WASHINGTON,DC: From time to time I rant ineffectually against what I feel is a growing tendency of Americans to give their newborns idiot names. It’s probably getting tiresome, and I was fully prepared to swear off this addiction forever until, like a schoolyard dope peddler, the Social Security Administration dragged me back in by publishing some juicy advanced baby-name metrics. Tie me off, bro.
We now have the following statistic, which may sound boring but turns out to be my Smoking Gun: the percentage of all new baby names in each year that are among the 1,000 most popular names for that year. The Social Security site presents this list without analysis, but I can help: This figure compares the number of names being given out each year that are at least relatively common with the number of stupid ones that are of such unusual construction or spelling they’re almost unheard of. As I suspected, this percentage has been generally dropping year after year, as more and more parents are opting for names like “Kamron” or “Aleigha” or “Juelz” or “Krish,” all of which belong in that growing outlier group.
The site also lists names that have been recently skyrocketing in popularity. To consult this list is to dip your toe into the fetid waters of cheesy celebrity worship. Consider this: One of the skyrocketing names is … “Anakin.” Yes, people are giving their baby boys a name invented specifically to sound non-human, for a character in another galaxy far, far away, one who grows up to become Darth Vader, an evil overlord who wants to enslave the universe. (There have been plenty of Darths, too.)
The second most quickly skyrocketing male name is the gimmicky, vowel-deficient “Axl,” which was given to himself by Axl Rose, the 1980s-era hard rocker and past-life regression enthusiast, who was most recently born “William” in 1962. But of course that doesn’t explain the name’s sudden new popularity — dumb celebrity worship requires, above all else, currency. As it happens, Axl owes its sudden ubiquity to Fergie, of the Black Eyed Peas, who just named her son that and so everyone else did.
Wildly popular Mexican soap operas account for the two most quickly rising female names, “Aranza” and “Montserrat.” Another skyrocketer is “Khaleesi,” a character in “Game of Thrones” whose name means “Queen” in the fictional Dothraki language. Ditto, another Game of Thrones character, “Arya.”
Arya sick of these parents yet?
The tendency to personalize a name through gimmickry is likewise in full swing. The puzzling “Nevaeh” is now the 65th most popular girl’s name. Where did it come from? It is “Heaven” spelled backward and is more popular than, say, “Katherine.” In fact, more people name a child “Nevaeh” than “Heaven” because … well, who knows? Prediction: “Nhoj” and “Yram” will be coming along soon. These parents are snorom.
By the way, Heaven is still a far more popular name than Helen.
What to do about all this? The trend is worldwide, and some countries are actually cracking down, insisting that stupid names be subject to government approval. France said no to “Nutella,” China prohibited “@,” Mexico thumbs-downed “Facebook” and New Zealand, the most proactive and enthusiastic name-banner, outlawed “Anal,” “4Real” and “Sex Fruit.”
Banning names doesn’t seem very American to me. I’m not in favor of that. My solution is frequent public shaming in the media. Tie me off, bro.
(c) 2016, THE WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP