The Name of the Year, 2010

Dec 7th 2010

Before I announce the Baby Name Wizard Name of the Year, let me remind you that the NOTY designation isn't an endorsement. It's not a claim that the name will soon be heard in nurseries across the land. It's a recognition that this name captures our moment in time, both reflecting and shaping the naming culture around us.

With that in mind, the 2010 Name of the Year is....

The Situation.

For those of you who haven't looked at a TV this year, yes, that's a name. Read on.

This year's reader nominations had a clear theme. 2010 was, in one reader's apt summation, "the year of the un-name."

It was a year that saw people pushing the boundaries of what a personal name is. Parents were ravenous for fresh baby name ideas, digging deep into their reference books for untapped words (Legend, Malaysia) and jazzing up spellings the same way marketers do (Juelz, Maxx). The swelling ranks of Bloggers and Twitter users were referred to by handle rather than name. Performers, meanwhile, were upping the artifice (Prince Poppycock) and launching lawsuits when other people encroached on their name space (Lindsay Lohan). All together, it created what another reader described as a "name-as-brand vibe" to 2010.

Nowhere was this more apparent than on MTV's reality show Jersey Shore. The series, a kind of Real World populated entirely by buff young New Jersey Italians on vacation, premiered in December 2009. Soon, it was everwhere. Its heavily nicknamed cast dominated Name of the Year nominations, especially breakouts Snooki (Nicole Polizzi) and The Situation (Michael Sorrentino).

Those nicknames, as BabyNameWizard.com readers attested, were more than incidental to the show's success. "I don't have cable and have never seen the show, yet I still know who they are," one reader wrote. "I admit, I did tune in for a few episodes," wrote another, "and I also have to admit, I partly did because of the names. They made me curious--who were these characters?"

Of all the Jersey Shore nicknames, it's The Situation that epitomizes the year of the un-name. Snooki's nickname was conferred, in time-honored style, as an in-joke among her middle school friends. The Situation is a less natural, more calculated choice. It's a statement which translates roughly to "all eyes on me!"

Think of The Situation as a stage name without an act. What better emblem could there be for an age of empty celebrity, when you become famous because you're on camera, rather than being on camera because you're famous?

But more than a traditional stage name, The Situation is also a brand. By the time the first episodes of Jersey Shore aired a year ago, Mr. Sorrentino was already attempting to trademark "The Situation" for product licensing. He understood that his adopted name was his platform to fame.

You could think of this name-first celebrity as the ultimate step in a long evolution. Entertainers have always been aware of their "name brands" as they sell themselves to their audiences. In past generations, they routinely checked their names at the door when they entered Hollywood. Stage names were selected to project an image: usually glossy, like Cary Grant or Judy Garland, and occasionally goofy a la Groucho Marx. By and large, though, they all stuck to the form and style of names. To do otherwise, like ukulele-playing singer Tiny Tim, was to mark yourself as a novelty act.

Hip-hop did away with those rules. From KRS-One to Curren$y, performers blurred the line between name and act. A rapper name could be made up of anything: nouns, adjectives, articles, numbers, punctuation. It wasn't just style, it was statement. It was a brand identity.

Previously an entertainer might have created personas, like David Bowie's Thin White Duke, but these were separable from the individuals behind them. Not so with 50 Cent or T-Pain. When rap empresario Sean Combs decided to shift his image away from Puff Daddy, he had to re-name himself in a formal public relations blitz.

It took a while, but the hip-hop approach to names has finally spread. World-conquering Lady Gaga is leading the charge, with a crowd behind her. White pop singer Ke$ha, for instance, adopted a rap-style brand name as well as incorporating bits of rap into her music.

In the past, I've compared the way parents today name babies to the way companies name products. We're all trying to launch our children into life's competitive landscape with the best chance to succeed and achieve their dreams. That, I think, remains a heartfelt and loving (if obsessive) impulse. The Situation represents a different kind of name-as-brand. It's a more calculated attempt to make yourself a product, with your name as your marketing campaign. And for better or worse, it's working.

Comments

101
December 14, 2010 11:46 AM

Yay for more babies to name. Pip and Mammafaith, I definitely remember you both!

I think Freya + Syliva reads hip, although Freya is not one I see commonly in these parts, I feel like it would fit nicely with current trends while still being unique.

102
By Amy3
December 15, 2010 9:53 AM

@Pip, welcome back! I love Freya, but then my daughter is Astrid so I'm probably not as impartial as I could be. That said, I like it with your older daughter's name--subtly matching without being overdone and I think the stylistic differences between the names provide a nice balance.

103
By name-snob (not verified)
December 14, 2010 2:37 PM

holy crap.
That is spot on. 2 thumbs up.
That beats my pateneted baby-naming method for 2009:

1. take one of those buckets of magnet letters
2. draw 4 to 6 of them
3. arrange them in any order
4. place a letter “y” in the middle.
5. (optional) depending on your culture, add a hyphen or an apostrophe in the middle somewhere, too.
6. Ta-dah! A name for your little one! Also, “Ta-dah” could be a name in itself, if it had a "y" in the middle: Tay-dah.

104
December 15, 2010 1:01 AM

I am pretty sure that most people think that I used your patented method for my son's name. :)

105
By Jillc (not verified)
December 15, 2010 12:01 PM

I just learned of a new baby Emmett. I was so excited, and thought you all might be the only ones who cared :). The parents were also considering Oliver. It seems like they may not have been getting much positive feedback on the name, as the father said the name, then quickly added, "I don't know how we ended up with Emmett."

106
By Cathie (not verified)
December 16, 2010 2:35 PM

I find it interesting that a NOTY could be unknown to so many posters. Maybe this shows how fractured the media market in the US has become? OTOH, I do know Snooki, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, etc. so there are some names that do transcend watching a particular show or listening to certain music. I'll confess to reading People magazine whenever I go to the doctors office or get my hair cut, but I guess I missed this guy.

So not having ever heard of The Situation before reading this post, I'll chime in and also say I found this NOTY unsatisfying... although the logic seems solid enough. Ah well!

107
December 16, 2010 5:05 PM

Random name news: last week I rear-ended another car. Fortunately no one was hurt and the damage to both cars was minor. The other driver was named Ulysses!

108
By Amy3
December 16, 2010 6:40 PM

@Elizabeth T, glad no one was hurt in the accident. Ulysses ... that's a great name. My husband's great uncle was Ulysses S Grant LN, Jr, but he was always called Bus. (I think his dad, my husband's great grandfather, went by Grant.)

109
By Liesl (not verified)
December 17, 2010 10:40 AM

Speaking of Ulysses ... we're having another baby. Our first three start with vowels - E, A, and I. It was intentional, but at this point, I feel like we should at least consider if we like any other vowel names.

Looking for O and U specifically (and sometimes Y?) We lean toward slightly traditional, old-fashioned, but a little rare names. But honestly, at this point we just need to know what is out there. O and U are a bit tricky. I do adore Olympia (nn Olly) for a girl, but the only U names I can think of are Ulysses and Ursula. Not so keen on either.

Also, we do like a few other E, A and I names, but I've always liked the idea of each kid having their own first letter, especially since my current kiddos each have some letter decor in their rooms.

Thoughts? Much thanks in advance.

110
By Liesl (not verified)
December 17, 2010 10:40 AM

Oops - should have read "WASN'T intentional" ... as in, we just happened to like vowel names. Sorry.

111
By Linda, VP Baby Names (not verified)
December 21, 2010 12:42 AM

Jory makes a cool nickname. Actually has a meaning too - "descending". I say go with it!

112
By NW Girl (not verified)
December 21, 2010 11:07 PM

Names I have actually seen, mostly from dependency and parental termination cases. If you google them, you'll likely come up with a legal case:

Orangejello (Or-ahn'-gell-o)
Lemonjello (leh-mahn'-gell-o)
Tanquery (like the vodka)
Malicious
Abcde (Ab-seh'day)
Nevaeh ("Heaven" spelled backwards)
Demon Suicide Rage (the court ordered the teen mother to change the name or the judge would. The mother then chose "Carl.")
Adolph Hitler Campbell, JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell (http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/warren-county/index.ssf?/base/news-0/122923112231930.xml&coll=3)

I'm NOT kidding. These are REAL names parents gave their kids

113
By NW Girl (not verified)
December 21, 2010 11:33 PM

My favorites are Own and Olivia, but here are some other ideas.

Boy-
Owen (LOVE that name!)
Oliver
Uriah (Yeah, kinda "out there")
Upton (Again, a little out there)
Yale
Yuri
Yardley (I suppose that could be a girl name too)

Girl-
Uma (Think Uma Thurman, actress?)
Uli
Olivia (Livvie? I LOVE this name)
Ophelia
Yara
Yasmine (variation of Jasmine)
Yvette
Wyona(when W is a vowel)

The "sometimes Y" rule often refers to dipthongs where a Y attached to another letter leads to a vowel sound like "boy," or "crypt," where the Y provides soft "i," or like Yvette. The rest of the rule is "a,e,i,o,u, and sometimes Y and W. When is W a vowel? When combined with another letter to create a vowel sound like cow or plow. Google the word "dipthong" for more about that if you're not familiar with it.

Best wishes for a healthy babe. Oh, and Leisl is a very lovely name.

114
By NW Girl (not verified)
December 21, 2010 11:37 PM

Leisl-

My comment at 113 was for you.

115
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By Guest1 (not verified)
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