Baby Naming Branding: 4Real or Just a Fad?

Recently, New Zealand officials kept parents from naming their child “4real,” saying “numerals are not allowed.” Whatever would happen to Jennifer 8 Lee? Legally, it’s a nice example of an ostensibly neutral rationale masking the more substantive value choices embodied in decisions like these:

In Germany, the government still bans invented names and names that don’t clearly designate a child’s sex. Sweden and Denmark forbid names that officials think might subject a child to ridicule. Swedish authorities have rejected such names as Veranda, Ikea and Metallica.

Apparently aggressive baby branding has become a hot topic for American parents, raising some interesting legal issues. According to the WSJ, parents are having a tougher time than ever choosing names:

As family names and old religious standbys continue to lose favor, parents are spending more time and money on the issue and are increasingly turning to strangers for help. . . The chief reason for the paralysis is too much information. About 80 baby-name books have been published in the last three years, according to Bowker, a publishing database — compared with just 50 such titles between 1990 and 1996. More than 100 specialty Web sites have popped up offering everything from searchable databases and online snap polls to private consultations.

As the proud bearer of a name that’s been in a long decline, I can sympathize with the careful choosers. But some rationales strike me as a bit bizarre:

They chose Beckett for their six-month-old son, a name the Alpers thought sounded reliable and stable. “That C-K sound is very well regarded in corporate circles,” Mr. Alper says, giving Kodak and Coca-Cola as examples. “The hard stop forces you to accentuate the syllable in a way that draws attention to it.”

I’m sure St. Thomas a Becket would be thrilled. He was, after all, “so disturbed in his devotions by the song of a nightingale that he commanded that none should sing in [Otford, Kent] ever again.”

PS: I would be remiss if I didn’t link to this fascinating piece on naming rights in a world of inequality.

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