Celebrity Baby Names Revealed!
I interrupt today's scheduled statistical analysis with a breaking news bulletin.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's celebrity baby season. The (movie) stars have aligned so that an unusual number of famous people are giving birth all around us. And that means an unusual number of articles trumpeting the weirdness of celebrity baby names. Even when the names aren't so weird. Reading all the "wacky Gwyneth's done it again" columns, you'd think she named her son Banana rather than the biblical classic Moses.
The weird-name hysteria reached its zenith with a long piece by Alex Williams in this Sunday's New York Times. The thesis:
"It seems almost unimaginable for any 21st-century movie star to send his children out among the Hollywood elite equipped with ordinary names"
Any American who lived through 2005, when overhyped Hollywood babies named Sean and Violet were born, knows that statement is simply ridiculous. But the writer sticks to it doggedly, "proving" the point with such Hollywood luminaries as Shannyn Sossamon and Penn Jillette. (Surely Penn Jillette is no closer to the mainstream of Hollywood than he is to the mainstream of anything else.) In fact, every article like this trots out the same minor celebrities to prove that all Hollywood is wacko. If you read only baby name articles, you'd be convinced that Shannyn Sossamon is the queen of Hollywood and that Britney Spears conveniently doesn't exist.
Why should you care whether Shannyn Sossamon is elevated to royalty? Let's take a look at what the Times piece does next. Having briskly concluded that all celebrities choose wacko names, the writer goes on to offer an explanation for the phenomenon: it demonstrates a vast, universal character flaw. You see, celebrities all like crazy names because they all have gigantic egos, and are even willing to sacrifice their children's well-being to prove that they're above normal people. Ah. In other words, the wacky-name fixation is taken as a great excuse to bash people.
In the name of civility, I'm going to pose a question that I've never seen asked in any article on weird celebrity baby names: What do celebrities name their children?
For an impartial answer, I've adopted the Forbes Celebrity 100 as my fame-o-meter. To make my roster of A-list moms and dads you have to be a peformer, under 50, American, and listed by name among the top 40 in the Celebrity 100 during the past four years.
The 18 parents who make the cut are household names. Their 38 kids, by and large, are not. (Quick, can you name Jim Carrey's child? Did you even know he had one?)
The real celebrity baby name list:
Isabella, Connor, Suri
Colin, Elizabeth, Chester, Truman
Bria, Miles, Shayne, Zola
Alexandra, Gregory, Matthew, Joseph
Willard III ("Trey"), Jaden, Willow
About 75% of American babies receive names in the top 1000, same as the celebrities on the list. Some of the other 25% in each group are unusual, but fairly normal. (For instance Will Ferrell's wife is Swedish, and Magnus is a classic mainstream name in Sweden.) And some in each group are truly eye-popping, like Sossamon's son Audio Science and the several American boys named ESPN.
Hollywood may indeed have a higher wacky rate, as you'd expect from a community of creative artists...I'd need a much bigger sample to say for sure. Even so, Jacks and Isabellas clearly outnumber Audios by a huge margin. As for the wacky few, do they really point to egos run amok? Could be. But it's not so obvious to me that naming your child Audio shows more ego than naming him -- traditionally, conservatively -- after yourself.