Baby naming is a ritual perhaps second only to weddings in its strange power to transform otherwise normal adults into obsessive (understandable!), petty and interfering (unfortunate!) crazies. On Friday, I wrote about how the CHLC took a turn this way, when a woman wrote in that she and her brother are expecting children within two weeks of each other. The brother has the estimated time “advantage,” and he’s being territorial about claiming a name. She had no idea what name he wanted (or the gender of the child she was carrying), but was tempted to deliberately use “his” name–regardless of what it was–just to make him mad. For the rest of their lives.
With my Friday afternoon wrapping up on this note, and a quiet weekend ahead, it’s no surprise that I ended up spending a lot of time over the next few days on babynamewizard.com and digging through the archives of Ask the Name Lady, in search of more horror stories.
And….speaking of horror….today’s letter fit the bill:
Q: My nephew’s baby has already been born, but the name they chose will give you goosebumps. Damien. Are they in their right minds? I find it truly embarrassing. I think so many people have seen all the “Omen” movies. I know there is nothing you can do. I just felt like talking about it.
A: Don’t give up hope, there may be something I can do after all. I can persuade you that a demonic child in a horror movie isn’t a bad association for your grand-nephew’s name.
No, I’m not coming down on the side of demons. I’m just reporting on the realities of fashion. Strange as it may seem, a film appearance as the spawn of Satan is a reliable recipe for a fashionable baby name. Take a look at this lineup of classic horror movie kids:
Rosemary’s Baby (1968): Adrian
The Exorcist (1973): Regan
Every one of these names soared in popularity after the movies came out. Somehow, parents were able to look past the glowing eyes, spinning heads and projectile vomit to say “hey, that’s a catchy name!” Damien is an especially clear case, because of the spelling. Damien-with-an-e is the French version of the old saint’s name Damian. After The Omen came out, it quickly leapfrogged the traditional English spelling.
Why the craze for cursed kiddies? I don’t think it’s a national turn to the dark side. It’s about they way screenwriters came up with those names to begin with. They aimed for names that were unusual but not weird, with a slight air of formality or mystery about them. That’s a mighty stylish recipe — unusual and formal are totally in. So rest easy. The same ingredients that made Damien a perfect choice for a ’70s horror movie also make it a perfect choice for a 21st-century American family.
It seems to me, though, that not all these names are equal. Damien and Adrian both have long historical and religious associations that pre-date the single horror movie link (both date back to the Classical era, one Greek, one Roman). At the other end of the spectrum, Gage was virtually unknown before Pet Sematary, so had novelty going for it to outweigh its creepy association.
But Regan? Poor Regan. It’s possible that I’m more interested in this name because I almost was a Regan–the two defeating factors being that 1) my dad didn’t like it and 2) I was born during the Reagan administration and they feared the name would be seen as some kind of political statement.
But there should have been a 3): the name is freakin’ cursed! What historical and literary Regans can you name? King Lear’s nasty daughter? The Exorcist, of course. Ken Follett reinforced the negative link when he gave the name to the vicious Regan Hamleigh in his epic Pillars of the Earth.
The name could have a lot going for it–it’s feminine without being girly. Unusual, but has historical clout. It doesn’t immediately call to mind old ladies. But I think it has a lot farther to go than the others in overcoming its evil ties.