3 Names that Mattered in 2018

Dec 19th 2018

Names change with the times, reflect the times, and help shape the times. These three names all helped define the times of 2018.

Photo: Getty Images

Abcde. In November, an outraged mother accused a Southwest Airlines gate agent of publicly "name shaming" her five-year-old daughter. Seeing the girl's unconventional name, the agent laughed and pointed and commented loudly to other employees. Most shockingly, the agent took a photo of the young girl's boarding pass and posted it to social media. The incident became a viral sensation, focused on the name itself: Abcde.

The alphabetic name Abcde (AB-si-dee) is a rare choice, given to an average of just 20 American girls each year over the past two decades. Yet it holds an outsized role in our national name discussion. Long before the viral airport squabble, I was fielding curious, puzzled, derisive and skeptical questions about the name. Presciently, eight years ago our Name Lady advice column used Abcde as an example of why we need a new etiquette to match the new generation of names. The recent incident drives that point home.

The story of Abcde is important because it's just the tip of the iceberg. We live in a creative naming era. There is no longer such a thing as a "normal" name, and going forward we're all going to meet a steady stream of people with names that surprise or downright amuse us. We have to be polite about it, because ridiculing a person's name is ridiculing the person. We need to have courteous responses prepared and ready: "Oh, what an interesting name! Would you mind spelling that again for me?" That way we won't be tempted into publicly insulting a stranger, let alone a child.

On the other side of the etiquette equation, the growing ranks of parents who choose highly unconventional names have to learn not to expect conventional reactions. A name like Abcde is deliberately eye-catching and playful, tweaking our expectations about names and language. While flat-out rudeness is never ok, honest surprise, confusion and mistakes are inevitable. Prepare cheerful, disarming replies—and make sure to arm your child with them, too.

Beto merchandise. Image: betofortexas.com

Beto. In the much-watched Texas senatorial race, both candidates ran exclusively under their nicknames. That's hardly surprising in itself. Nicknames are everywhere in politics. The twist is that this contest pitted a Hispanic man with an Anglo nickname against an Anglo man with a Hispanic nickname: Senator Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz vs. Representative Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke.

In Texas, with its very large Hispanic population, cultural identity became a significant issue in the race. The O'Rourke campaign proposed that the candidates debate in Spanish, thus highlighting the fact that O'Rourke is fluent in the language while Cruz is not. The Cruz campaign ran ads deriding O'Rourke for running as Beto (a Spanish pet form of Roberto) rather than his "real" name, implying that his use of the Spanish nickname was phony or pandering. O'Rourke's campaign responded with a photo of him as a small child in a sweater with "BETO" sewn across the front, to establish the nickname's authenticity.

Beyond the question of ethnicity, the name Beto turns standard political nicknaming on its head. Politicians rely on the familiarity of common nicknames to make them sound likeable and down-to-earth. The "All-American nice guy nicknames" in particular rule the political arena. Congress currently boasts 15 Toms but just one Thomas; 5 Tims but no Timothys. O'Rourke's campaign, though, embraced the less conventional nickname Beto as its calling card. Yard signs and bumper stickers referred to him by first name only, banking on the contrast with standard political nicknames to make an impact. Just the fact of "Beto" neatly suggested that their candidate was a change from Washington business as usual.


Stormi and Stormy. Images: instagram/kylie jenner, Reuters

Stormy/Stormi. 2018 brought a perfect "storm" of publicity to this pair of names. All-purpose celebrity Kylie Jenner and rapper Travis Scott welcomed a daughter named Stormi in February, shining a new spotlight on a name that peaked in popularity before Ms. Jenner was born. Meanwhile, adult entertainer Stormy Daniels was steadily in the news, as it was determined that she was paid illegal hush money during the 2016 presidential campaign to keep quiet about an alleged affair with then-candidate Donald Trump.

In the case of Ms. Daniels, Stormy is a stage name, and a classic one. Word-based names are popular among adult entertainers to help establish the fantasy they're selling. "Stormy" suggests wildness, which pairs neatly with the surname she reportedly borrowed from Jack Daniels whiskey.

What does all of this mean for the baby names Stormi and Stormy? The Jenner-Kardashian clan has shown its clout in the baby name arena, helping to spur the popularity of names like Mason and Khloe. But in this generation, baby names and politics don't mix. Most parents will want to steer wide of the Stormy Daniels saga. It will be interesting to see whether the small difference in spelling is enough to keep Stormi in the clear.



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