I really enjoyed Albert Southwick’s column on the naming of children today, because (unlike most “fuddy-duddies”) he didn’t show disrespect to people who might choose names that are different or unique.
I wish that he’d looked at the incredibly fascinating Social Security Administration baby names page, though, because you can track the popularity of certain names, which is especially important for those of us who don’t want our kid having the same name as everyone else.
Our older son was named after my husband’s great-uncle. The name is a traditional English name, and was extremely popular 70-100 years ago (consistently ranked between 15-25 in popular boys’ names). Right now, it’s not used much at all (somewhere in the 300s in popularity) despite a pretty popular children’s book and television character of that name. Whenever people hear his first name, they invariably say something like, “I had an uncle with that name” or “What an old-fashioned name!” But he’s an old-fashioned kind of kid, so the name suits him.
Our younger son has a name that is identifiably Irish (as much as “Liam”, which Southwick mentioned). There is an English spelling of the name that was popular when I was young (in the 30s-40s of popular boys’ names), though right now it’s not in the top 100s. (That said, you can look at popular baby names by state; since Massachusetts has a significant Irish-American community, this name is ranked a bit higher here than in other parts of the country.) But the Irish spelling of the name has not been in the list of 1000 most popular names since they began keeping records.
(I would like to note, however, that neither “Liam” nor my son’s first name are what I would consider to be a “traditional” Irish name, that is, a name that has a Celtic language origin and isn’t borrowed from another language; so, I take exception at Southwick’s calling Liam an “old Irish name.” Here is a good list — albeit with some pronunciations I’m not too crazy about — of “traditional” Irish names. My son’s middle name is listed here, though, as is my husband’s first name in Irish.)
Naming a child is a tough balancing act, or, at least, it was for us. We needed names that had a religious significance, and we wanted the kids to have names that weren’t terribly popular, but not completely out there, either. So, made-up names were out, and totally wacky Biblical names were out. (Well, if I had my druthers, my kids would have some really wacky Biblical or Roman names, but one of the reasons I married my husband was so that he would give me that look every time I said, “What do you think of Germanicus? Or Mahershalalhashbaz?”) If I were doing naming in my traditional ethnic way, my first son would be named after my father-in-law, my second son after my father, and both boys would have their father’s name as their middle name. Since my husband was named after his father, and I have a variant of my father’s name, we decided to give those names a rest for (at least) a generation. We did like the idea of naming children after relatives, so our older son’s names are both for deceased uncles, and our younger son’s middle name is for another deceased uncle.
That said, I have to confess that our decisions didn’t require a professional baby-namer; that article also notes that Germany still has the law banning invented names that Southwick mentions.