Despite what you might read in the paper, I simply have not released a baby name hate list.
I just read an astonishing headline in the Daily Mail. Apparently my new, extensively researched list of the top 10 baby names everybody hates has sparked a storm of controversy! This controversy caught me totally unawares, because…huh? WHAT list??
The story is spreading. The Sun says my reasons for hating names are “savage.” I’ll say it again, “Huh??”
I’ve had bad dreams like this, where the whole world gets mad at me for writing an article about names that I can’t remember writing. But this time it’s real—the anger, not the article. You’re reading this on my website Namerology.com, which contains everything I’ve written for the past three years. Feel free to look around. You won’t find anything remotely resembling a “hated names” list.
I’m not certain how this nonsense started, though I believe the news reports were inspired by a random TikTok. My best guess is that it all ultimately tracks down to a column I wrote 11 years ago about names people disagree on. That was filtered through a game of social media telephone, and here we are. However it happened, I seem to have been appointed Official Baby Name Hater and I’m starting to get the angry messages that come with that position. So I might as well say something about baby name hatred.
Once upon a time, America had a name culture of conformity. A relatively small number of standard names dominated, and strong social pressures pushed parents toward choices considered “normal” and “American.” Fitting in was the byword.
Starting in the late 1960s, the tide turned against conformity. Parents felt freer to choose diverse and creative names that reflected their individual interests, values and ethnic backgrounds.
By the 1990s, that freedom was evolving into a new kind of constraint. Modern baby namers became as determined to stand out as their predecessors were to fit in. Parents felt pressure to choose unique names that made an impact.
Today, there is no more “normal.” That means that the typical name carries strong individual signals about parents’ culture and outlook. It also means that the typical name will be actively disliked by more people than ever before.
The Judgy Era
- Popular just means well-liked, so avoiding popular names inevitably lands you in more divisive territory.
- This is a culturally splintered era with a lot of mutual distrust and animosity. A name lovingly chosen to reflect one family’s interests, like a favorite musician or brand of hunting rifle, may be incomprehensible or even off-putting to another family.
- Highly familiar names flow past without scrutiny. (When was the last time you really thought about the name Thomas?) Unfamiliar names make people stop and consider, and form opinions.
- Making fun of celebrity baby names has been a popular pastime for decades. It has primed us to go into automatic snark mode when we hear an unfamiliar name.
- Striking, high-impact names up the ante on both positive and negative reactions. The name that gets the most “oohs” from one audience will get the most “eeks” from another. And now everybody wants a striking, high-impact name.
Put it all together and you have a recipe for a judgy era and a lot of hurt feelings. Here at Namerology, I’ve made a conscious effort to stay “name positive.” Whenever I find myself slipping toward judginess, I remind myself of a basic principle. Perhaps it will work for you as well:
These names represent real children. If you wouldn’t tell a mother you think her baby is ugly, then don’t say how awful her baby’s name is, either. Not to just to her face, but even anonymously to the internet. Because she or her child WILL find it, and it will hurt, and it will be one more step toward a crueler world.