March 12, 2008

Marion? She's A Man, Baby!

NYT columnist John Tierney's middle name is Marion, which caused him no end of grief as a child:

I had vivid memories of playground serenades to my middle name: “Marion . . . Madam Librarian!” (My tormentors didn’t care that the “Music Man” librarian spelled her name with an “a.”)
But, Tierney finds, modern research has overturned the outmoded notion that giving a kid an unusual or cross-gender name turns them into unemployable "psychoneurotics". Dr. Cleveland Evans, former head of the American Names Society, says it can have a major benefit: instilling a greater sense of self-control. [You mean like when a child is presented with an opportunity to mock his classmates' unusually detailed knowledge of Broadway musicals?]

Tierney's hook for his Marioniad is the publication of a new book, Bad Baby Names, authors Michael Sherrod and Matthew Rayback's compilation of crazy names from old US Census records. But here's the kicker. All these bad, old baby names came from dads:

“Today it’s all about individuality,” Mr. Sherrod said. “In the past, there was more of a sense of humor, probably because fathers had more say in the names.” He said the waning influence of fathers might explain why there are no longer so many names like Nice Deal, Butcher Baker, Lotta Beers and Good Bye, although some dads still try.

“I can’t tell you,” Mr. Sherrod said, “how often I’ve heard guys who wanted their kid to be able to say truthfully, ‘Danger is my middle name.’ But their wives absolutely refused.”

See what happens when you give women the vote? Not a hundred years goes by, and these power-drunk broads are strangling our awesome baby name ideas in the crib!

Or maybe that's just how it looks from Provo, Utah. Sherrod is a VP at Ancestry.com, which published the book, and which put the census records online. Now I'm just as Mormon as the next guy who searched genealogy records to find a crazy name, only to have his wife veto it. But given the choice between naming my kid Mozingo [come on, it's family!] and living in a world where women are assumed to have an equal say in raising a child, I'll take the latter.

Bad Baby Names - A Boy Named Sue, and a Theory of Names [nyt via dt reader darren]
Buy Bad Baby Names on Amazon, or, you know, don't, since it's a PR stunt for the company and will probably end up as a single webpage anyway [amazon]
Bad Baby Names [badbabynames.net]

3 Comments

My father's first name was Marion. He didn't seem to mind.

Not to defend some of these names, but almost any name can kertwang on you. One of the hot-hot names making the rounds of the neighborhood lately is Julian, which I could never use because it is indelibly associated in our family with Grandpa Julie--we still get doubletakes when we mention him. "You mean your grandmother, right?" No, we don't.

My son's preschool has a Henry, who became a Hank, who is now referred to almost universally as Hankie. Not to mention the warnings we got not to name a boy Cooper given that with the last one we knew, even his own parents were calling him "Pooper" within a few weeks of his birth.

There's a difference between unintentionally useful names for playground taunts and christening your daughter Merry Christmas Day (a friend of my parents) but kids hate them all. It's just with the former, you might be forgiven by the time they're old enough to vote.

[the Ancestry.com book guy admitted the census also includes married names, so Ima Pigg got her name by choice. Tierney mentions a correlation between unusual names and parents' below-average socioeconomic status, which could be a data bias, since the awesome nicknames of the WASP Establishment don't make it into the official record. Oatsie, Topper, Bootsie, and Chappy, I'm looking at you. -ed.]

Marion was also John Wayne's real first name. It didn't seem to impede him.

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