The XX Factor

The One Thing You Can Control About Your Kids

Anyone who writes about parenting knows that baby names are a click-thru gold mine. Parents-and soon-to-be-parents and maybe-parents and wannabe-parents and maybe even nonparents-are endlessly fascinated with the subject of what we can, might and do name our kids. The Huffington Post offered a sneak peak at possible top girl names and boy names of 2010. The ratings aren’t based on what kids are actually named (for that, we have to wait for the annual report from the Social Security Administration) but on names searched by the “relatively style conscious” visitors to The idea is that these are names people are considering. Or at least, names people who are hanging out on a baby-naming site like to think they’re considering. Names they’re considering considering.

The names we give our kids do mean something . Boys with girly names act up in class, especially if there’s a female Ashley or Shannon around. Kids with undefined “poor” sounding names (or, as the researcher politely put it, names that sound as if they came from a poor socioeconomic background) apparently tend to live up to their teachers’ low expectations. There’s plenty of excuse for the hours many parents (including me) spend clicking and contemplating. What would a girl named Seraphina be like ? Would Shayden play baseball or hang around under the bleachers writing dark poetry? Is Atticus slick? Does Imogen sound smart? What names offer an aura of wealth or cool or rebellion or security? The real question, of course, is can I bestow that elusive quality I sought in myself upon my kid?

In March, Nina said of another article-again by Pamela Redmond Satran, the founder of Nameberry-that the names searched on her site were the naming choices of image-conscious parents trying to curate their children the way one might curate the choice of an outfit or a display of books on a shelf. Especially in light of the recent NYT article on how little control parents have over their kids’ ultimate personalities and lives , I’m inclined to see it a little less cynically than that. I don’t think it’s that we want to be seen as the parent of a Sophia or a Milo. I think it’s that we seek, in those names, to give our kids the gift of a character or an image we longed to have when we were young. In the end, it may be that the names we give our children don’t say much about our kids. Instead, they speak volumes about ourselves.