Baby Hashtag, and the Frenzy Over Internet Names

Nov 29th 2012

This week's viral name sensation has been a baby girl allegedly named "Hashtag." I have to admit, I didn't pay the story much attention at first. It seemed a highly implausible trifle, based on a single stray Facebook photo. Consider the coverage in the UK's Guardian newspaper, which opens with words you don't expect to see leading a news feature: "It may be a joke or a hoax but..."

The public reaction to this dubious story, though, has been interesting indeed. Maybe-baby Hashtag triggered a media wave that has become so predictable that it deserves a name of its own: Internet Name Frenzy.

Accounts of the Hashtag story in news outlets around the world site the same two precedents, both from 2011 in the Middle East. An Israeli baby was named Like, inspired by the the Facebook Like button, and an Egyptian baby was named Facebook, inspired by the powerful role of social media in the Arab Spring movement. Both name stories inspired their own rounds of Frenzy. But the reporters who keep recycling those same two examples from other stories (rather than, ahem, reporting) are missing a bigger picture.

Back in January, 2005 I wrote about the Frenzy surrounding another fake Internet name, a baby supposedly named Yahoo. Later that year, a real baby was given the middle name Google, to similar response. There's been a slow but steady drumbeat of these dotcom names in the news, each provoking a storm of outrage, even for a mere middle name.

I find this response a bit curious. I'm not suggesting that I consider Facebook an attractive baby name, or that parents should turn to virtual places for fresh updates to names like Dakota and Paris. I just think the Frenzy over Internet-inspired names is out of proportion, given how many word names and brand names are given to babies every day. What is it about Yahoo, Like and their ilk that strikes a nerve?

It's not about the commercialism. What's one baby Google compared to thousands -- yes, thousands -- of American girls named Lexus and Nautica?

It's not about sticking to tradition, or to romantic associations. Name sources like video game villains and deadly weapons are rising fast.

It's not about outlandishness in general. A look at some of the surprising names given to dozens of American babies should make baby Like look positively modest.

It seems that the Internet association itself is a key factor in the Frenzied response to these names. That may just reflect the nature of viral stories: the internet loves to talk about itself. Yet I can't help thinking that there's more to it. That despite the integral role that the online world plays in our daily lives, we still rely powerfully on the division between the virtual and the real. A physical place where you met or dated your partner makes a romantic baby name inspiration. (Even a commercial place; there are quite a few baby Disneys.) But a virtual place where you chatted and flirted for months before meeting in person is too insubstantial, and somehow trivializes the act of naming.

What do you think?

Comments

1
November 29, 2012 3:05 PM

What really annoys me about this story is that I don't see any reason to think that the baby's real name will be Hashtag. 

I could easily imagine a family where Hashtag was their cute, jokey nickname for the baby in utero, the way some parents-to-be use Peanut or Bean.  Maybe the mother posted the picture with that nickname - just a few hours after giving birth! - before making a final decision on the real, permanent name.

In the screencaps I've seen, a friend also calls the baby "Tweetybird", which I think lends credence to this interpretation.

2
November 29, 2012 3:28 PM

I think one reason people pooh-pooh internet names is that internet fame is so fleeting. The Lexus and Nautica brands have existed for the entire lifespan of many of today's parents, whereas hashtags have only been around for a couple years.

I think the example of Yahoo is a good one here; seven years ago, Yahoo was cool, but now it's really not. Who the heck Yahoos anything anymore? So it seems painfully short-sighted to name a kid for a brand that is likely to be derided as obsolete before the kid's even in kindergarten.

I mean, imagine if you had named your kid MySpace!

3
November 29, 2012 4:57 PM

I agree with Violetta. I recall the baby being referred to by at least one other nickname. Hashtag is likely a joke nickname or something.  My husband & I met on eHarmony and briefly considered naming our daughter Elaina Harmony but quickly realized how kitschy and weird that would be for her later in life.  We settled on Penelope but often call her Peepers, Pippa and Pepper.  Life is hard enough with out having to go thru it with some bizarre commercialized brand name of a moniker. I'm HOPING Hashtag is JUST a nickname.

4
November 29, 2012 5:57 PM

Girela, that's a great point about the lifespan of internet vocabulary. Maybe that should be a factor in other kinds of names, too -- for instance, naming your baby after a star of your favorite baseball team, only to watch him sign on with a rival team the next season.

5
November 30, 2012 12:16 AM

These internet name stories are just like the "Celebrities name their Kids KRAYZEE name!!!!1!!" stories where they mention the same 12 celebrities, always ending with Frank Zappa's (adult) children... And never mentioning the the HUGE number of celebrites who have used "normal" names like Ava or Jack. 

 

Slightly off-topic, but my SIL's maiden name is Hashtag, plus another consonant.  When you type the name on an iphone, autocorrect turns it into a #.  Her brothers haved joked that it might be easiest to just change their surname to #.

6
November 30, 2012 11:48 AM

I agree that Hashtag struck me as more of a silly nickname used before the baby was born.  I find it interesting that the parents have not come forward to confirm if her name really is Hashtag.  If I'm right and that's not her name, I imagine they are getting quite a good laugh out of all the Frenzy.  

Like & Yahoo & Google are a bit much I think.  But I can see the appeal of Facebook for the Egyptian parents.  Considering the influence it had on the political movement, it seems like just a step away from other politically inspired names like Lenin or Marx.  Or the tradition of naming babies after admired presidents that used to be much more common here in the U.S.

BTW, I nominate Frenzy as the next "out there" baby name.  Any takers?

 

7
December 3, 2012 12:02 PM

Gah, I hate to be this person, but I'd want to know.  Please delete this comment! 

I think you intended to say "cite the same two precedents" in paragraph three.

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March 30, 2014 3:48 AM

The reporters who keep recycling those same two examples from other stories (rather than, ahem, reporting) are missing a bigger picture.

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March 30, 2014 5:26 PM

I just think the Frenzy over Internet-inspired names is out of proportion, given how many word names and brand names are given to babies every day. 

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March 30, 2014 6:05 PM

Dakota and Paris. I just think the Frenzy over Internet-inspired names is out of proportion, given how many word names and brand names are given to babies every day. 

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I'm not suggesting that I consider Facebook an attractive baby name, or that parents should turn to virtual places for fresh updates to names like Dakota and Paris. 

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