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It's a Name, Not a Destiny

Many thanks to Kate for passing along this interesting and frequently amusing article about recent trends in baby names--and male baby names in particular.

It is not the first time that I've seen an author take up the subject of gender-neutral trends in naming and reflect upon what the trend may mean about today's parents and the future of masculinity in America.  It is, however, probably the first time that I've read something in this line that--while leaning toward a kind of traditional and general distaste--is not breathless about the threat the trend poses to the Republic.  In other words, it is a sane piece.

A reason for that, it seems to me, is that the author actually took the trouble to talk to the people engaged in all of this creative naming.  She discovers quite a few interesting things.  One of them is that while there is a core of people who really are consciously and conspicuously engaged in the careful practice of baby naming with a feminist and ideological purpose, most people pick baby names for the unoriginal and simple reason that the name--for whatever random and non-ideological reason--appeals to them.  Nuts and political philosophy students who stay up too late and take in too much caffeine (or other substances) may protest that whether these people are conscious of it or not, there is some movement of the culture afoot or an ideological force that is propelling these tastes.  Well, ok.  But so what?  Here's something those worrying sorts can stick in their pipes and smoke:  this pathetic gender-neutral ideological trend has given rise to a counterpart; the deliberate choosing of hyper-masculine but non-traditional names . . . like Colt!  So, if it turns out that the idea of a name being destiny holds water in the cosmic ordering of the universe, at least there will be ideological parity . . . and when it comes to a shooting war, we'll know which side holds the guns.  

The more important and rational observation comes at the end of the article when the author reports on the surprise of some of the hopeful parents who named for the purpose of gender-neutrality.  It appears that their efforts have had no effect at all on the actual character distribution of children.  Whatever we may hope, kids will be largely whatever those kids will be.  It is an observation rooted in the common sense of the subject:  a name is only destiny in Shakespeare and other works of art, after all.  And however good you may be as a parent, it is unlikely that you are a Shakespeare--and besides, even if you were, your child is not your manuscript or canvass. 

More disturbing than the notion that wild-eyed feminists or sociology professors will succeed in their evil plot to emasculate American society with sissy names, is this idea (one that appears to have adherents on both sides of the masculinity divide) that a human soul is putty in the hands of its parents.  After serious reflection on that proposition every actual parent--liberal, conservative, feminist, or neanderthal--will probably agree to raise their glasses in bewildered and exasperated agreement.  It is most decidedly false!   A toast to that point.  The dignity and freedom of the human soul remains.  Nature wins.
Categories > Men and Women

Discussions - 11 Comments

"It is most decidedly false! A toast to that point. The dignity and freedom of the human soul remains. Nature wins."

Not so fast, the methodology is simply flawed! I haven't seen such drivel taken seriously since I watched a Monty Python skit on "woody" vs. "Tinny".

"These include traditional names with feminine qualities such as softer sounds and/or vowel endings: Joshua, Sebastian, Elijah."

Joshua and Elijah are feminine? Jewish maybe.

Joshua was a spy. That makes him James Bondish.

In addition Joshua has two special X-man like powers, He can summon God to pause time and rain down meteors.

I actually think the name means to be victorious.

Then you have Elijah... He also has a direct line to God, all the mana he can eat, and when he tires of this angels come and feed him. He has power to raise the dead. He also has the ability to make it rain fire. Feminist Jezebels should tread more carefully around Elijah least he improvises God's prophesy. Also Elijah biblically is the only character to make it to Heaven without dying.

If you want to be pop-culture Nietzschean about it, Elijah is manliness while Jesus represents the effiminate. Elijah kills all of his enemies, but in interesting and gruesome ways that involve human carcasses substituting for Kibbles and Bits. Plus he tortures the false prophets and mocks them, and gets them to cut themselves in a blood offering to bring fire from heaven, and then when this doesn't work he has them put to death.

Sebastian is just a crab in the Little Mermaid.(a composer of music).
Also a popular Formula 1 race car driver.
Also a rather devious character in Cruel Intentions, and in Carie, a Minor character in the Tempest, and is one of the most depicted saints during the medival period.

Also apparently the name is associated with Homosexuality.

According to Wikipedia,

"In his novella Death in Venice, Thomas Mann hails the "Sebastian-Figure" as the supreme emblem of Apollonian beauty, that is, the artistry of differentiated forms, beauty as measured by discipline, proportion, and luminous distinctions. This allusion to Saint Sebastian's suffering, associated with the writerly professionalism of the novella's protagonist, Gustav Aschenbach, provides a model for the "heroism born of weakness", which characterizes poise amidst agonizing torment and plain acceptance of one's fate as, beyond mere patience and passivity, a stylized achievement and artistic triumph."

Apparently he is the patron saint of athletes and archers.

Saint Sebastian as a myth must have been fairly popular because the inventor of printmaking/engraving depicted him.

In any case the names Joshua, Elijah, and Sebastian are not without myth and violence, and any bard worth his salt could conjure up a tale or two.

For a real study of names that is semi-serious, i.e. quantitative you can read Freakonomics. Also there is a Harvard Economist who has done work on this: Dr. Sendhil Mullainathan.

Apparently "black" names are bad for getting a job, Jewish "names" are good in Law and Indian sounding names are good for enginering.

Also there is some bias against folks with uncommon spellings.

But I think the final word goes to Johnny Cash: Boy named Sue. "seems I had to fight my whole life through, but I grew up quick and and I grew up mean, and my first got hard and my wits got keen."

So Sue is the manliest name.

Julie, why are you being so aggressive and domineering on this gender issue? Is this really an appropriate role for you? I think we men can figure this out on our own - please step down and step aside! ;) (That's my Sarah wink - oh no, I imitated a woman!!)

If my next child is a boy, he shall be named Mack Rambo Sandpaper.

That's funny. In the semi-private conversation I had with Julie about this I suggested that I should have named one of my children "Obdurate Soul". This could have been used for nearly any one of my children, of either sex.

John Lewis, I agree. One generation's manly name is another's feminine one just as pink was once a manly color because of its relative sanguinity.

Craig, you are having another child? Congratulations!

This is fun website for looking up the popularity of names over time.

Mack appears to have peaked in popularity in the 1890s.

I must say, before I read this article I had never heard of a "doula and lactation consultant." Strangely, I don't feel as though I'm better off for having heard of it.

My wife likes to read the baby announcements in the paper. The funniest name she's encountered in the past few years is "Tuff." A boy, in case anyone was wondering.

Oh, please. It is a much better job than "sanitation engineer".

"Tuff" what? Do you remember? It is a good odd name all on its own, but the surname could make all the difference.

Sorry, Kate, I don't. But it's a safe bet that Tuff's parents don't expect him to be "attending the Unitarian Church, not playing with guns, embracing modern and open opinions and attitudes."

I know of one boy (stepson of a relative) who in no sense embodied the name his parents saddled him with: Thor.

Go easy, people. The kid can eventually change it, but he or she is stuck with it for all their formative years.

The name "Andrew" means manly. My son, Andrew, reveled in the fact through his boyhood. As the meanings of names or other words are ignored or debased (thinking of "awesome" here) we have to go for the apparent. Tuff or Thor -- their names may be meaningless to their generation who all have names which mean something to their parents and nothing to the world. I have a granddaughter named Semelina Grace, which is a pretty name that means a great deal to her parents and just about nothing to anyone else.

Are Thor's parents Norwegian? It is just an old name there, as it was for Thor Heyerdahl. Although surely a name with meaning, in the cultural context of that meaning is no greater than Andrew's.

re: Thor. Not Norwegian in ancestry. From Tennessee.

OK, that's funny.

Hey, as Norse names go, Thor is fine. It could have been Svipdag or Ivar.

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