Writings on novel given names
January 7, 2013 5:49 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for writings on modern given names, name lists and/or theories on why so many parents feel compelled to give children unusually spelled variants or completely invented names instead of names from the common stock, so to speak.

I've done a bit of searching, but among other things the fact such names are variously called given names, forenames and Christian names makes it a bit complicated.
posted by zadcat to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Chapter 6 of Freakonomics might be relevant. The title is "Would a Roshanda by any other name smell as sweet?: In which we weigh the importance of a parent's first official act -- naming the baby". You can look at the chapter subheadings with Amazon's "look inside".
posted by kayram at 6:00 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mencken was there quite a while ago. Also Mormon baby names. Movie star baby names. Really, you can google forever on this subject.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:05 PM on January 7, 2013

You may enjoy a browse around The Baby Name Wizard blog.
posted by phunniemee at 6:12 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Although its theoretical apparatus is dubious and it uses Jewish Israeli names as examples, "Names and Narcissism: A Clinical Perspective on How Parents Choose Names for Their Newborn" has an interesting take on the question.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:15 PM on January 7, 2013

The American Name Society and The International Council of Onomastic Sciences are probably good places to start finding resources.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:19 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the third chapter of his book-length response to Bill Cosby's 2004 NAACP speech, Michael Eric Dyson suggests some reasons why people (especially, but importantly not uniquely, poor black urban young people) might feel compelled to embrace this freedom.

Dyson includes footnotes to other pertinent sources (try inserting "Condoleezza" into Amazon's 'Search Inside this Book' feature), and illuminates the political stakes in some recent critiques of uncommon naming.
posted by feral_goldfish at 6:51 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Only mildly related to your request... it reminded me of a really funny and (somewhat lewd) article I read a few months back about the crazy baby names people give their children these days. This should get a few smiles if nothing else.
posted by makeshiftjoy at 6:54 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I should possibly reveal that I'm interested in this because of how this list of unusual given names in Quebec in 2012 mirrors trends elsewhere in North America.
posted by zadcat at 7:04 PM on January 7, 2013

here's an interesting take on baby names and racism/classism.
posted by nadawi at 7:57 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might want to check your assumptions about "names from the common stock" in the past. If you do any geneaology research on North American names you will find a REALLY wide variety of names (with a small set of names like William being REALLY overused). What is even more interesting is that many people with "common names" were known exclusively by the nicknames given by parents far more than today, essentially fulfilling the role of "completely invented" given names today. But that is mudh harder to quatify. It is somewhat similar to the dit names given to family names (renaming oneself in that manner is looked at as weird in most parts of North America). Also, in Catholic familes girls would be called Mary/Marie but were rarely actually called that (too many in one family!) In Quebec the names would sometimes be chosen by the priest (after a Saint, of course) and profanely named babies were not baptised (there was an actual list of 1,251 names for boys and 373 names for girls, which is reflected even today in the names you hear in Quebec). You might want to look at the history of the law/religous law regarding names. In addition, I know a lot of people that are known professionally by WASPy "common names" but whose legal birth name was altered when they immigrated, sometimes against their will. I think the truism is the first generation family assimilates, the second generation bridges the gap and the third generation embraces their heritage (often by naming their children "ethnic" names). The intersection of social class and names, both in the past and contemporary, is something else to consider.

You may find a study of the past thousand years of names in England and Wales interesting.
posted by saucysault at 8:31 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want a lengthy, mediumcore academic text about it, there's this, which has been on my to-read shelf for a while: A Matter of Taste: How Names, Fashions, and Culture Change.
posted by knile at 3:05 AM on January 8, 2013

I LOVE this (very accessible) legal article: Naming Baby: The Constitutional Dimensions of Parental Naming Rights

It has a long section on the history of naming in the USA as well as an overview of other jurisdictions. It may surprise you.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:07 AM on January 8, 2013

I've been reminded to come back to this question and decide if any response should be ticked off as having been a helpful answer, but all the answers were great. Thanks to all who responded.
posted by zadcat at 5:04 PM on February 7, 2013

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