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.