- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 13, 2007

Baby names aren’t what they used to be. Why look, there’s little Krispee Valvoline Shoelace over there in her playpen. Aw-w-w. And there’s her brother, Bicep.

But truth is stranger than fiction. Las Vegas magician Penn Jillette is the proud father of Moxie Crimefighter — a girl — and Zolten — a boy. NBC’s Matt Lauer named his new son Thijs, a Dutch variant of Matthew more or less pronounced as “Tice.” Not to be outdone, actor Nicholas Cage has opted to call his brand-new baby boy Kal-El, which was Superman’s given name back when he lived on Krypton.

“I’ll bet you within five or 10 years, there will be a lot of Kal-Els. It just happened that my son is the only one right now,” Mr. Cage said in a recent interview.

And the entire space-time continuum was almost disrupted last spring when Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes finally became the proud parents of daughter Suri, only to discover that the name means “pointy-nosed” in a southern Indian dialect, a fact gleefully fixated upon by the news media until Angelina Jolie gave birth to baby girl Shiloh Nouvel in May.

Confabulating noteworthy baby names is a tough job, but somebody has to do it. Celebrities have become deft at crafting monikers that are a press agent’s dream — or nightmare, as the case may be. In recent memory, former Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon named his daughters Saffron Sahara and Tallulah Pine, while actors David Duchovny and Tea Leoni decided to call their baby boy Kyd.

Rock star John Mellencamp has a son named Speck Wildhorse, and actor Jason Lee is the father of Pilot Inspektor (male). Actress Rachel Griffiths is the mother of Banjo, also male. Rock mogul Bob Geldorf’s daughters are Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches Honeyblossom and Little Pixie, while celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s daughters are Daisy Boo and Poppy Honey. Actor Rob Morrow calls his little girl Tu, of course. Think about that for a few moments.

Ah, for the simple days of Frank Zappa, who created a big stir three decades ago by naming his children Moon Unit, Dweezil and Diva Muffin. Then there was David Bowie and his son Zowie, who goes by Duncan.

Things could get complicated should politicians start naming their babies for the cause du jour: Oh look, isn’t that Global Warming and her brother Gun Control? Yes, of course, over there by Tax Cut. Has he gained weight?

Meanwhile, journalists track the waxing and waning of popular baby names with zeal, attaching a huge amount of cultural importance to the passing fancies of parents around the planet. There is something to it, though.

Consider that humble, forthright John and Mary remained the most popular names for infants for five decades, according to Social Security records, reigning supreme from 1880 through 1930, when Robert muscled in as the top name for boys. Mary didn’t abdicate her throne until 1950, replaced by Linda.

Moms and dads began to push the envelope a little in the girls’ department by 1960, when kicky Kimberly appeared among the traditional Susans and Barbaras. A decade later, the most popular girls’ names included Tracy, Dawn and Heather. Jason, Todd and Shawn surfaced on the boys’ side. By the millennium, baby names were percolating with fantasy, onomatopoeia, exotica and literary references.

That brings us, at last, to the latest compendium of top baby names, compiled from 2006 birth records by the San Francisco-based Baby Center, a marketing research group that tracks our very youngest residents.

The top 10 girls’ names are Emma followed by Madison, Ava, Emily, Isabella, Kaitlyn, Sophia, Olivia, Abigail and Hailey. The expanded list of the top 100 names also includes the decidedly ungirly Addison, Mackenzie, Avery, Peyton, Brooklyn and Baily. Mary is nowhere to be found.

The top 10 boys names: Aiden, Jacob, Ethan, Ryan, Matthew, Jack, Noah, Nicholas, Joshua and Logan. Among the top 100, there also are Caden, Jayden, Brayden and Hayden. John ranks at No. 42.

The center, which monitors baby names here and in several other countries, logged 374,522 names last year alone, noting that “creative and unique spelling” was the top naming trend. Parents managed to find 45 ways to spell Mackenzie on the girls’ side, for example, and 32 ways to spell Caden over on the boys’ side.

The syndicated Dear Abby column, which we publish daily, suggested a few weeks ago that giving a child a “weird name” was a bad idea for myriad social and practical reasons. Readers around the nation have since argued the merits of both conventional and atypical names. “No one ever forgets the name Mary,” one Kentucky mother snarled in the column.

Oddly enough, the rich and famous may one day lead the world away from unusual baby names. Actress Kate Winslet just named her new son Joe, while Tom Hanks has chosen Chester for his boy. Adam Sandler picked the old-fashioned Sadie for his infant daughter. And rest assured that all is not what it seems: Nevaeh, No. 89 among the top 100 girls’ names, was deemed the “rising star” by Baby Center list editor Linda Murray.

It is, simply, “heaven” spelled backward.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and biceps for The Washington Times national desk. Reach her at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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