And the 2014 Name of the Year Is...

Dec 11th 2014


We close out a year packed with deadly serious news and stunningly silly diversions. For the Name of the Year announcement, please walk back through the year with me. Back before the Ebola epidemic, before the latest Kardashian escapades, to March 2, 2014. That was the birth date of the Name of the Year:

Adele Dazeem.

It was the evening of the 86th Academy Awards presentation. Actor John Travolta took the stage to introduce Best Song contender "Let It Go," from the movie Frozen. (That film also launched another Name of the Year contender in Elsa, the magical ice princess. She's proof that half a century after Samantha Stevens twitched her nose on Bewitched, a pretty blonde with supernatural powers remains America's surest recipe for a hit baby name.)

The song was to be performed by Broadway superstar Idina Menzel. Travolta had a little trouble with Menzel's name, which came out something like, yes, Adele Dazeem:

How does a simple twist of the tongue earn Name of the Year honors? The key is what happened afterwards. Adele Dazeem became the official fake name of the fake name era.

As soon as Travolta uttered his magic words, Twitter accounts under the name Adele Dazeem exploded. Even the "real names" network Facebook teemed with scores of Dazeem impersonators like these:

Adele Dazeem Facebook accounts

Hundreds more Facebook users took advantage of the site's nickname/AKA feature to enter Adele Dazeem as an alias, making it the world's alter ego. Slate.com, the online magazine that piles up awards for its coverage of world events, created an Adele Dazeem Name Generator to let you "Travoltify your own name." It quickly became the most popular article in Slate's history.

In the months since, Adele Dazeem has been enshrined as a verb meaning "to say a name wrong in a high-profile setting." During the Emmys, the Huffington Post tweeted "Gwen Stefani just Adele Dazeem'd 'The Colbert Report.'" USA Today recently ran a headline "The names most in danger of getting Adele Dazeemed this Oscar season." Then there are the memes, like:


This feeding frenzy is the modern life cycle of a gaffe. A generation ago, we might have waited for a late-night comedian's monologue to see what he made of Travolta's Dazeem moment. But social media has turned us into an entire nation of joke writers, 140 characters at a time. Millions of us are constantly on the alert for juicy material. As soon as anything odd or amusing happens, there's a mad race to write something witty about it and elicit applause from our public.

If Tweets and status updates are the new one-liners, then the more elaborate viral bits, like Slate's Travoltifier, are the new comedy routines. It's a quick, in-and-out brand of humor that requires a simple and recognizeable hook. Names, which pack a world of meaning into two little words, make ideal hooks. In this new world where we all give as well as receive soundbites, a noteworthy name packs more power than ever before.

Just ask Ed Balls. He's the British MP who, a few years back, tried to search for his own name on Twitter but accidentally tweeted his name instead. That two-word post has been retweeted more than 30,000 times, inspired countless viral imitators, and is memorialized every April 28 as "Ed Balls Day." Do you think the internet would have gone similarly mad if another pol like, say, fellow Labour MP Ed Miliband had made the goof? His name just doesn't pack the same punch.

That was a contained viral name outbreak. Nobody else pretended to be Ed Balls, because the whole point of the joke was that it was his own name. Adele Dazeem multiplies this weird-name magic with the power of the fake name.

Fake identities are a staple of the new online humor world. Every volcanic cloud that looms over Europe, every snake that escapes the zoo is now skewered with online impersonation. Even real people who can speak and tweet for themselves have fake doppelgängers, from Fake Chuck Norris to Fake Warren Buffett.

Of course, fake identities are also a staple of the broader online world. Issues of authenticity and identity protection go far beyond the realm of Adele Dazeem. Yet within her realm -- the realm of viral insta-comedy, name bloopers, fake accounts and unbelievable aliases -- she is queen. That realm grows every day.

Wishing you a great naming year ahead,

Larue Wizbanter

 

(also known as Laura Wattenberg)

20 Dashing Literary Baby Names for Boys

Dec 10th 2014

Stirring Up Baby Names

Originally appeared on The Stir.

You can browse through baby name books for ideas as to what to name that little boy you're expecting. But don't forget to also page through the books you loved to read as a kid or the ones which mean a lot to you as an adult. Our guess is you'll find plenty with, ahem, character.

Below, we've put together 20 of our favorite literary-inspired names for boys. Read through and get inspired.

Albus: Of course, we were inspired by Dumbledore in the Harry Potter books. Who wouldn't want their son to grow up that smart, kind, and courageous?

Almanzo: Remember the patient farmer boy who marries Laura Ingalls Wilder? We love the rough-hewn sound of this old-fashioned name.

Arthur: ... As in King Arthur, in TH White's The Once and Future King. Majestic and strong.

Bartholomew: We like the even keel of this name. Bartholomews are rarely flappable, if you remember Dr. Seuss's The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.

Benvolio: Romeo gets the girl in Romeo and Juliet, but his cousin, Benvolio, has the far cooler name.

Cash: Just like the character in William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, this name's got heart to spare.

Cassio: Handsome and well-mannered, like the gentleman soldier in Shakespeare's Othello.

Charlie: Cute, wide-eyed, and unmistakably sweet, just like little Charlie in Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Caulfield: Plenty of parents have named their offspring "Holden," after the beloved narrator of Catcher in the Rye. May we suggest his equally cool, in a Wes Anderson kind of way, last name?

Dallas: Remember SE Hinton's The Outsiders? "Pony Boy" might be hard for any baby to pull off, no matter how cute, but Dallas has a quiet fortitude, too.

Fritz: In honor of the eldest of the four sons in Johann David Wyss' Swiss Family Robinson, Fritz is one boys' name we wouldn't get sick of hearing if shipwrecked on a desert island.

Gatsby: Feel a little too swaggy? Try Gatz instead, which was Jay Gatsby's real name in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

Huck: Mark Twain didn't just write one of the best books of all time, but gave us one of the most unforgettable names, too. Boyish in the best sense of the word.

Jude: You don't have to read Thomas Hardy's overwhelmingly bleak Jude the Obscure to love this name. (It did well for The Beatles!)

Kimball: We like the adventurous nature of this name, which is shared with the main character in Rudyard Kipling's coming of age novel, Kim.

Laertes: Just like Ophelia's older brother in Hamlet, this name has heart and loyalty to spare.

Lennox: Another well-built Shakespearean name, this one from Macbeth.

Rhett: Dashing and gentlemanly, just like Scarlett's hero in Gone With the Wind.

Percy: Percy Jackson has fast become one of the biggest YA heroes, thanks to Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief. It's only a matter of time before this name catches on, too.

Ulysses: A formidable name, for sure, but we love its backbone. Try the sweet Ulee for short.

Which great literary name did we forget?

 

19 Lovely Literary Baby Names for Girls

Dec 9th 2014

Stirring Up Baby Names

Originally appeared on The Stir.

If you're searching for a baby name, don't forget to page through your favorite books. There are plenty of great girl (and boy) names to be gleaned from literature -- and a name carries even more meaning when it's from a book you love. 

To get you inspired, check out our list of favorite literary names for baby girls.

Alice: Just like Lewis Carroll's heroine who fell down the rabbit hole and strolled into the looking glass, we find this name sweetly adventurous.

Beatrice: We love the idea of paying homage to the long-suffering older sister in Beverly Cleary's beloved books. Try Bee for short.

Brett: In Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, Lady Brett Ashley is the confident, charming woman all the men fall for.

Cordelia: "Cor" means heart -- just one reason this name so well-suited King Lear's loyal-to-the-end daughter. It's elegant and strong.

Daisy: The object of Jay Gatsby's obsession in The Great Gatsby, this name has effervescence to spare.

Eloise: Irresistibly impish, much like the little girl who lives on the "tippy-top" floor of the Plaza Hotel, causing all kinds of chaos, in Kay Thompson's beloved picture books from the 1950s.

Emma: A name that's "handsome, clever, and rich," just like the heroine of Jane Austen's 1815 novel.

Holly: A sparkly jewel of a name, in tribute to Holly Golightly in Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Jane: Like Charlotte Bronte's beloved heroine, Jane Eyre, this name has a lovely, understated moxie.

Josephine: Intelligent, independent, and surprisingly feisty, much like Jo March in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.

Juliet: A solidly romantic choice. It's impossible not to make the connection with this name and Shakespeare's star-crossed lover.

Phoebe: Although Phoebe carries a certain brightness, its namesake is the grounding younger sister of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye.

Pippi: Fun and puckish, a la the red-pigtailed, super-strong heroine of Astrid Lindgren's children's books.

Portia: Gracious and intelligent, just like Shakespeare's heroine in The Merchant of Venice.

Rosalind: Another Shakespearean choice, this time from As You Like It. Also a great mix of spark, beauty, and wit.

Scarlett: The epitome of Southern charm, Scarlett is both pretty and powerful -- like its Gone With the Wind namesake.

Scout: We adore the nickname of the young, idealistic narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird. An even bolder choice: the character's real name, Jean Louise.

Tacy: We're mystified as to why this cheerful name has never taken off, considering the Betsy-Tacy series, written by Maud Hart Lovelace, has an enormous fan base. Another great name from the book: Tib, Betsy and Tacy's other BFF.

Tess: True, Thomas Hardy's heroine had something of a, um, difficult life (understatement!), but we appreciate the easy beauty of the name itself.

Which favorite book character would you name your daughter?