Monday, December 12, 2011

Working With Name Associations

Working with name associations...

Sometimes you can't let cultural (or any other kind of) associations hold you back from choosing a name that you love. Here are some examples of how to deal with common associations…
#1 Names from books, TV, movies and history.

You love the name Dexter, but everyone now associates that name with Dexter the serial killer, from the TV show with the same name. You don’t want people to think your son will grow up to be a killer, but you love the name to death (no pun intended). Assert the fact, to everyone that mentions the TV show, that there were Dexter’s before the TV show, and there will be Dexter’s after it. (This happened to poor Ursula, meaning “little [female] bear,” when it was used for the octopus witch in The Little Mermaid.)

Other examples: You want to name your little girl Matilda, but everyone associates that name with the little witch. Just tell them, “That character was very inspirational to little girls.” Or maybe you love Xena, but everyone will word-vomit “the Warrior Princess.” Tell them, “I like that Xena was so strong and powerful. What a great role model.” You’d be surprised by how many people have to defend their name choices without any known associations. People sometimes just don’t like a name for the heck of it, and will give you a hard time.

#2 Celebrity names

Seraphina is a great name, and an uncommon name, with a unique meaning – just what you’ve been looking for. Unfortunately, Jennifer Garner beat you to it. Don’t let celebrities dictate what you name your baby. If someone confronts you on this by saying, “Oh, you chose a celebrity baby name,” retort to that person, “I had this name picked out before ___ used it,” even if you’re lying.

Seraphina isn’t exactly screaming “celebrity baby name,” however. Pilot Inspektor, yes, Bear Blue, yes, so let’s take a look at those two. Pilot Inspektor is widely known for being an extreme celebrity baby name. I’m sure when Lionel Ritchie named his daughter Nicole, no one cried out, “Holy crap! What was he thinking?” But when Jason Lee named his kid Pilot Inspektor, almost everyone said that. Most of us are cautious when it comes to extreme names like this. (Although job title names are common, they’re mainly surnames.) I doubt anyone reading this is thinking about using Pilot for their baby. Now, Bear on the other hand was certainly viewed as extreme by some, but some of us are warming up to less commonly used names in traditional categories. (Think Lavender or Lilac instead of Rose and Lily.) Bear falls into the same animal category as Fawn, Kitty, Peregrine, Falcon, Wolf, etc. Even names that refer to animals: Rudolph, Falena, Felina, Leo, etc, which we are much more tolerant of as a community. Some are more heard than others, but it probably wouldn’t be such a shock if the average parent were to name a son Bear, or a daughter Dove, or any other animal name. Think of the Native Americans, who routinely used animal and nature names for their children to convey what that animal represented – its strength, cunning, beauty, or whatever else. It’s really not such a bad idea, so thank you Alicia Silverstone for naming your son Bear, and inspiring celebrity baby name nappers all over.

#3 Product/Brand Names

This one would be much easier to defend if the name was legitimate and had been used on babies before whatever product it is came out. Mercedes, for example, is now widely known for the car maker, but had been used long before this, and even in Shakespeare. L’Oreal and Nivea, however, not so much. Even the name Portia, which has a long, legitimate history of use, can be confused for Porsche. Just stick up for your [legitimate] baby name choice, but be mindful of that association and consider what effect it might have on your baby.

#4 Find a new association.

Say you like Dahlia, but people comment, “Like the Black Dahlia murder story?” You can say “No, like the flower.” Maybe you like Magnolia, and someone says, “Oh, did you want her to be thought of as a Southern Belle?” You can say, “No, like the magnolia flower/tree.” Another example is Casper (and everyone knows Casper the Friendly Ghost) but if people mention this, inform them that Caspar was one of the Three Wise Men.


  1. Totally agree. I think we have the revolution in the media and communications to blame for all this worry about 'associations' and it's a shame.

    The irony is, it only takes someone else to come along and make people re-evaluate the name, or change the association, and all those old wobbles get chucked out the window!

    So what if Seraphina's been used by a celeb, and Caspar for a character in an old cartoon? They're both lovely names -- so if you like 'em, use 'em!

  2. Most of the people generally admire celebrities and they will also give a name to their baby similar to the name of their favorite celebrity. Celebrities often invent great names that become the finest example in the eye of the general public.