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Only days after having my son, people started apologizing to
me. "I'm sorry, I know three other boys
with that name," they'd say with the air of someone breaking terrible news.
And here is the thing: I know. It's a real name; I didn't
make it up. It's a name used in a famous book and a popular song, and I figured
other people would use it. In fact, I used it because I love the ways it's been
used in the past. So why was everyone acting like my kid's lack of uniqueness
was an awful thing?
There is a crisis of uniqueness among parents. According to
Nameberry co-founder and editor Pamela Redmond Satran, in 1970 there were only
14,773 total different names listed for babies in the U.S. But 2014 totaled
33,044. Satran attributes the influx of names to the quest for uniqueness. "Everyone
wants their name to be special," she said.
Or not too special. A friend who doesn't have kids recently
explained that every year she searches the end of the year baby name lists
hoping her favorite baby names aren't in the top 10. "I don't want a made up
name, but the name can't be too popular, you know? Then, I'll have to find a
It was so exhausting being so unique all the time. Most of the time, kids just want to belong, you know?
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I often skulked on
baby name message boards where people would parse out just how popular a name
was and what the odds were of their kid being in the same class with another
kid of that name. It was a complicated
numbers game to ensure that their children were special, but you know, not too
And I kind of get it. I was born an Elizabeth and nicknamed
Liz. In sixth grade, tired of my complete lack of uniqueness, I changed the
spelling of my nickname from Liz to Lyz. I have never been able to escape this
adolescent decision, and after furiously trying and failing to change my name
from Lyz back to Liz, I gave up and leaned into the crazy of my own making.
I once taught a class with a girl named Mercedes. She was in
her 40s and I asked her how she felt about her name. "Honestly," she said, "it's
a name that is more popular now, but when I was little it was so exhausting
being so unique all the time. Most of the time, kids just want to belong, you
This cultural scramble for uniqueness is a crazy of our own
making, born out of some adolescent desire to make our children unique and
special snowflakes. There is nothing wrong with being part of a grand tradition
of names or have having a name that rode a popular tide. A friend of mine,
Jessica, loves meeting other Jessicas. They all identify as '80s babies—mostly
white with similar, middle class, upbringings. "We are like a tribe," she told
I too love finding historical and literary precedents for my name. I am
one of a long history of Elizabeths marching through time, a grand procession
of women including queens, writers, great literary characters like Elizabeth
Bennett, and the first female doctor in America, Elizabeth Blackwell.
And I will defend anyone's right to name their child
whatever they want, always. But this search for uniqueness is largely
misguided. While our children are special to us, to the world they are just
another child, another human, another part of a teeming mass of humanity. And
that is OK. You can't always be special to everyone and you shouldn't expect
I'm OK with my kid being one of a legion of ones with his name. I imagine him as another in a grand tribe of people who proudly bear a name like a mantle of honor. Because uniqueness is exhausting and frankly overrated.