You have to imagine that the pressure was on for Elon Musk and Grimes when it came time to name their baby. He is an eccentric, flamethrower-hawking billionaire tycoon who’s obsessed with Mars. She is the kind of pop star who releases songs written from the perspective of a vampire Al Pacino. Even two years on, their beautifully bizarre coupling continues to boggle minds and confound pop fans, tech hobbyists, and celebrity watchers the world over. Everyone is still confused about that whole drama with Azealia Banks. (Though, interestingly enough, Grimes did foretell her pregnancy back then.) Anyway, suffice it to say there were great expectations for this baby name—expectations beyond even “Apple” or “Elsie Otter.” Factor in that the parents themselves have uncommon names and might have wanted to pass Mom and Dad’s weird-name tradition onto the next generation. So no, they couldn’t just call their baby something normal.
The baby, a boy, was born Monday night, and if Musk’s hazy tweets are to be believed, he has been christened X Æ A-12 Musk. Rather than issuing a press release, a Notes app statement, or just keeping the news private, Musk has chosen to mete out updates on the newborn in the somewhat chaotic way he often does, by replying to select tweets his fans have directed his way. (It’s like he is so committed to being a “reply guy” that he insists that all his communications must be replies.) “Mom & baby all good,” Musk tweeted to @Gaelic_Neilson. When @priscillabanana asked for the name, that’s when he wrote “X Æ A-12 Musk.” To @TeslaGong, he offered a picture of the baby, but edited so it looked like he had face tattoos. Oh to be a billionaire with no impulse control and a Twitter account!
Was Musk serious about X Æ A-12? Given what we know about Musk and Grimes (see above), it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Traditionally reliable news sources are sure going with it. Some of those outlets have speculated that the name is meant to be pronounced “X Ash Archangel”—again, based on ambiguous Twitter behavior on the part of Musk: He liked a tweet positing this. It may look more like a math equation than a name, but the character Æ is apparently said as “ash,” and A-12 has been used as a codename for a type of plane.
[Update, May 6, 2020: Grimes posted a tweet confirming parts of this reading. Musk, once again in a reply, offered a minor correction to the mother of his child.]
But one baby name expert I consulted, Laura Wattenberg, author of a book and founder of multiple websites about baby names, has her doubts that X Æ A-12 could really be the child’s name. Many states have laws on the books about the names people can be given, and “X Æ A-12 isn’t likely to pass legal muster,” she told me in an email. The couple presumably lives in California, and “California, like many states, defines names as consisting of letters—specifically the 26 letters of the English alphabet. In fact, there has been a battle in California over even making diacritics like accents and tildes a legal part of a name.” If they don’t like accent marks, chances are they’ll have a problem with Æ. By way of example, Wattenberg pointed to the story of a man whose birth name was Michael Dengler who spent years in court in the 1970s trying to change his legal name to the number 1069—and did not succeed. She added that government databases—and as we’ve recently seen, those can be so difficult to update that it’s effectively impossible—”will strip out punctuation and internal capitalization, substitute AE for Æ and reject numeric characters. So X Æ A-12 would become Xaea.”
“Putting matters of taste aside, X Æ A-12 is a wildly impractical name,” Wattenberg went on. “It’s not only hard to spell and remember and virtually unpronounceable; it’s not even easily typable and no forms or databases will accept it. It’s simply nonfunctional. If—and it’s a big if—this is their real name choice, it’s in a whole different class than other celebrity baby names that people object to on the basis of style. It fails at the basic job of being a contemporary American name.”
“Fails at the basic job of being a contemporary American name” would sound, to a lot of us, like failure. I doubt it would to Musk and Grimes. Perhaps the only answer for them was going to be a name that fails at being a name, and therefore deconstructs the concept of people having names in general. In that case, mission accomplished. Though, of course, there’s someone else who did it first.