OFFBEAT: What's in a name?

Robert used to be king. In the 1930s, no baby boy's name was more popular. Now Robert's barely in the
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010


Robert used to be king.

In the 1930s, no baby boy's name was more popular.

Now Robert's barely in the top 50. Jose is more popular. So is Jordan. Ditto for Angel.

Over time, tastes have evolved, if you can call it that. Some tastes have spiraled out of control.

Visiting the Social Security Administration's listing of most popular names by birth year is a terrific way of studying the influence of popular culture.

Take, for instance, the name Peyton, No. 125 on the most recent list of boy's names -- No. 121 for girls. The New York Times noted that before Indianapolis Colts superstar quarterback Peyton Manning came along, the name was a rarity.

Now the name is edging closer and closer to being in the top 100.

In 1950, the male name Levi was No. 592. Twenty years later, it had dropped about 100 slots in rankings to 689.

But since 1980, the name -- long thought left for dead -- came crawling back to life like a zombie monster out of the grave.

In the last eight years, the name has gained considerable ground, climbing to No. 134 in 2006 and 132 last year.

The one boy named Levis, who this reporter has met, was named after his mother's favorite pair of jeans.

It does not require a huge leap of imagination that some -- if not more -- children named Levi were named after pants.

Brand loyalty is a normal part of life. But isn't that setting the bar a little low?

It is difficult to believe that someone named after an article of clothing would be considered as destined to do great things. Living up to their name wouldn't be tough, even though it might be a little strange.

Being in the news business, reporters traffic in names on a daily business. Reporters see firsthand the wide range of people out there whose names seemed to be the product of little to no thought.

There are children out there who must try living down Yamilet (weird), Princess (spoiled), Blaze (extinguishable), German (untranslatable), Rocky (unwatchable) and King (unthinkable).

Republican vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin has five children whose names sound like a list of laundry detergents.

"Honey, don't forget to pick up the Willow, Bristol, Piper and Track when you're out. Those ketchup stains were mighty stubborn."

Earlier this year, a judge in New Plymouth, New Zealand, ordered that a 9-year-old girl's name be changed to save her social embarrassment.

The girl's legal name, Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii, was deemed unacceptable by the judge. He ordered her name be changed to something not completely insane.

Names used to say something about a person's heritage. Now they seem to say whatever random thing a parent was thinking that morning.

Gwyneth Paltrow, co-star of the summer blockbuster "Iron Man," named her child Apple, evidently after this piece of fruit she once had that really hit the spot.

Apples rot. So do names.

Granted -- Robert doesn't have to be King. But let's just make sure that names like King (No. 722) don't move up the popular name list.