Why not the Apple of our eyes?

Oct 18th 2004

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow named her daughter Apple. Perhaps you heard? Perhaps, in fact, you heard about this from half a dozen sources? Perhaps you even gathered with friends to giggle over the name?

Young Apple was born in May and captured headlines around the world. The internet teemed with messageboard discussions, athrill with horror over her name. Here at baby name central, I fielded a flood of messages about it. Yet the odd truth is: Apple isn't that odd a name.

In the months leading up to Apple's arrival, other celebrities welcomed children with names like Banjo, Lucky, and Pilot Inspektor, to no fanfare whatsoever. Meanwhile, names like Genesis, Serenity and Miracle rank among America's top 500 girl's names. So why do we pick on Apple?

My guess is, because it's easy. Apple is disarmingly unpretentious, the "Jane" of weird names. A baby called Persimmon or Tamarind would be a tougher target..."maybe," you'd think, "I just don't get it." You'd start to feel a little uneasy, and decide to disregard the name as "a Hollywood thing." But Apple, we all get. Its weirdness is completely accessible and unguarded, a clear and easy target. And perhaps for that reason, I feel the urge to protect it. For what it's worth, I think the name Apple is rather sweet. And I like Jane, too.

Conjuring up names on TV

Oct 4th 2004

It's no secret that a popular tv series can launch the popularity of a name. The all-time champion, by my reckoning, is "Bewitched." During its eight-year run, that beloved suburban-sorceress sitcom launched three names with lasting star power: Samantha, Darren and Tabitha. Samantha in particuar has become such a modern classic that it's hard to remember the name was virtually unknown before Elizabeth Montgomery brought it to twinkling life.

One contemporary heir to the naming throne shares a lot in common with "Bewitched." Try a charming suburban blonde, struggling each week to smoothe over trouble caused by pesky supernatural forces.

When "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" premiered in 1997, the character names Willow and Xander were completely off the radar as baby names. But by the show's final year in 2003, Willow was the 530th most popular name for American girls. And Xander checked in at #237 for boys, ahead of such familiar favorites as Gregory, Martin and Scott.

Both shows took place in parallel universes, where life was full of the unexpected and unusual names wouldn't cause any raised eyebrows. (Who cares that your mother-in-law is named Endora, you've got bigger problems, she turned you into a goat.) The more real-world the show's setting, the less likely it will spawn hot new names. "Dynasty" was a huge name influence: Blake, Krystle, Alexis, Fallon. But "E.R."? Forget it.

Oranjello and Lemonjello

Sep 26th 2004

So you've heard about the twin boys named Oranjello and Lemonjello, right? No? Then probably your aunt the nurse knew a woman who heard a beautiful name in the hospital where she was giving birth, and decided to name her daughter...Chlamydia. Or was it Gonorrhea?

These legends have been around for generations. The details change--the veneral disease girls would have been named Eczema 100 years ago--but the core is the same. The key is a stupendously ignorant mother who doesn't understand what she's done. And often, there's an ugly racial undertone to the humor.

Yes, people do get stupid and crazy names, but most of the parents knew what they were doing, for better or worse. Most of them. Here, for reference, are some of the most common tall tales of cursed children and the parents who named them:

Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Placenta, etc.: Sounds reasonable, right? Nope.

Oranjello and Lemonjello, the twins: Forget about it. Though Mark Lemongello did pitch for the Astros and Blue Jays in the '70s.

Male and Female--that's "MAH-lay" and "feh-MAHL-ay": The story is that the parents saw the word written on the baby's hospital bracelet and thought the doctor had already chosen a name.

Nosmo King: This one's from a sign in the hospital, get it?

Shithead--that's "shuh-THEED," thank you very much: No way. But don't neglect factual football star Craphonso.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the urban legend names is that they're not true. It's a big country, and you'll find plenty of real people named Robin Banks and Sunny Day.

Next up: Fact names, stranger than fiction