As someone with an unusual name, I suspect I’m more sensitive than most to the topic of baby names. So when I hear the latest trendy made-up baby names, I cringe inwardly. The sensation is not unlike hearing someone beat a frying pan with a wrench.
Baby names are a unique part of language in that they are almost entirely connotative in nature. To be sure, names have denotative histories, but these often have little bearing on the naming of a particular child. I wasn’t named Colter because of any predilection for tending to horses. Instead, baby names are built on a tangled mass of personal associations and cultural reference points. Certain baby names achieve permanence while others ascend and descend in popularity over time. Caden and Jaden apparently popped into existence at roughly the same time: 1994.
Baby names are chosen almost exclusively on extremely subjective “coolness” or “prettiness” factors, and maybe I’m wrong but recently we as a society seem to have reached a tipping point where we are so susceptible to trends that we’re actively making up baby names and finding ever more esoteric ways of spelling common names in a misguided effort to brand our children as unique.
To wit, I give you the Social Security Administration’s list of the top 1,000 baby names of the ’00s and the curious case of the “-dens”.
On the boy list alone we have:
Now, “Braden” and “Brayden” are variants of actual Gaelic names, so I have no quarrel with them (good job, Jenny, you chose the real one!). In fact, I should make the disclaimer that I have no rational argument whatsoever against any of these made-up names. All I can say is that when I hear “Jaden” or “Caden” some strange, completely irrational part of my brain becomes unhinged. I don’t know why; I can only give you my suspicions. My primary suspicion is that I apparently have some serious reservations about making up baby names that sound like other names. My secondary suspicion is that I wince at parents’ foolhardy attempts to be original, yet just safe enough that they don’t go overboard and name their child something truly bizarre like Apple or Tuesday.
And you can’t escape unoriginality with baby names. My sister thought she was being a little on the creative side when she named her kids Emily and Austin. Turns out those were two of the most popular names in the mid 90’s. Indeed, Emily reigns as the #1 name for girls in the 00’s. There must be some strange mass-consciousness gravitation that can only be escaped by going whole hog and naming your child Dweezil.
An entirely connotative universe of baby names leads us here. Logically, denotatively, Apple is just as sensible a name to have as Summer or Autumn. It’s all about establishing a precedent, really. Someone has to go out there and make it safe to name your kid Humphrey or Orson. Maybe someday Caden will be as commonplace as Heather was for girls born in the 70’s. I wonder if I’ll still cringe at the dissonance.
Epilogue: Shortly after posting this I decided to look up “Caden” in Wikipedia. There is a very small town in France called Caden. The particular region of France? Brittany. Apparently all the terrible baby names are being generated by a cabal of evildoers in Northwestern France.
1.) Or family history, but there are limits. There are very few Engleberts and Waldos left in the world for solid cultural reasons.
2.) Britney, Brittany, Britany, Brittainy…will the madness never end!??
3.) If you really want to drive me bananas, remind me that Britney Spears named a child “Jaden James.”
4.) Why is it no one names their kid Winter? I’ve known Springs, Summers and Autumns, but no Winters.