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What's up with all the weird names?

From Krystal to Anfernee


What's up with all the weird-ass names — OK, "nontraditional" names — people are giving their kids these days? We no longer even blink when we're introduced to toddlers, teens or 20-somethings named Kaelyne, Mackenzie, or Fontina, despite the cheesy connotations. We have a woman running for vice president with kids named Track and Trig. If the South Park area gets one more Hayden, Dayton or Walker, they'll all have to start wearing last-name tags so the rest of us can figure out who's who. And I can't begin to count how many young white women today are named Crystal. Or Krystal. Or Crisstel. Or KrysTal. Or, my favorite I've seen so far, Cristle (hopefully, it doesn't rhyme with gristle).

I know that the popularity of first names changes over time. As a kid, I thought it was funny that an old fellow down the block was named Shirley, until I found out I had a great uncle Shirley and learned that it had been a common male name in my grandparents' generation, along with the names Hazel, Joyce and Beverly. The changes we've seen in the past couple of decades, though, go beyond simply leaving a few older names behind here and there; it's more like the country has fallen down a first-name memory hole.

If you grew up with people named Ted, Diane, Larry, Mary Anne, Brenda, Ronnie, Linda, Tom, Judy and so forth, meeting a young, bright, successful man named Keegan can be, well, depressing somehow. At least it is for me, sometimes. For a while, I couldn't figure out why the spread of nontraditional names was actually getting me down. Now, I'm pretty sure that, as much as I hate to say it, it has to do with aging. Maybe it's something pre-geezers like myself just go through, mourning the gradual loss of what has been culturally familiar. If so, I'm sure someone will soon find a cool name for the condition and figure out a way to make money off of it.

You know you're getting old when you start griping about new stuff that gets on your nerves, but it's definitely not just me. Members of my own generation, who are aging faster than we dreamed possible, have become a veritable fount of complaints about all the newfangled things we've had to get used to. It's hilarious irony in a way, since we're the people who invented the concept of "youth culture" wa-a-a-y back in the day.

Lately I've heard other boomers whine about, among other things, the following: hip-hop; TV reality shows; Crocs ("the ugliest shoes ever," from someone who once wore butt-ugly Earth Shoes in the '70s); the death of decent comics pages in newspapers; Mojitos ("weeds on the rocks"); not "getting" networking Web sites such as Facebook or Live Journal; and of course, gasoline price shock ("Why, I remember when gas was just ..."). So I guess my contribution to the growing boomer whine-a-thon is this odd uneasiness with what I consider oddball first names.

I don't have a problem with the fact that new generations' ideas for first names often drift off the traditional path. It's just that today, they seem to veer onto the road to sheer goofiness. The aforementioned Kaelyne and others aren't the end of the world, I know, but won't someone draw the line at names like (these are all real, and recent) Jellyfish, Peanut, Rocket, Joybubbles, Yahoo, Banana or Thursday? A New Zealander was recently smacked down by a judge for naming his daughter Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii. In America, more and more doofuses, caught up in what must be one hell of a case of materialism, are naming their kids after luxury items such as Champagne, Lexus, Porsche or Tanqueray. What's next -- iPhone? Rolex? And don't get me started on moronic celebrity Jason Lee naming his kid Pilot Inspektor, or Jermaine Jackson saddling his son with the name Jermajesty. How is that even legal?

The most dramatic "first name" changes in my lifetime have come from African-Americans. Our country's supply of African or African-derived names (such as Tavonda or Jaleel) grew as American blacks' pride in their heritage increased, and their kids' names often became semipolitical statements. Those aren't the names I'm talking about. What puzzles me are the ones that evolved after the Afro-centric phase, names created, apparently just because the parents liked the way they sound: Deontay, Tayshaun, Dremiel, and so on, including the glut of "sheequa" names for girls. Maybe it is just a black thing and I wouldn't understand, but, still, "Bonsheequa"? Damn. It's also ridiculous how many black men's names are merely misspellings of traditional names -- Antawn, for instance (Antwan, maybe, but "Antawn"?), or, my favorite, Anfernee. And what's with all the prefixes, like in JaMarcus? Or Da'quarius, which combines two weird trends in one name: prefixes and unnecessary apostrophes.

Maybe my gripes really are just a function of getting older; all I know is that, for some reason, some of these names just bug the hell out of me. Who knows? Maybe it's a cyclical thing and the old names will come back. I'm not so sure that's a good idea, either, though. I sure as hell don't want a grandson named Shirley.

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