Top Five Biggest Baby Name Stories of 2008
Names are always the story here at the Baby Name Wizard blog. If you listen closely enough, names are always whispering to us about what's going on in our culture and our world. But from time to time, they speak loudly enough that the whole public sits up and listens. Here's a coutdown of the five biggest name stories of the year, and some thoughts on what they really tell us.
5. Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii
The case of a New Zealand girl named Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii made headlines around the globe because of the sheer bizarreness of the name. Look closer at the details, though, and you see a case study of children's rights and the significance that society attaches to names. "Talula" wasn't a baby; she was a nine-year-old petitioning the court system for redress of the naming misfortune her parents had subjected her to. The Family Court Judge took the extraordinary action of placing the child in government custody solely for purposes of changing her first name. The court determined that a name that sparked bullying or created significant social hurdles constituted child abuse.
4. Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, Trig
I've said about all I can say about the Palin family names, but there's no question they deserve a spot on this list. They represent a great national coming-out party for a new naming culture that will be shaping what we call one another for generations to come.
3. Happy Birthday, Adolf Hitler
A white-supremacist family in New Jersey was turned away from a supermarket bakery when they requested a customized birthday cake for their son named Adolf Hitler. The parents expressed shock and dismay, yet they couldn't have been surprised: the same store had been denying their requests for cakes with similar messages for years. Public outrage flew in all directions, but gradually settled on the abusive nature of giving an innocent baby a name that will provoke conflict and ostracism (see "Talula Does the Hula"). Another angle to ponder: using a child's name as a billboard to generate publicity for a cause. How long until a parent successfully generates global media coverage by naming a baby "Vote No on Proposition 12"?
2. Bronx Mowgli, Zuma Nesta Rock
Devotees of "wacky" baby names had a bountiful harvest this year, with top media-feeding-frenzy honors going to young Bronx and Zuma. I've written before that the supposed wackiness of Hollywood names is actually overblown. (Quick, name Jennifer Lopez's kids! Oops, they're not weird enough to remember.) But the massive attention paid to these names is starting to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Think of it this way: you're a performer, and have spent your life pursuing the spotlight. You know that you now have an opportunity to give your child instant global fame simply by giving her an unconventional name -- even if you're a B-lister yourself. Why not give your kid an advantage you would have killed for at the start of your career?
1. Barack Hussein Obama
In the wake of Obama's landslide victory, reporters clamored to report on the wave of new babies sure to be named in his honor. It's a risky sort of reportage, assuming a phenomenon exists and then searching for examples to confirm it. Plenty of reporters called me for comment on the huge surge of little Baracks...then asked me if I could find one for them. The Rocky Mountain News managed to find a single child given the middle name Barack and ran a full feature, only to discover that the father in question made the whole thing up. ("I'm so sorry," the mother said. "My husband's an idiot.")
Yet a president-elect named Barack Obama really is a huge naming story, even if he never inspires a single namesake. A president with a non-European name is as unprecedented as a president with non-white skin. The name breaks the mold in a way that speaks profoundly to the many Americans with foreign or unusual names.
Happy New Year, Baby Name Nation!