When Gwyneth Paltrow named her daughter Apple, the public reaction really surprised me. Some of the comments I read were so mean-spirited, I wondered if I had missed something. Maybe that’s because I knew an Apple in my third grade class. I thought her name was adorable, and with her rosy cheeks, brown eyes, and bouncy pigtails, this fresh, lovely moniker seemed perfect for her. I’m not a huge fan of Gwyneth, but I felt sorry for her as the world reacted to the special name she chose for her baby girl. And I really felt sorry for the Apple I grew up with, wondering if she, too, was reading all the negative press this name seemed to evoke.
I can empathize with Gwyneth on this subject, because I gave my six-year-old son a very unique name. As we told friends and family the name, the reaction was split almost perfectly down the middle. Some thought it was the coolest name they had ever heard- just fantastic. Then there were the people who either said, “What?” or, “Oohhh,” with a head nod, which translated roughly into, ‘That’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard. Are you alright in the head?”
Last year, while pregnant with my second child, I spent a little time surfing some parenting sites, and reading message boards, with baby name ideas and suggestions. While surfing these sites, I noticed a disturbing theme humming through the comment boxes and message boards. A good number of parent comments were very negative about unique names. And by unique, I mean anything other that Madison, Dylan, or Riley.
The recurring theme of these comments was that, by recklessly giving a child anything other than a “Top Twenty” name, parents are setting their children up for a life of misery and mockery. What’s worse, the underlying implication was that, if these children have an unusual name, well, it’s just a matter of course that Caleb, Wyatt, and Hannah are going to tease him or her mercilessly, and the child will inevitable grow into a social misfit. “That kid is going to get the crap beat out of him with a name like that.” Words of wisdom from Kevin in Oklahoma City. “Those names are aweful (sic) and your kid will hate you if you name him that,” warned Kathy from New Hampshire.
Call me old-fashioned, but I think the Apple-haters and parents of kids with “normal” names are doing a far bigger disservice by reinforcing the belief that it’s acceptable to pick on someone because they think their name is odd. Children don’t deserve to be made fun of for having a remarkable name. Or freckles, or ears that stick out, or any of the other things that makes us who we are. Being unique should not be synonymous with being a target.
I know there are a lot of people who prefer what’s popular, and those names are fine, too. But one-of-a-kind names are not a crime. I’ve always loved the unusual name my parents chose for me, and I feel confident my children will think that I chose well for them. Unique names are a wonderful gift I feel I’ve given my children, as full of character and extraordinary as they are.