A Latter-Day Tower of Babel?

Christopher BigelowMormon 35 Comments

Here’s something that gives me pause: people making up creative names or nontraditional spellings of traditional names for their children. This seems to be a growing trend, with a sizable minority of new children being subjected to this, perhaps even a majority in some Utah Mormon suburbs. I know that certain black U.S. cultural groups have long done this, but I don’t know if the newer trend is just a white Utah/Idaho Mormon thing or bigger.

For example, here is a list of REAL names my wife and I recently collected from a photo site for new-born Utah babies. As you go through this list, stop and savor each one, seeing how it feels as you say it aloud or marvel at the breathtaking spelling:


As further evidence of this expanding trend even closer to home for me, my wife has 23 students in her kindergarten class this year, and 9 of those have unusual names, no fewer than 40% of the class:


So, I ask you, what do you think of this trend? If you are a parent who felt such a creative spark, what moved you to do it, and what have been the results? Personally, I’m pretty nonplussed by it—in fact, I wonder if it’s one of the signs of the times, a latter-day Tower of Babel, a signal of the impending collapse of civilization…

Comments 35

  1. My two cents is that the first blessing parents can give their child is a name that the child will neither have to explain nor spell for other people for the rest of his/her life.

    My favorite Utah baby name of all time is K8. You read that right. How is the poor girl supposed to input her name on scantron forms where, understandably, there are only letters and no number bubbles to fill in on the name portion.

    I understand that we all like to think our children are unique and special (pronounced: SPAY-shul), but come on, people!

  2. I think that we’ve always done this to some extent– for example, Utahna,which is at least a hundred years old. (And what about Cree-L as in Cree-L Kofford? Perhaps I should know the origin of that, but I don’t.) My own mother is named Jalaine, and she was born in 1933. (And we don’t know what the inspiration was for that.) She had a cousin named Decon, who was married to Rosie. My parents couldn’t see why I burst into laughter anytime anyone mentioned Decon and Rosie– but incongruity got to me. And, don’t miss the Utah Baby Namer at:

  3. And in one Utah family I know– oldest kid here is about 25, youngest is about 15:

    (Last two are male.)

    And one family in our ward named their daughter Della Kate because she was so delicate.

  4. Hopefully they won’t find out about this and hunt me down. Honest to goodness names from a family on my mission, all the funnier given the fact that their last name was “Knight”

    Jedediah (and yes, they called him Jedi)
    Sugoi (which they said was Japanese for “awesome”)
    Oggi (a girl)
    They were expecting when I left the area….

  5. Wow. I don’t know how I have been so ignorant of this trend. Freakonomics points out that purposeful misspelling of names is usually an indicator/predicter of lack of financial success.

  6. Hawkgrrrl: At least you wernt ignernt to this thread. 🙂

    The Freakonomics chapter came to mind for me as well. If I remember, it wasn’t so much that misspelled names were a predictor of a lack of financial success as much as that children with misspelled / “creatively spelled” names usually come from less educated, less materially wealthy and less socially elevated families. (IOW, the statistical correlative appears to be that success comes from who a person is rather than what they do, much to the chagrin of some of the social and educational engineers of our society.)

    I couldn’t help wish that Steve Levitt had studied Utah since I understand it has above average educational performance, yet the unique naming convention seems so widespread. I wonder if there is the correlation in Utah like he saw in the data featured in the book.

  7. I guess I’m on the other side… I am Deb. My brothers married Debbie and Deborah. Enough already! my kids all have Interesting Names (although easily pronounced). They are all young adults now, and prize the individuality. How many Jessicas and Jasons do you know?

  8. JfQ – yes, I wonder what he would find in UT given the educational correlation. I love the story in Freakonomics about the girl named “Temptress” who kept getting in trouble with the law, as well as the two sons named Winner and Loser. Great book!

  9. My name is Daniel. My mom’s name is Maria. My dad’s name is Constantin (a common name in Romania). My sister is the only one who has a relatively unique name in Romania; Silvia. If you go to a Muslim country, you’ll find like maybe 40% of the male population calling themselves Mohammed (or some slight derivation of the prophet’s name). What I find really peculiar in Christiandom is our lack of calling our children after Jesus. After all, we usually name our children (at least in the past) on people we wish our children would emulate. I wonder why we haven’t named more sons Jesus.

  10. #2 – That was my exact initial thought. Tyzac? Wow.

    Otoh, our third daughter’s name is Katasha. When I worked in the inner-cities, all the black kids thought I had picked up the name from them.

    I graduated with a girl names Jennifer whose younger sister was named Robin . . . Hood. I’m not kidding.

    I grew up across the street from Betty Mae Isaac. After marriage, her name was Betty Mae I. Love.

    A kid one year above me in school was named Robert Gee. He always said he would name his kids Ella, Oui (pronounced Wee) and Or. I doubt his wife allowed that.

    There was a man in town whose last name was Call. He had 5 daughters. He used to embarrass his wife in public by telling people he lived with 6 Call girls.

  11. Two that I encountered doing research in early Piute County, Utah were:

    Josephina Brighamina

  12. Freakonomics was the first thing that came to mind for me also. But I remember the point being that certain names start their popularity in the upper-class and then trickle down to greater usage among the hoi polloi. I remember thinking when I read it (it has been a while) that traditional Jewish names were over-represented.

    But I don’t think you need to read a book to know what they are talking about. Don’t these kind of made-up names make you think you’re watching Cops or slumming out at that drag race track in Magna? “PEYSON!, you said you was gonna get me a Coke! Where is it?”

  13. MAC — You need to do more slumming. It would be more like… “PEIGHTON! You says you was gonna gets me Momma’s Coke! Where’s it at?” And you’d need to look twice to tell whether the child they were addressing is a boy or gorl.

    We took a ride on the new UTA FrontRunner train last week. Given it was Monday night it gave us a great social anthropological view into Free Train Ride FHE Night. My wife and I drew amusement at some of the out-of-the-ordinary or distinctly LDS names. I would hesitate to judge that the most distinctly named children were coming from a less materially successful background and be confident there is a correlation.

  14. Hey, I’m with the first respondont. Why saddle a kid with a name they’ll have to explain and spell for others the rest of their life. It may look cute, it may sound cute, but unless you’re trying to toughen your kid up (think “A Boy Named Sue”), given them a good, solid, easily spelled and remembered name.

  15. Remembered another one. My best friend from high school, Robert O’Shea, named his son Richard. Kid goes by Rick……

  16. Dan,

    It isn’t odd at all to find Hispanic people naming their kids Jesus (pronounced “Hey-Soos” in Spanish).
    It is only an oddity in the English speaking world to not find it.

  17. I didn’t want my kids to be the fourth Jessica in a classroom either. I named the girls:
    Genevieve Victoria
    Gianina Nicole
    Flora Aimee
    Annika Kamaleilani (born in Hawaii)
    Deseret Rose
    Francesca Alaina
    Nikita Chiara

    My son is named Michael.

  18. Guy Smiley,

    Or French. Or German. Or Italian. Or any other Christian-dominated language. The only one is Spanish. Ain’t that peculiar?

  19. I have four boys, and they are named, in order from oldest to youngest:

    Benjamin Michael (the Second [after me, of course–had to think about that one real hard, didn’t we?*])
    Evan Cecil (Cecil being my father’s first name)
    Jacob Alexander (Alexander being my wife’s father’s middle name)
    Matthew Gabriel (Gabriel being one of my best friend’s middle name and we happen to like it– I call him Matth (pronounce Math)–hopefully it will encourage him in a certain subject)

    Traditional names, hopefully not too likely to cause confusion, problems or awkwardness. I do not think your child’s name should cause them to get beat up in the lunch room at school, which frankly, some of the names above would have where I went to school. Tyzac? Please! A boy get himself hurt, and a girl get laughed at something fierce. I also think that naming your daughter Paris right now is just asking for them to grow up to be a attention seeking promiscously inclined young woman. Just saying. A name is important.

    *Actually, naming your oldest or first-born child Benjamin is rather breaking with tradition in a number of ways. It is nearly always the youngest child that is named Benjamin. That is the tradition in many places. Think about the first Benjamin in the Bible, and you’ll know why. We apparently also broke another rule that I had never heard by naming him Benjamin Michael Orchard II, instead of Benjamin Michael Orchard Jr (and yes, there is a difference). Apparently, the one we used is typically done when a child is named after a grandfather or other male relative and not after their father, and the latter is done when they are named after their father. That said, we were living in the South at the time, and I knew that if we used the latter version, he would simply get called Junior, which I absolutely detest. My brother, in his fashion, calls him Ditto. Thanks.

  20. I wanted to give our kids normal names with whacky spelling, but my wife wouldn’t allow it. I also wanted their initials to spell something (like “CAN” or “MAN”), but my wife nixed that too. Now I’m glad she did (at least with the whacky spelling thing). I thought we’d be original, now I know we would just be me-too’s! One thing is for sure, the weird names make it darn near impossible for me to remember my kid’s friend’s names. Have you ever try to make out a birthday card for a girl named Kari? It is “Carry,” “Kerry,” “Kerrie,” or “Kari”? I guess today, it’s more likely to be “KareRee.”

  21. I’m not sure if I still have it in my files, but back when I was an undergrad at BYU (1970s), a student journal named “Century II” was started. One of the articles was on “Mormon Naming Patterns” — and it was quite interesting to see the similarities between LDS naming patterns and African-American naming patterns. I’ll see if I can dig it up. ..bruce..

  22. Go to the following Social Security website http://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/namesbystate.cgi and you can see the top Utah names for 2006. The boys side isn’t so bad but the girls get pretty interesting. My take on this is that people living in areas with such homogeneous demographics search for ways to be different. Coming up with odd names or silly ways of spelling normal names is their attempt to differentiate themselves or their kids. I am pleased to see that no pseudo french “le” names made the list. My favorite baby name I heard recently that a friend of a friend named his daughter…Superstar 5 Jemima. That complements their other daughter Pixy Petunia Pinneapple, no joke.

  23. I’m not saying it’s a new thing for Mormons to get creative with names, just that it’s becoming MUCH more common. One of the best possible explanations I’ve seen in these comments is Brent’s: “People living in areas with such homogeneous demographics search for ways to be different.”

    I’ve been married twice, and I’ve tussled with both wives (ex and current–er, final) over names. The ex wanted to name my oldest son after me, but I grew up named after my dad and hated the confusion, so I insisted on the middle name of “Jordan” and that we call him by that name. However, it’s still a big problem when filling out forms, as most aren’t conducive to first initial, full middle name.

    Then for some reason the ex was fascinated by the name “Adelaide” and wanted to name our daughter that, even though it had absolutely no meaning or connection to us. I managed to move it to the middle name position. We agreed on Sophia for the first name, but my daughter is half-Mexican (adopted), and I fought for the English spelling rather than the Spanish “Sofi.” If it had been my choice, I might have given her a Spanish middle name so that her name represented both sides of her identity. Or even better, I hold with the tradition of giving the mother’s maiden name as the child’s middle name.

    With my final wife, we’ve had three boys and she named the first two, and she chose to use family surnames. I didn’t have too much trouble with the first one, Austin, as that has also become a fairly normal first name. But I had more trouble with #2, who my wife wanted to name Kimball, which is my mother’s maiden name and my middle name. I didn’t like that as a first name because I worried about the nickname “Kim” (which we’ve assiduously avoided so far) and because it just sounded a little pioneer-y to me. But I’ve grown to like it quite a bit, and it fits his personality well (he even reminds us a lot of my mother the Kimball).

    When #3 came, I said, “Hey, it’s my turn,” and we went with Zachary. So he’s the only one of my five children whose name I really got to fully decide. With the three boys, I did prevail in getting my wife’s maiden as their middle.

    I’m just glad neither wife ever tried to do names like I listed in the original post, or I would have started flopping around on the floor with brain seizures.

  24. I knew a family with six girls and a boy – Summer, Winter, Autumn, Spring, Season and Rainy. Their last name? Hale. The boy’s name? Aaron.

    All the same, I’d take any one of those names as a part of their family. They were amazing.

  25. I’ve been intrigued by one trend of using apostrophes in first names. One was Tayl’r and another R’Lando. So I guess if I wanted to be trendy, I could have people call me R’Igel. It seemed, unfortunately that typical government computers would allow symbols, thus on official records, they would Taylr and Rlando. I don’t know whether Cree-L faced this conundrum.

  26. Chris,

    Thanks for giving me the heads-up on this post. It’s a glaringly obvious subject I totally space on in my own– except for the “Lynn Oleum” story (I do hope that’s a myth). You know, for all we know a lot of those common-sounding names with different spelling might just be a testament to how poorly the Utah/Idaho people spell. Yours truly, Dustin Cleen.

  27. Robert Gee. He always said he would name his kids Ella, Oui (pronounced Wee) and Or

    You can pronounce “Gee” with a hard G, which opens up other possibilities (my friend has that last name). Think of all the initials you can’t use: P.I. Gee, I.Gee. Or names like “Drew”.

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