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It’s the game of the name, baby

Susan and I are embarking upon the most pleasurable, fulfilling and miraculous acts of creation a man and woman can achieve together.

Well, actually, this act of creation ranks No. 2, but we’re only able to do this because we’ve accomplished No. 1.

It’s only because we will have a baby in May that we’re able to leap into this second-most fulfilling act of creation — naming the baby. Sorting through the thousands of possibilities for our child is an intimidating task; the name we choose will be with our child through school, into adulthood and quite possibly into the 22nd century.

We’d like the name to be unique. Yet, we don’t want it to be so embarrassing that the child is ridiculed. But how do you know which name will be unique and which one will be so popular it is overused? And how do you know that the name you innocently picked won’t in five years be the name of some terrible person, the mere mention of which turns grade-schoolers into hateful, fist-pounding demons?

To find out, we could go to a crowded toy store, shouting prospective names as if we’re trying to find lost offspring. The fewer children who respond, the more likely it is that the name is unique. And the fewer adults who suppress laughter at a name, the better the chance that it will be socially acceptable. 

In toy stores, you learn the most popular names by listening to parents call their real children. “Cody!” they shout. “Brittany!” And then, very surprisingly, in recent years I’ve heard extremely angry parents shouting, “Shawn!!”

This makes me jump and immediately drop the toy I’m probably not supposed to be touching. I turn to look into angry parental eyes. Half the little boys in the aisle are looking around in fear, too. We’re all Shawns. Only one of us is guilty, but we all know it could be us next time. These little Shawns get into a heap of trouble; their parents get angrier at them than at any other child, shouting at them with extra fury, extra exclamation points. At least, it seems that way to me. 

Growing up, I was one of the few Shawns. But around 1990, the name soared in popularity, ranking ahead of standard names such as John and William. And it was apparently given only to boys who behave badly in public.   

Still, I’d like to give our child a name like mine — one they don’t have to share (at least for the first 25 years of life) and one that can let them be themselves. For example, when I grew up, there were so few Shawns that there wasn’t anyone I was supposed to model myself after. (OK, there was actor Sean Connery, teen idol Shaun Cassidy and baseball star Shawon Dunston, but they all spelled their names wrong.)

Susan and I have been looking for such a name by brainstorming and scouring baby-name books, including one that contained 13,000 possibilities.

The book might have included that many names, but many were not “possibilities.” Some names were associated with bad people such as Adolph, Benedict and Judas, which you wouldn’t dream giving your baby. We found that of the 13,000 name possibilities, about half of them were merely filler.

Of those names remaining about half were names that we deemed too common; half of the remaining names were too potentially psychologically damaging (i.e. Cyril, Selwyn); half of the remaining names were those of annoying people we knew in school; half of the remaining names were those of jerks at work; half of the remaining names were those of people we knew and liked, but not enough to appear to be naming a child after them; half of the remaining names didn’t work well with “Plank” (i.e. Hank Plank); half of the remaining names weren’t quite culturally accurate (i.e. Jafar Plank); half of the remaining names were already taken by other family members; half of the remaining names we just didn’t care for; and two of those remaining names we had already given to our cats. 

That leaves us with 10 names to choose from. This simplifies things, but it makes naming the baby less a great process of creativity and more a process of elimination.

Leading candidates: For a girl, Savannah or “Savvy” for short — Savvy Plank. Cool, huh? For a boy, Woodrow or “Woody” for short — Woody Plank.


Make that nine names.

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