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13 February 2005

I was named after a suit.

Bringing new meaning to the term "designer babies", parents are naming their children after multinational companies and expensive brands such as Lexus, Pepsi, Nike and Armani. The trend, described by University of Melbourne sociologist Dr Jui-shan Chang as a bizarre symptom of a postmodern consumer culture, appears to have emerged in the 1990s in Victoria. While Prada, Gucci and Fendi are yet to be snapped up by parents, designer clothing labels such as Armani, Chanel, Versace and Diesel were popular choices in the 1990s, the state's birth registry shows. A luxury car name proved inspirational to parents, with three boys and a girl born since 2000 named Lexus. "This is self-identity defined by consumerism and parents want their children to have top brand names," Dr Chang said. "People's self-worth is so tied to consumerism now," she said. "Self-identity has become constructed from consumerism and that is different to anything we have seen before."
The Sun-Herald
Sunday February 13, 2005

Having just been through the process of naming my new baby boy, I was intrigued, humoured and somewhat disconcerted by the above Sun-Herald article. I had heard about naming your child after another family member, close friend, a hero or even a memorable destination, but a consumer brand?

Dr Chang’s analysis that this emerging trend is due to our close identification with the brands we consume…we are the brands we use...is worth consideration. For a brand owner, this trend could be considered something of a coup – brands have become so closely entwined with who we are, or who we aspire to be, we ‘label’ our children for life. However, as a brand advisor and parent, it is a trend that raises some questions.

Surely, even consumer brands with significant ‘heritage’ and suitable ‘attributes’ could not have the depth, permanence or uniqueness of a human life? Advertising and marketing allusions aside, the whole notion of consumerism is about expendability, utilization, desirability. Are we starting to view our children as consumables, made to order ‘accessories’ that round out our image of us?

Or perhaps we are being influenced by the personification of brands. With little or no differentiation between products and service experience, brand owners are developing a ‘cult of personality’ around brands. The old ‘if I were a person what sort of person would I be?’ approach to developing brand attributes has been taken to a new level. Though one must note that in the case of brands such as Armani, they started with, and are still strongly influenced by, an actual person.

Alternatively, naming a child after an unattainable item [that Gucci handbag you can’t possibly afford] may somehow, in the mind of the parent, endow the child with a hopefulness of future betterment, in the same way that people in some cultures name their children after saints or royalty. Certainly, the process of selecting and bestowing names on our offspring is culturally referenced. In Tanzania, for instance, where Catholicism is institutionalised, villagers call their children names such as ‘God Happy’, as a sign of devotion and commitment to a faith that may bring their child education and therefore, a better life.

Or, are there just too many Emily’s in the world [ranked in the US TOP 10 names since 1991] and people are running out of names? Being inventive about a child’s name is considered paramount to some who adhere to the notion of individualism and an anathema to others, who want their child to ‘fit in’. Funnily, despite the plethora of baby books assailing pregnant parents from the shelf of every bookstore, no one it seems has yet felt the need to tell new parents how to select a suitable name for their child; naming seems to be one of those things that are assumed knowledge.

On the hunt for a name for our new baby-to-be, my partner and I took up the offer of my business colleague to run a ‘naming workshop’ much along the methodological lines we follow for our clients. It was after all, we reasoned, a logical and useful way to create a list of names that had meaning and resonance. Naming routes and themes were selected and researched, some with better results than others. While we skipped the linguistic checking step, it is highly recommended to couples who have differing cultural backgrounds…a friend married to a Spaniard loved the name ‘Casper’ only to find out from her partner that it meant ‘dandruff’ in Spanish!

However a name is chosen, what is important is that it is done with as much care, consideration and love as befits a new human being. In the intriguing and black, Amelie Nothomb novel, ‘The Book of Proper Names’, the young Lucette searches for a name for her unborn child in her grandfather’s ancient encyclopaedia…then kills her husband when he suggests mediocre alternatives. “As for me, I want my baby to have infinity within its reach. I want my child not to feel limited by anything at all, I want my baby’s first name to suggest an uncommon destiny”. Its a naming philosophy that I love, though unlike Lucette, I'm thankful I didn’t need to kill my partner, to achieve it.

1 comment:

George Catsi said...

Having been through a recent quest to find a name for a new son, I found your article refreshing yet disturbing.

Our search for a 'perfect' name that reflected the unknown personality of this new being was at times treacherous. A proposed name was always followed by a search for its meaning. As if this would somehow bestow the meaning on to the baby as instil it with that trait.

The only conclusion was, there is no right name but definitley wrong ones, Casper the ghost with Dandruff highlights this. As for babies named after brands, one wouldn't be feeling great about having named their son James Hardie Smith or Jones etc. Even the freshest of things go off eventually.