January 10, 2012
by Shawn Bean
“Being a Jennifer, I have major issues with names,” says Jennifer Griffin, author of Bring Back Beatrice! 1,108 Baby Names with Meaning, Character, and a Little Bit of Attitude. She does have the second most common girl’s name from the 1980s (behind Jessica, ahead of Amanda), so I understand her aggravation. I wonder if her eye twitches when she watches Flashdance.
Bring Back Beatrice! curates names based on current and emerging trends, as opposed to stockpiling 30,000 of them (all of those can be found in Parenting's baby name directory). Griffin's approach to the book made her the perfect person to chat with about a naming trend that’s quietly disappearing: legacies.
When I was growing up, boys named after their fathers, grandfathers and even great grandfathers were relatively common. Everyone knew a III or IV. Around the neighborhood, you called him Skip, Chip, Sonny, or Junior. Here we are a few decades later, and we’re skipping Skip.
“It’s definitely trending down,” says Griffin. “Naming offers that first bit of creativity, and today’s parents want something with flair. They don’t want predictable or boring.” She adds that modern parents are finding new ways to pay homage to family elders without Gramps showing up on their kid’s driver’s license 18 years later. Some employ a mother’s maiden name or a grandfather’s nickname. “Others have actually made Junior their son’s first name,” Griffin adds.
But there’s something else at play here: Men are breaking from the stale traditions of their ancestors. We no longer live in a black-and-white world where Dad is king of the castle and Mom is queen of the changing table. Parenting is a partnership, so a mother who has a 50 percent stake in her child doesn't want nor deserve a zero percent stake in his moniker.
Also, legacy naming was a byproduct of patriarchal societies, when dudes in strangely-shaped felt and burnished gold crowns ruled kingdoms and nations. It was a way to advertise your own greatness to future generations. (Louis XVII of France was the Coke Zero of his day.) Now it just seems chauvinistic and self-centered.
“A child brings with it a sense of optimism,” Griffin explains. “So choosing a name carrying someone else’s baggage isn’t appealing.” In other words, when a father meets his son for the first time, it shouldn’t happen in the shadow of some self-important leathersmith who lived during the Coolidge administration.
Speaking of fresh starts, it will likely be our sons who reboot the legacy trend. In about twenty years, that kid you named after a werewolf or a vampire will seethe over his once-trendy-but-now-passe name, and will vow to name his son something more traditional. Like Skip.