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The Name Game: Popular Baby Names

Amanda Dundas
Jan. 3, 2011

It's nothing new to hear about celebrities naming their babies all sorts of crazy names. (How do you think Pilot Inspektor, son of actor Jason Lee and now age 7, or 10-year-old Jermagesty Jackson, daughter of Jermaine, are managing their monikers?) But weird names aren't just for the A-listers anymore. In the ever-growing trend to come up with something unique, even ordinary people are dipping deep into their imagination and coming up with unusual names like Jagger and Poppy.

"Celebrities opened the door to these out-there names, and now people who are looking for something that's definitely one-of-a-kind are following their lead," says Lorilee Craker, author of A is for Atticus: Baby Names from Great Books, who knows of one baby named Laundry and another called Trust Jesus. "We live in a customized world, where we want everything unique to us, and baby names are no different."

Part of this trend may be a backlash against the Jennifer or Jason popularity from when today's parents were growing up, or even the trendiness of names like Dylan or Madison. Walk into any preschool and you might as well be in a retirement home, with all the Roses, Maxes, and Sams running around.

"People want to make sure that whatever name they choose, their child will be the only one," explains Craker. One stay-at-home mom from New York complains that her five-year-old daughter thinks her name is actually "Lily H," because that's what she's been called ever since she started preschool years ago. You won't have that problem if your name is Crystal Shanda Lear, a new baby from Wichita, Kansas.

Some names seem to come not from creativity but lack of it. Take the twin boys names Steven and Not-Steven, or parents who simply name their child with the number of their birth order, like Three, or the day that they were born, such as Tuesday. Then there are the kids whose parents must be suffering from delusions of grandeur when they picked names like God or Master of the Universe (you can't help but expect those kids to wind up in a shrink's office some day with major inferiority complexes).

"The trick is finding that golden spot between wackadoo and Jennifer," says Craker. One family achieved that balance with Aquinnah, after the town in Martha's Vineyard where they got married. "I usually advise first time parents to hang out on a playground to hear all the trendy names," adds Craker. That would have been welcomed advice for my husband and me six years ago. We named our daughter Ella because we thought Emma too trendy, only to find out that Ella had become almost as popular. Another option is to go to the Social Security website (http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babyna...) to see how your preferred name ranks over the past 10 years. (Ella went from 249th in 2000 to 14th in 2009.)

Crazy names really aren't all that new. One retired school teacher recalls having a Marsha Mellow and Holly Hamburger in her classroom over the years. A stay-at-home mom from California went to college with a Forrest Green. Still, if you want to be unique in today's world of Rileys, Montanas, or Mackenzies without being too crazy, you may just want to go with Jennifer.

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