I am now firmly in the "unoriginal" camp when it comes to baby names. My children are Abigail (2006's No.4) and Elizabeth, a name that has rarely dropped out of the Top 25 baby names for girls in the past, oh, I don't know, 500 years? Well, not in the last 100 at least, according to the Social Security Administration's baby names online Web site.
Naming a child is a huge decision, and one that your child is stuck with - for better or for worse - his or her entire life.
Name him too common a name and he's just another Mike. Name her too strange a name, and she's not going to fit in with all the Hannahs and Emmas. You can name her after some states and cities (Dakota or Madison) but others are just old in a Gertrudy way: Carolina, Virginia, Georgia.
We knew when we named Beth that she shared a name with lots of other girls, but at least she was no Ashley or Brittany. As it turns out, Elizabeth was No. 9 in popularity the year she was born. We figured there are any number of nicknames for Elizabeth and not all would be Beth.
We wanted a name that was not so trendy that half the high-school cheerleading squad would have the same name. We did not name either of our children my favorite girl name, Emily, precisely because of its popularity. (No. 3 after Ashley and Jessica the year Beth was born.)
For both of our children, we searched for names that would be respectable for a CEO or senator, but not do disservice to a kid. We didn't want any name that was too cute (Tiiffany or Sunny). We definitely would not name our kid any Hollywood Zappa-like name. No Moon Units, Dweezils or Kal-Els for us. (Here's a list of weird celebrity baby names.)
"Brennan" as a surname doesn't let us get too cute, as actor Rob Morrow did in naming his daughter Tu. Tu Morrow. Ugh. My husband once knew a woman named Candy Kane. Not a good name. Nor would it be kind to name a son "Justin" if your last name is Case.
Sometimes ethnic names can work, but go too ethnic, and you put your child in danger of being judged before she's had a chance to prove herself.
My husband and I went through a phase of seriously considering ethnic names, which for us would be Irish. I like the name Siobhan. We also strongly considered Sinead. But, as our children were born in the early 1990s, not long after Sinead O'Connor burst onto the scene with her exquisite voice and shaved head, we decided we really didn't want a baby punk rocker. Besides, we thought, it would be agony for our daughters to have to explain that "Siobhan" is pronounced SHIV-ahn, and "Sinead" is shi-NAID.
In the end, we decided we're not that ethnic. We wanted strong, mainstream, recognizable names. We liked names that could have a nickname, but with an option to use a more formal name if needed. I always resented that my parents named me "Vicki," a nickname, not Victoria, which is a perfectly good grown-up name that I can't use because that would be pretentious in the extreme to give myself a formal name that I don't actually have.
We thought we had the perfect balance when we named our firstborn. The year she was born, Abigail was the 92nd most-popular name for a girl. What we didn't know then was that we were trendsetters. I had inadvertently chosen a name that was increasing in popularity. Ten years earlier, Abigail was No. 152. In 1966, No. 712.
We liked a name that sounded strong, like Abigail Adams, but also informal in a kind, friendly sort of way. You don't automatically think anything negative of a child named Abby. Abigail Rose it was.
Never did we think we would be naming either of our kids one of the most popular girl names in America. And yet here we are, in 2007, the year Abby turns 16, with hordes of Abbys behind her. Maybe people will always think she's younger than she is, the way that anyone named Susan is pretty much assumed to be in her 40s because that was the second or third most-popular name from 1957 to 1964, right up there with Lisa and Mary.
In a way it's kind of nice that Abby's got company with her name now.
The day she was born we called our older Beatles-generation siblings to share the good news. My sister and my husband's brother both had the same incredulous reaction to her name: "You named your baby Abbey Road?"