What’s in a name? Plenty. Take the recent flap over Jay Z and Beyonce’s bouncing baby girl being named Blue Ivy. Some fans were left wondering why the music power couple would choose a color associated with less than happy feelings and others praising the Ivy part as “classic.” People have strong feelings about names and are not shy about sharing them.
Parents have even stronger feelings about names and take the responsibility of choosing one very seriously. And with good reason. Recent studies found that people with “white sounding names” such as Molly and Daniel were 50 percent more likely to be contacted for job interviews, so a lot more is riding on your child’s name than just being unique. His or her professional success may be in the balance.
Luz Maria Castellanos and her boyfriend Carlos Hernandez, two self described proud Mexican-Americans from Los Angeles were conscientious not just about cultural connection but societal biases when deciding what to name their six-week-old baby boy. In the end, the couple settled on Aarón because “it’s a popular name in Mexico and can be pronounced easily by non-Spanish speakers as well their Mexican cousins.”
“We wanted a name that could easily be pronounced in English and in Spanish,” said the 39-year old new mother. “We did not want to burden him with an old school Mexican name, or make up a name that would make him the object of ridicule or one where he’d have to constantly explain or spell it out because that is what I had to deal with as a child,” she explained. And the new mommy added, “we also wanted to increase his opportunities for later success.”
According to Babycenter.com’s annual list of Hispanic names, Luz Maria and Carlos, like many other Latino parents across the country, chose names that can easily toggle back and to and from the ‘old country’ and here.
This year, for instance, Sofia and Isabella topped the list for girls and Sebastian and Santiago topped the list for boys. The trend in names points to ethnic pride, as well as the practical nature of Latinos, who while celebrating their heritage, also understand that to give their children a leg up mainstream society, bestowing their children with whimsical or hard to pronounce Spanish names may make them stand out but also be the potential focus of mockery, stigma or confusion.
A BURDEN OR A JOY
Names, of course, carry lots of baggage. They not only capture a person’s heritage, religion, culture, ethnicity and gender, but also class, level of education, family pedigree, parents’ literary, film, political, cartoon and musical heroes as well as fashion, automobile and liquor tastes. Consider the number of babies named Lexus, Chanel or Alize, a car, a fashion house and a French alcoholic beverage, respectively. Would you give a job to a woman named Tequila Gomez or a man named Hitler Martinez?
For New Jersey residents Leonard Green and his wife Alicia, who have one-year old twins, Olivia and Emma, the decision was very much processed through a ten-point baby-naming checklist.
“We thought long and hard because names are a serious matter,” said the proud father. Among the rules they came up with were “no brand names, no misspelled names, or definitely no celebrity names. But the most important rule said the new father and mother adhered to was “no made up names,” which happens to be a rampant trend in many Black and Latino homes here and it turns out, many Latin American nations.
In Venezuela in 2007 made up names became such the rage, that the president Hugo Chavez championed a bill banning them. An official with the National Electoral Council, Germán Yépez, told the New York Times that the bill originated after children were given names like Superman and Batman. Venezuelans were coming up with, unique, if not hard to pronounce names in any language: Hengelberth, Maolenin, Kerbert Krishnamerk, Githanjaly, Yornaichel and Yurbiladybert. In the Dominican Republic a judge asked officials to ban “strange” names after parents began naming their kids body parts, car brands, cartoon characters and other whimsical if not outright hilarious names: Mazda Alagracia, Toshiba Fidelina, Breast Jimenez, Querido Familia Perez, yes, you read right: Dear Family Perez.
In both bills, officials sought to protect kids from “ridicule or are extravagant or hard to pronounce in the nation’s official language,” Spanish. They also wanted to prevent names that created gender confusion.
However, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic are not alone with the use of whimsical names. Honduran parents are just as creative. The Central American nation sports a Honduran Ronald Regan, Transfiguración and Compañía Holandesa (Dutch Company) among the uniquely-named registered voters.
Trying to be unique for the sake of “special” can get your child into a pickle and one that may spell out his destiny. Ultimately, it is not funny or even thoughtful.
So, before you come up with that one of a kind gem of a name to honor your grandmother and his grandmother or your favorite restaurant, think again. According to the same NY Times report, three people in Panama sought to change their names: Esthewoldo, Kairovan and Max Donald. No word if they sued their parents! But Beyonce and Jay Z probably have nothing to worry about. There are worse things than sharing a name with an event planning business. Blue Ivy sounds almost dull by comparison.
TOP TIPS FOR CHOOSING YOUR CHILD’S NAME
Give a name she/he will want to proudly live up to. Aspire to the qualities that you want in your child or else live with the consequences. Hope, Faith, Joy bring up different feelings than say Ice, Storm, Kermit, Temptress, or Lexus.
If you must fulfill a whimsical wish, give a middle name that the child can use at her/ his discretion as an adult. Luz Maria and Carlos also gave their baby a middle name: “When he grows up and wants to feel sexy, he can call himself Gael,” the new mom laughed, referring to the middle name the couple gave him that also happens to be the name of one of her favorite celebrities, Mexican hottie actor, Gael Garcia Bernal.
Choose a name filed with meaning. A name should have a story. Is it a beloved relative, the city where you fell in love, a family legacy or a favorite film or literary character? Many times the name will have more profound meaning for the child if it has a beautiful story attached.
Other tips as shared by recent parents:
- Stay away from brand names—they go in and out of style.
- Check for misspelled names.
- Rethink the celebrity name. They come and go. Think about how popular the Kardashian’s will be in two years.
- Made up names will definitely be unique, but think hard, is it unique for unique’s sake?
- Stay away from rhyming names that will make it easy for other kids to pick on your child.
- Think of your last name. Does it match? Does it fall off the tongue well.
- Say the name out aloud, a lot. In Spanish. In English. Sometimes a name looks good on paper and sounds plain weird—in any lanugage.
- Spell it out. Is it long or complicated to spell? Think of your child mastering his/her name in pre-K.
Top 10 List of Hispanic baby names from Babycenter.com
Sandra Guzman is an EMMY award winning journalist and the author of the critically acclaimed, The New Latinas Bible: The Modern Latina’s Guide to Love, Family, Spirituality and La Vida. (Seal Press 2011)