Calling Children Names

by Harry on February 14, 2004

My daughter (who is reliable about these things) informs me that several girls in her school are called Madison. Now, I know it can be hard to think up a good name for a kid, but simply slapping them with the name of their birthplace seems excessively unimaginative. Its also seems like free-riding — what if everybody did it? I hope that they wouldn’t have done it if they’d lived in the Bronx, Bognor Regis, or Llandrindod Wells.

I should declare an interest. If my parents had engaged in this abusive practice, I would now share the name of an incredibly lame Radio 4 sitcom.



cbk 02.14.04 at 3:20 pm

Madison was the name of Daryl Hannah’s mermaid character in Splash! She named herself while walking toward a Madison Ave sign.



Tom 02.14.04 at 3:39 pm

Two little girls that play at one of the playgrounds near me are Madison and Lexington.


Tom 02.14.04 at 3:40 pm

Two little girls (sisters) that play at one of the playgrounds near me are Madison and Lexington.


Andrew Edwards 02.14.04 at 3:42 pm

Actually, Madison is not a name after a place. It’s one of the most common names for new female babies in the US right now, and easily the number one name for the female children of yuppies who jog, and own Jettas and Golden Retreivers.


BP 02.14.04 at 3:45 pm

Indiana Jones?
Duncan Idaho?
Brittany (ok, Britney) Spears?
Tennessee Williams?

I think I’ll name my daughter Poughkeepsie ….


Ophelia Benson 02.14.04 at 3:50 pm

Hoo-boy. This is a can of worms – one of my favorites. It has long been a source of innocent amusement to me to wonder aloud ‘Why Chelsea? Huh? If Chelsea, why not Brixton? Kilburn? Clapham? Muswell Hill?’

And then there are the Tiffanys. Tiffany indeed. Why not Bloomingdales then? Or Baccarat? Why not just name the kid ‘Expensive Shop’ and be done with it?


Ophelia Benson 02.14.04 at 3:53 pm

Oh and of course there’s that Olympic ski-er whose name is I think ‘Picabo’ (don’t ask me why) but pronounced – god help us all – Peekaboo. Jeezis – a grown woman who allows herself to be officially called Peekaboo.


BP 02.14.04 at 4:07 pm

That would be Picabo Street.

BTW someone named “Ophelia” is in no position to snigger.


Mike 02.14.04 at 4:16 pm

A few years back there was a NYT photo of Street being taken off a mountain in a stretcher. The caption was “Picabo, ICU”.


Ophelia Benson 02.14.04 at 4:37 pm

Well, to be sure, and the fact is I’m not keen on my name. But come on – Peekaboo. And I’m not sniggering, I’m expressing disgust. Well, plus a modicum of sniggering.


Andrew Case 02.14.04 at 4:38 pm

I think it’s so bad to name kids after cities – I’d rather like to be called Ouagadougou or Antananarivo. As is, I came frighteningly close to being called “Justin.”


barry 02.14.04 at 5:07 pm

check ’em out here.

Madison = 2nd most popular female name for 2002. (Emily was first)


Carlos 02.14.04 at 5:10 pm

Could be worse. They could be named Middleton or Stoughton.

If you want some fun, check out how many variations of the name “Brett” there are. The oldest batch should be around 11, with a cluster that just celebrated their 7th birthday.

C. — oh, my people.


EKR 02.14.04 at 5:12 pm

And of course, not to forget Paris Hilton.


BP 02.14.04 at 5:14 pm


What the shizzle is up with a guy who calls himself “Nelly”?


DJW 02.14.04 at 5:42 pm

One of the fun things about that social security administration names site is that you can chart the rise and fall of various names. Turns out Madison was a mere #133 in 1990, but it’s been climbing the charts since then, cracking the top ten in 1997 and never looking back. I’m not yet 30 and never met anyone named Madison in school, extending from grade school all the way through the college students I teach today. I expect the first one should be along shortly.

Also, not that misspelling the names of female children by replacing vowels with y’s at random seems to be a popular trend amongst parents these days. Add to the swelling ranks of Madisons over 600 each of ‘Madyson’ and ‘Madisyn.’

Comparing the list of popular names for boys and girls, it becomes clear that parents are taking a great deal more care to give boys names that will be taken seriously, and girls names that are, to be charitable, intended to be cute. To be uncharitable, that sound like porn stars: the girls top 100 includes Jada, Autumn, Trinity, Sierra, Savannah, and Destiny.

No offense intended to people who gave these names to their children. Or have these names.


Ken 02.14.04 at 5:44 pm

In a recent article I read about baby names (and I think Madison was #1 in ’03), the expert quoted was scratching his head about the origin of Madison, saying that as far as he could tell, almost no little girl was named Madison until “Splash” came out (and, of course, she just got it off a sign).

Personally, I have no problem with naming someone after a place. Many names are derived from some kind of object (my daughter is Lauren, which comes from laurel), so why not use place names.

One of the oddest I’ve heard recently was a little boy named “Bridger”. He was from Montana, and apparently that’s the name of a town there.


wolfangel 02.14.04 at 6:33 pm

When my sister wsa born, we thought a lot about names, and argued incessantly. She’s much younger than my sister or me, and we had no friends with young kids. So we had no idea what names were popular. Eventually we agreed on Alexandra. She was among 4 Alexandras and 2 or 3 Alexanders in her nursery school alone. (The Alexanders used different nicknames, while the Alexandras just were called by their last names. It was very cute.)

A professor of mine had her two kids while living in the US, but named them French names. When she and her husband went back to France for two years, guess what two names turned out to be popular at just her kids’ ages?

There’s some weird thing about names, and how suddenly one of them will take hold of the psyche of all new parents.

On another note, I hate the trend of giving girls idiotic names. (I do mean to insult people who do this, but not the kids, who had no choice.) My neighbour’s daughter is named Allyn. No one would call their son Jennifor.


Carlos 02.14.04 at 6:34 pm

Sigh. I guess no one else from ‘Scon reads this thing.

I am really highly doubtful that any of H’s daughter’s classmates were born on Madison *Avenue*. However, there is a free clue if you follow H’s weblink and scroll those few inches to the top.

I wonder how many Mononas and Wingras there are? And Sun Prairie would have made a great hippie name.

C. — ya hey dere.


J. Ellenberg 02.14.04 at 6:48 pm

An excellent leisure activity is to try to figure out which surnames of U.S. presidents are suitable to become the popular baby girls’ names of the future. It seems obvious, for instance, that “McKinley,” not currently in the top 1000, will be picked up soon. Ditto “Jackson,” right now #53 (and climbing) for boys, so probably a good 10-20 years away from picking up steam as a girl name. “Reagan,” in case you didn’t know, has climbed from 998 in 1990 to 201 today.

On the other hand, I can’t see naming my daughter “Taft,” “Coolidge,” or “Bush.”


Tom T. 02.14.04 at 6:49 pm

Winona Ryder was named after Winona, Minnesota, which was indeed her birthplace, if memory serves.


DJW 02.14.04 at 7:07 pm

A surge of patriotism in the maternity ward–check out “Liberty,” bursting into the top 1000 in 2001.


J. Ellenberg 02.14.04 at 7:12 pm

Obviously applied to babies conceived in Newark Liberty Airport.

(This explains “Reagan,” too, now that I think of it.)


Ophelia Benson 02.14.04 at 8:02 pm

“Comparing the list of popular names for boys and girls, it becomes clear that parents are taking a great deal more care to give boys names that will be taken seriously, and girls names that are, to be charitable, intended to be cute. To be uncharitable, that sound like porn stars: the girls top 100 includes Jada, Autumn, Trinity, Sierra, Savannah, and Destiny.”

This is what I’m saying. I almost did say – then decided not to because it would be so plodding and dull, but really – who would ever name a boy ‘Peekaboo’??

And people wonder why women get cranky sometimes.


mjones 02.14.04 at 8:03 pm

I had a party game inflicted on me once, in which we were told to remember of the name of our first pet, and then the name of the first street on which we ever lived. The punchline was, that that was to be our stage name were we ever to become strippers.

Cordially yours,
Fluffy Highway 53


Elrod 02.14.04 at 8:30 pm

I have a two-year old son named Henry and am pleased to see some old fashioned names like his, and Max, come back. However, ther are some truly awful ones out there, mostly for girls. For boys you have the trendy Tyler, Austin, Aidan, for girls, Madison is the most bizarre. At least with most made-up girls names they tend to sound cute. There is nothing cute about calling a girl Madison. If you like Maddy, then call her Madeline.


Norsecats 02.14.04 at 8:58 pm

maybe they just like to name their kids after state capitols. Austin is a fairly popular name for boys, after all. And there’s a girl down the street from me named Cheyenne.

I hate the random-y incursion. I like the name Caitlin, but nowadays it usually comes out Kaitlyn, or something similar.

(Full disclosure: I have a son named Colin and a daughter named Miranda. For whatever reason, The Wife & I had a much harder time naming the son than the daughter.)


linden 02.14.04 at 9:40 pm

I was actually named after the actress who played the Bionic Woman in the 1970s, Lindsay Wagner. Also, my brother’s name is Clinton, but he was born in 1982. He’s been suffering since 1992.

I strongly suspect that the name Tiffany predates the establishment of Tiffany’s the jewelry store.

I wouldn’t mind naming my daughter Reagan. It’s a nice name. There was an article in the NYTimes awhile ago about the bizarre names people were giving their kids. Madison was brought up and they traced it to the movie Splash. That movie must have made a real impact on the American psyche. Snort.


harry 02.14.04 at 9:43 pm

Yes, I live in Madison, not on Madison Avenue. In fact, my daughter is called Madeline. My younger shares the name of a cartoon mouse, but only because, after I finally capitulated to my wife’s desire to call her Daisy, she got cold feet (bec. of Daisy Buchanan).

Still, I’d have wanted to call them Zebedee and Stanley if they’d been boys.


obeah 02.14.04 at 10:02 pm

Turns out Picabo Street is also named after a town:

“Stubby and Dee Street are the ’60s hippie parents who make the story so unique. At birth, they named their daughter ”Little Girl” because they wanted their children to eventually pick their own names. A trip to Mexico ended that whim, with customs officials fearing trouble if ”Little Girl” ever got lost. Given two weeks to rename her, Stubby thought of a town named Picabo, which is Indian for ”shining waters.” Picabo Street was born, a name she loved too much to ever change, even when boys teased her in school.”

With all the talk of silly names for girls and gratuitous y’s, this thread is crying out for a link to Baby’s Named a Bad, Bad Thing.


Sally Bowles 02.14.04 at 10:31 pm

Let’s not forget the class distinctions that come with names. Where I live, I don’t find too many Madisons and Lexingtons, but Tylers and Tuckers aplenty.


Ophelia Benson 02.14.04 at 11:28 pm

Ya think the name Tiffany predated the store? As a first name? Why, just a hunch? The store is no spring chicken, and I sure don’t recall ever seeing the name Tiffany in any oldish novels or diaries or similar.


Reimer Behrends 02.15.04 at 12:19 am

The name Tiffany (derived from late greek theophaneia or theophania) seems to be quite a bit older than the store (which was founded in 1837, and originally named Tiffany & Young).


zizka 02.15.04 at 12:51 am

My friend didn’t think that “Ebola” really was such a cute girl’s name after all, but she thanked me for the suggestion.

Picabo Street is really funny and spunky, and the name fits her.

Bridger is a big name in the pioneer history of the U.S. West, and that’s probably where the kid’s name came from.

I did a survey of boys’ and girls’ names 1900–1999 based on the World Almanac. This gist is that until ~1960 boys’ names were stable and stodgy, whereas the girls’ names changed much more rapidly. Since 1960 boys’ names have been catching up, and since about 1980 the top ten girls’ names have almost all changed every ten years. It’s posted at my URL, and in 1999 Madison was #2.


Tom T. 02.15.04 at 1:31 am

If I meet a man named Otis, I’m now going to presume that his mother gave birth while stuck in an elevator.


Ophelia Benson 02.15.04 at 2:03 am

Ah, thanks for the Tiffany info. I was wrong. There were medieval Tiffanys running around – whaddya know.


Ted K 02.15.04 at 2:10 am

Madison is one of the great many British boy names that has become an American girl’s name. It appears to be an Old English/Teutonic name for gift of god or strong warrior – I did not take the time to do real research.

Through the nineteenth century it was largely a boy’s name, in part because of James Madison. I am not sure when or how it became a girl’s name – but I agree that the process speeded up after the movie Splash until right now Madison is the flavor of the week.

What ever happened to the good solid names, like Bertha or Gertrude?


Matt McG 02.15.04 at 2:18 am

A friend of mine (surname: Palmer) always insisted he wanted to call his firt born son “Fridge” because he just thought (for euphonic reasons) that ‘Fridge Palmer’ sounded so cool [no pun intended] … I agree, it does sound kind of cool. But the poor kid would either grow up to be the hardest kid in school (on the ‘Boy named Sue’ theory) or spend his life a victimized wreck.

A school friend of mine went on to a trendy progressive private school when we were about 11 – the sort of place where they write with crayons until the age of 14 [to prevent an anal fixation with neatness], and where gardening and rhythmic movement take equal place in the curriculum with physics and English etc. – and he had a school mate, called, and I kid not, Cloudberry …

I also know a girl from Glasgow called ‘Demi’ – although she’s 4 or 5 years too old to be named after the actress.

{On an entirely different note, I’m jealous of Slavic dimunitives. My wife is eastern european and has about 15 different cool dimunitive forms of her rather ordinary – for where she’s from – name. Some of them are postively Bond-villainess-esque}


Rook 02.15.04 at 2:47 am

Madison? It actually seems like an old English name. I can imagine Halley Mills or Audrey Hepburn playing a character named Madison.
In fact, haven’t they?


Mr Ripley 02.15.04 at 3:33 am

Some names are difficult to pronounce with a straight face when they occur among one’s students. “Angina” was a bit of a challenge, for example, as was “Arsema.”

And what’s with all these male names that become female names, like Leslie and Ashley?


Graham 02.15.04 at 4:34 am

Also note the rise in the popularity of the name “Rhiannon” in the late 70s/early 80s after the Fleetwood Mac song.

And “Wendy” was invented by JM Barrie, though, at a stretch it could be taken as a diminutive of Gwendolyn.

Me, I’m just waiting to moniker one of my heirs Mungo.


laura 02.15.04 at 5:37 am

The sociologist Stanley Lieberson has written quite a bit on names, much of which is relevant to this discussion.

I know a child named Cheyenne Jade. Poor baby.


JustMe 02.15.04 at 7:35 am

I remember listening to the radio in the seventies, and the DJ started a routine by ragging on a recent news item: some parents had named their twin newborn boys Pete, and Repeat.


linden 02.15.04 at 8:01 am

There’s a joke about a pair of female twins called Ima and Uma Pigg. They’re real people, I’ve been told. THere’s also the one about the boy whose parents named him Shithead. Pronounce it Shi-theed. Everyone always swears that they’re real. I have my doubts.

I went to high school with a girl named Shaneequa and another girl named Chiquita. Why do people do these things to their kids?

I’m in love with the British name Alastair. Alastair and Liam are bootiful. Yes, bootiful.


Anarch 02.15.04 at 8:25 am

Carlos: I, for one, bust a gut at the suggestion of StOhton. [Phonetic spelling there.] Although “Wingra” does have a certain something to it.

Random anecdote: my sister was named Jennifer, a relatively uncommon name at the time that my parents both happened to love, especially because it was uncommon, so that it would be classic yet distinctive. Three months later, Love Story came out… and the rest, as they say, is history. My folks are still ticked about it over 30 years later ;)


Abiola Lapite 02.15.04 at 1:33 pm

“What ever happened to the good solid names, like Bertha or Gertrude?”

Or Ermintrude and Kunigunde?


Abiola Lapite 02.15.04 at 1:40 pm

“Also note the rise in the popularity of the name “Rhiannon” in the late 70s/early 80s after the Fleetwood Mac song.”

For obvious reasons, I just can’t help thinking of Versailles’ Grand Trianon whenever I hear that name. How common is such an association, I wonder?


teep 02.15.04 at 1:53 pm

(Full disclosure: My given name is Jessica. I have no children. The cats are named Valentine and Autumn Ecclesiastes, but they’re cats and can’t complain about their stupid names.)

The worst I’ve ever seen was when I was in highschool — I went to school with a girl named Thumbelina.


harry 02.15.04 at 2:37 pm

bq. “What ever happened to the good solid names, like Bertha or Gertrude?” Or Ermintrude and Kunigunde?

Ethel, Doris, Mildred, Ruby (must be coming back though, no?), Mavis — all names rejected by my wife for our daughters. Still, they were offered in semi-jest. I love those old names.

I heard a vicar on the radio say that he once had to christen two boys “Brick” and “Stone”. Last name ‘Wall’. My wife has taught two brothers named Ominpotent and Armageddon. I swear.


harry 02.15.04 at 3:21 pm

And, if Chris B weren’t off on a trip, he could tell us about the fate of the girl who was named after the entire 1979 Liverpool football team (both first and last names of the entire squad, if I remember right, though I may have the year wrong).


cafl 02.15.04 at 6:20 pm

Ima Hogg (not Pigg) is the deceased daughter of a Texas governor and rather famous (

As a child growing up in Texas I heard children tell each other that she had a sister “Ura” and that both were named because her father was proud of his last name. This is apocryphal.

By the way, the insertion of “y” in names, if not done by parents, is certainly often done by the children themselves. Girls in 6th and 7th grade seem to be prone to this, judging from my daughters’ friends. (My own daughter changed the spelling of her nickname, Jenny, to Jenni. She was tired of having the same name as others in her grade. She is another victim of inadvertent choice of a name — Jennifer — that turns out to be very common in her cohort.


Dantheman 02.15.04 at 6:56 pm

There is a very popular guide to giving babies trendy names which (when originally published in the mid 1980’s) was “Beyond Jennifer and Jason”. It was updated in the 1990’s to “Beyond Jennifer and Jason, Madison and Montana”. Among other suggestions it had was to come up with more unusual flower names for girls, including Jonquil. It also suggested seemingly random word names, such as Axiom and Quintessence.

I will note that I knew someone in high school (born in 1963) whose parents tried to name him after the character in the Three Musketeers, but did not know how to spell it. His birth certificate read Dartanyan.


Pete 02.15.04 at 7:03 pm

Linden, you may be thinking of Ima Hogg (1882-1975), who was a noted decorative arts collector, patron and philanthropist.


kendall 02.15.04 at 8:04 pm

My daughter (Beatrice, since the topic is names) went to day care with a little boy named Matrix. He would have been born just too early to be named for the movie, so at least the parents are off the hook for that, but Matrix is so clearly a girl’s name.


Keith M Ellis 02.15.04 at 10:30 pm

I went through school with a girl named “Beegee”, named after, yes, the band. My grandmother, who was born in Oklahoma, was named “Okla”. She went by her middle name, “Daphine”, which I’m fond of. Her mother’s first and middle names were “Madie Maude”.

I don’t know why people get uptight about names. To me, there’s something kinda annoyingly culturally conservative about cluck-clucking about people’s names.


Trish Wilson 02.15.04 at 10:49 pm

I like the girl’s name Alexia – even after I learned it’s also the name of a brain disorder. ROFL

I first heard of the name while playing Resident Evil: Code Veronica.


linden 02.16.04 at 1:16 am

I’m also reminded of that Seinfeld episode where Jerry didn’t know his girlfriend’s name. All he knew was that she was mocked for it and it rhymed with some female parts. Vulva? Mulva? Something like that.

The Ima Hogg person could be who I’m thinking about. I grew up hearing stories about the poorly named Pigg sisters though. It’s probably related and a bit of an urban legend. Like the boy named Shithead.

Whatever happened to names like Hezekiah or Zachariah?


vivian 02.16.04 at 1:26 am

Re: Tiffany

Recall that in the movie Goldfinger, Bond meets the lovely Tiffany Case. Asked about her (then-unusual) name, she explained that her mother went into labor in the store. Sean Connery mutters “Good thing it wasn’t Van Cleef and Arpels”

Re: silly student names, I know a teacher who had more than one young girl named “Latrine” pronounced “La-TREEN-uh” like Katrina.


maurinsky 02.16.04 at 7:43 am

Since I was born in the late 60’s, some of my peers had hippie names – I did a show once with a fellow named Speed Weed.

I like unusual names, but I don’t like trendy names. My children are Siobhan and Maeve, which are fairly unusual for the U.S. Although I think Maeve is becoming more popular, I know two people who have children with the middle name Maeve.


chris 02.16.04 at 7:58 am

But how do people decide which word is going to be a boy’s name and which a girl’s? When the football (soccer) player David Beckham saddled his son with Brooklyn (place of conception, apparently), they got a woman on the radio saying, “They can’t do that, Brooklyn is a girls’name!”

How did she KNOW?


linden 02.16.04 at 8:11 am

Have you ever met a boy named Brook or named Lyn? It’s like naming someone Annemarie. Can you imagine a boy named Annemarie?


chris 02.16.04 at 9:05 am

Linden, I’ve never met anybody named Brook and Insh’allah I never will. I used to know a bloke called Lyn (short for Emlyn)fairly well.

Have you ever seen a bridge called Annemarie?


harry 02.16.04 at 3:05 pm

Why hasn’t anybody mentioned A Boy Named Sue?


Davis X. Machina 02.16.04 at 5:02 pm

My wife says that if a girl’s name sounds silly if inserted in this sentence:

“The Honorable Chief Justice {Your Daughter’s Name Here} and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable Supreme Court of the United States are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court!”



Verbal 02.16.04 at 5:18 pm

Tiffany was a person’s name before it was the name of a store or a style of lamp, as was the increasinly popular Chanel, etc. etc.

Note also that Timberland, Courvousier, Gucci, Lexus, and Nike are hot new names for children. And in parts of central america, the name Usnavy, pronounced oosNAVee, is derived from US NAVY written on various pieces of equipment… this was the result of illiteracy and language confusion, but now Usnavy is actually a traditional name, so there are quite a few young men named after their great uncles who just happen to share the name of an invading fleet…



Thlayli 02.16.04 at 8:42 pm

What the shizzle is up with a guy who calls himself “Nelly”?

It’s short for “Cornell”.

Have you ever met a boy named Brook…?

Brook Jacoby, Cleveland Indians third baseman in the ’80s.

If you want to talk about clusters, there’s one of girls born in 1985-86 with some variant of the name “Hailey”.


tamar 02.17.04 at 3:18 pm

Here are a couple of now-outdated soviet-block names, unlikely to return to widespread use: “Mels” (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin) and (perhaps apocryphally) “Zikata” (Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky)(!)


Barry 02.18.04 at 1:39 pm

I have long suspected that the CIA conducts exercises in mind-control through various media and that embedded in these subliminal messages are particular children’s names–and the the purpose of the Social Security Administration’s detailed tracking of names is to provide simple feedback on the efficacy of these messages; that is the higher the rank, the more dominant that message.

Or maybe not.

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