The curious tradition of bad baby names, from Mann Pigg to Tu Morrow.
One of many things I can thank my parents for is my name. “Mark” is nowhere near the Michael or Joe level of omnipresence, so I haven’t had to fight my way through a sea of Marks throughout my life. Even better, “Mark” is utterly normal, especially when you consider that I could have been named “Crucify,” “Lamentation,” “Mutton,” “Nebuchadnezzar,” or “Moxie.”
It’s hard to believe that anyone would name their innocent child Mary Christmas or Terry Bull, but some parents always rise or sink to the occasion. Whether you consider such names an affront to all that is holy or wonderful contributions to the ongoing Name of the Year contest, bizarre names are one of the funnest and funniest continents on the language map.
Since 1983, the Name of the Year folks have been selecting winners that are juvenile (Doby Chrotchtangle), sonically pleasing (Honka Monka), and totally random (Destiny Frankenstein). The March Madness-style tourney has proven popular in this era of bracketology, and though God’s Power Offor was a pre-contest favorite, maybe Gregor Schwinghammer Jr. or Napoleon Einstein will pull an upset. Most of the names are hard to believe, but the NOTY braintrust do take pains to make sure the names are real, even at the expense of a potential winner; for example, “Dick Smallberries, Jr.” was recently tossed out of the tourney because of lack of evidence.
This contest is merely the tip of the whacko-name-berg. For a truly spectacular look at crazy-ass names, get the delightful humor book Bad Baby Names, in which Michael Sherrod and Matthew Rayback collect (and even better, verify through census records) names as out-there as “Minor Holliday” and “Lettice Speak.” This collection—besides being one of the great bathroom books of our time—truly maps the territory of weird names.
For example, some folks seem to want their child to not only be a precious infant, but a grammatical sentence, based on the names Ask Bailey and Annoy Osbourne. Other parents may have hoped their children (such as Cruel Anderson and Plague McNair) might grow up to be pro wrestlers or serial killers. I thought the name “Pete Peters” (a former NHL goalie) was awful, but that seems tame compared to Stocking Stocking, Patience Patience, and Bloom Bloom. Handles like Mexico Meadow, Columbia Maffia, and Arkansas Toomer sound like sarcastic insults, not kids.
If names like Panties Moberg, Mann Pigg, Silver Savage, Zombie Davenport, and Thor Hammer sound made-up, well, there are many equally insane names that are 100 percent confirmed. We know celebrities pick names like Pirate, Camera, Reignbeau and Moxie Crimefighter, while Freakonomics authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner have documented the siblings Winner and Loser. Even the list of most popular names contains some notorious nuggets of nuttiness, like Heaven—the 275th most popular name for a girl in 2008. If Winner and Loser and Heaven and Tu Morrow are verified, isn’t anything possible?
Believability aside, one question that may never fully be answered is, "Why? In the name of all that is holy, why?" Levitt and Dubner point out, “...we live in an age of obsessive, even competitive, parenting. The typical parent is led to believe that her every move will greatly influence her child's future accomplishments. This belief expresses itself in the first official act a parent commits: giving the baby a name. Many parents seem to think that a child will not prosper unless it is hitched to the right one; names are seen to carry great aesthetic and even predictive powers.” So I can somewhat wrap my mind around the thought process behind naming your kid “Lawyer” or “Dentist.”
But why would you want to predestine your child toward a vocation like “Hobo” or “Stalker” or “Hooligan”? Shouldn’t you avoid giving your kid a crazy name for the same reason you don’t paint the baby blue or surgically graft on some tentacles? Who wants to create a freak on purpose?
Then again, maybe I’m being judgmental. Who am I to pooh-pooh a name like Godfrey Sithole? In fact, if I happen to start peopling the earth this year, I have a name picked out, and it will surprise no one who knows me that I’m stealing it from a dog. I spotted this beauty in an Esquire piece by Scott Raab about ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich: “It's an ill wind that blows no good, even in Chicago in November. Take Skittles Blagojevich, a small white dog—could be a bichon frise, maybe a Maltese—who joined the family shortly after Governor Rod's arrest on December 9, 2008, when it was alleged that he was auctioning off Barack Obama's Senate seat.”
Now that’s a name. The late Crocodile Hunter named his daughter Bindi after one of his crocodiles, so why can’t I name my spawn after my disgraced governor’s fluffball?
I just know things will go well for little Skittles Blagojevich Peters.