By now we’re all aware of the recent media firestorm about the genderless baby. (To recap: Canadian couple decides to raise its toddler, Storm, without telling anyone the baby’s gender.) Lurking in the background of this slow-news-day shocker are the names of the couple’s children: Jazz, Storm, and Kio.
Jazz and Storm were once the kind of handles used by anime superheroes who command the elements or channel the awesome swinging basslines of Ray Brown. While uncommon by today’s standards, these names are no longer completely unheard of. Still, they raise the question as to whether a kid showing up on the first day of Grade 2 with a bad haircut and unusual pants needs to compound the already-excruciating experience called childhood with the simple act of owning up to his name.
The weird-name movement has seen some recent doozies. Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon proved their quasi-celebritiness by not just naming one of their twins “Moroccan” but saying their inspiration came from their condo décor (it wasn’t even a home birth). A comparatively sane and entirely earnest Egyptian man named his son “Facebook” in honour of the social media site’s admittedly significant organizational role in the Lotus Revolution. And just this week, an Israeli couple named their child “Like,” also after Facebook, equating the gesture to an acknowledgement of social media’s religious iconography.
Perhaps most amazing here is the fact that the inevitable kneejerk brand association didn’t garner one cent from either Zuckerberg or the Kingdom of Morocco. Talk about free advertising.
A child called Storm won’t have an ordinary life. But will it be extraordinary like Destiny Hope (a.k.a. Miley) Cyrus, or extraordinary like the protagonist from the Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue,” who spends his life trying to track down and kill his father for giving him the character-building name? Make no mistake – weird can be wonderful. Weird should be bottom-up, though, not top-down. Let the quirky kid with the high-speed connection file for a legal name change to Facebook on her 21st birthday if she’s truly, truly enamoured with what the site did for freedom of information.
Call it Boutique Childhood, the idea that each child’s experience must be absolutely unique. What kind of modern parents would name their baby Michael or Muhammad? Clearly, parents who don’t love their children, whose greatest wish for their progeny is a life that’s – horror of horrors – ordinary.
We like to believe that the motivation behind Boutique Childhood is pure (and perhaps excessive) love. Scratch the surface, though, and it’s easy to spot parental narcissism. The case can be made that naming children unconventionally is less about crafting a unique identity for the child than for the parent. Forget about how much grief little Storm will get in the schoolyard – just think about how cool Storm’s parents will be at that dinner party. And high fives all around for Facebook’s dad! (No, not you, Zuckerberg.)
At what point does the parents’ desire for a designer childhood morph into something that is detrimental? A simple websearch yields hundreds of hits for parents selling their baby’s name, including an American couple that did it for a $100 gas card. There’s also an eHow page to help prospective vendors. This might even prove more scarring than the previous generational mind-blower: Son, you’re adopted.
In the case of “genderless” Storm, parental love has never been in doubt. What the world reacted to with a collective shudder (or shout) was the thought that this kid with the weird name and the weird upbringing would have a weird life. And not Miley Cyrus weird – Boy Named Sue weird.
Parents who give their children weird names need to consider that they are consigning those kids to a lifetime of explanations and endless misspellings, not to mention a few potential playground beatings. As we learned from The Incredibles, if everyone’s special, then no one’s special.
Maybe in the era of Boutique Childhood there’s no better way to achieve happy playground anonymity than to sport a name like Redvers, or Vanslow. Or QWERTY, or THX 1138.
Or Twitter. Especially if the price – sorry, iconic inspiration – is right.
Image courtesy of sandal500.