Gareth and I were recently at a party during which the topic of "names" came up in conversation, with people weighing in on what names they would or wouldn’t give to their own children, how they’d felt about their own names growing up, what deliriously UNfunny nicknames they were tortured with in high school, and so forth. When I asked if anyone present had seen Laura Wattenberg’s truly interesting book The Baby Name Wizard, which charts the popularity of names over time, making it a really interesting study in sociology, I was momentarily shocked to have at least three childless males respond enthusiastically to my question and say they loved reading Laura’s blog on BabyNameWizard.com.
Ummm… Excuse me? My unvarnished reaction was complete befuddlement over the response of these gentlemen, even after I’d taken into the consideration the fact that one of them is a linguist. STILL! Linguists or not, these are men — nerdy men — with no children of their own, at least one of them still single, and they regularly read a blog about baby naming?? I had to investigate.
Before I file my brief report on Laura Wattenberg’s Baby Name Wizard blog, let me first just state that, NO, this topic does NOT have any specific relevance whatsoever to my own current personal life. Yes, I just got married, but that does NOT mean that Gareth and I have plans to "expand" the size of our family just yet, so you can stop your speculating, just as I am going to stop looking askance at any man who mentions loving Laura Wattenburg’s blog now that I understand this simple fact: it’s fascinating — perhaps even more so (or at least in more ways) than her book.
The topics Laura writes about are just plain interesting. They explore surprising or intriguing trends in our society, inviting readers to ponder what our choices of names are currently saying about our values, our behaviors, and the ways in which we are using and/or changing language. This blog is, in short, tailor-made for word nerds like me. And many of you. Which is why I thought it would be the perfect fit for ShelfTalker.
Let me give you a few examples of (very) recent posts that I loved reading and pondering and think you might enjoy reading and pondering too.
In her post "The Name of the Future," Laura looks at a name that was recently submitted to the Namipedia on The Baby Name Finder’s website, to which parents submit the names of their children for cataloguing/graphing/commenting purposes. (A recent clarification on what names can/will be included in Namipedia: "Any user-submitted name page can stay in Namipedia if there’s a good reason for other users to be interested in it," which sounds fair to me.) The name up for discussion in this post is Ily. Laura’s advice: "Pronounce it like Riley minus the R." The person who submitted this name explained that Ily’s mother "first had the idea for the name when a friend ended a text or email with the acronym ILY, meaning I Love You," to which my immediate response is a somewhat dumbfounded silence. I mean, really, it’s not a bad name, sound-wise, but how do I feel about names that are inspired by instant messaging? And why didn’t I see this trend coming? 4COL*, what names will be next??! (*Translation: "For crying out loud!") I am a little fearful of the other names that may well be coming down this particular pike but admittedly interested in seeing if/in what ways this trend continues. No doubt Laura will keep me posted.
Another fun post to ponder is "Romantic Pen Names When the Author Is a Character." In this one, Laura looks at the rather mundane pen names female authors of romance novels typically choose for themselves, versus the much more romantic-sounding ones they bestow on their characters. Her explanation for the differences between the two makes perfect sense to me. Read the post and see if you agree.
Finally, one more post worth mentioning here if for no other reason than the fact that it’s certainly got something to do with children’s books. "Naming an American Girl" looks at the names given by American Girl to its characters and subsequent dolls/books/insert product here. These names are both realistic or "plausible," historically, and very current in their appeal. After so many years of shelving books starring these so-carefully-named characters, why haven’t I noticed this before? Hmm.
Clearly Laura’s blog warrants reading by many more folks than just those looking for the right baby moniker. Visit it, go back through the archives, and let me know if you land on any other gems the rest of us should make a point of reading! I will, meanwhile, be doing the same.