certainly can't be helped (goodness knows my genes are to blame for the visual horror that was my junior high years) one can. And yet year after year there are those who seem to be tempting the world to question their fitness as parents right out of the gate by naming their child something most of us would be too embarrassed to name a pet -- for fear of what the other dogs at the dog park might think.

I've been thinking about this a lot since BabyCenter released its annual list of the most popular baby names for the year. In addition to what's being called "The Sarah Palin Effect" in which the names of Palin's daughters Bristol, Willow and Piper, have seen a significant increase in popularity, there has also been an increase in names with a financial connotation: Bentley, Fortune and Cashton for instance. As in "I have a Fortune and I spent it on a Bentley."

If a picture is worth a thousand words, one could say that the name someone gives their kids is worth a million -- telling you a lot about that person's values and priorities. For instance, it was noted that in addition to Bentley reflecting the financial aspirations of a lot of younger Americans, it is also the name of a child featured on MTV's Teen Mom. (Because who wouldn't want to pick up parenting tips from a show called Teen Mom?)

When it comes to the Olympics of wacky kid names celebrities have more medals than most. There's actor Jason Lee who famously named his son Pilot Inspektor and actress Shannyn Sossamon who named her son Audio Science. (Click here for a list of some of the wackiest celebrity baby names.)

Picking on parents for giving their kids questionable names may sound like a laughing matter but the name someone has to go through life with is really serious business. Consider a 2003 study by MIT that found that job applicants with so-called black sounding names, like Tamika, were statistically less likely than applicants with so-called white sounding names, like Emily, to receive job interviews despite identical, and in some cases superior, resumes.

Despite the fact that plenty of the so-called "black" names used in the MIT study actually have significant historical and cultural relevance (among them Aisha, a name that appears prominently in the Quran), the study does raise the question of whether or not a parent has the responsibility to put the future opportunities of his/her child ahead of his/her own political or cultural identity.

There have been a number of high profile custody cases in which the name of a child has become an issue. In 2008 court officers in New Zealand briefly took guardianship of a nine-year-old girl who sought legal recourse after being teased incessantly for her birth name. The name in question: Talula does the Hula from Hawaii. In his ruling the judge in the case chided her parents, as well as others like them who intentionally saddle their children with wacky names. Among some of the other names he cited: "Fish and Chips" and "Violence."

A New Jersey couple also found themselves fighting to maintain their custody rights after family members and neighbors raised red flags about their fitness and judgment as guardians, which included among other things, naming one child Adolf Hitler. The case made the news after a local grocery store refused to decorate the child's birthday cake with his given name.

Obviously I don't think that anyone should have to ask the government's permission before naming a child. But just as it would be nice if every person that procreates were to actually become a loving, attentive parent it would be nice if every parent named their child in a manner that leaves every possible door of opportunity open for that child, not closes any outright. And a name like Adolf Hitler may be a tough sell on a presidential campaign sign thirty years from now.

Then again, who ever would have thought we'd have a president named Barack Obama? (Although it's worth noting that his name comes from his father, not from his parents' creative imagination or attempts to make a statement.)

But I still think a President named "Fortune" or God help us Snookie or Kardashian, is a long shot.

This post originally appeared on TheLoop21.com for which Goff is a Contributing Editor.

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