I love The Bloggess for her over-the-top irreverence and the wonderfully crazy things she has to say, especially in conversation with her husband, Victor. The other day, she posted an amusing exchange she and Victor had about a newborn baby who had become Internet Famous due to the unfortunate circumstance of being named Hashtag.
A hashtag, for those who might not know, is something generally used in Twitter to categorize posts based on keywords. It’s a word (or several words with the spaces removed) prefaced by the # symbol. So, if I were a Twitter user and wrote a post about Black Friday, I might write #blackfriday at the end of the post; then, anyone who wanted to read only posts about Black Friday could search for that hashtag and my post would be included.
I share with many other people a certain amount of skepticism that this baby is actually named after a Twitter metadata sorting mechanism. Isn’t it possible that “Hashtag” was the joke name, a la Kermie or Shenanigan, that the parents were using prior to choosing or sharing the real name? I can certainly see myself uploading a picture with the caption “Welcome, Kermie Batman!” — either for a giggle, or because at the last minute we decided we were uncertain about the name we thought we were going to choose. And I have to admit, despite knowing all-too-well that people name their children AWFUL things, that part of me refuses to believe that anyone would saddle a kiddo with this moniker.
I went to high school with two girls who were named after car brands and a handful of kids whose parents had clearly never given up the ghost of their hippie days. I’ve taught students with some pretty unique names. But little Hashtag, if that’s really her name, joins a new pantheon of babies who are named after 21st century technology. Laura Wattenberg, the Baby Name Wizard, responded to the Hashtag story by pointing out recent babies named (or allegedly named) Yahoo, Facebook, Google, and Like (as in the Like button on Facebook). She also reminded us of an article she wrote in 2010 about babies being named after video game characters. (I’m pretty sure I have read about a child named Nintendo as well, but I can’t find the reference right now.)
In some parts of the world, parents must operate within rigorous legal parameters when choosing the names for their progeny; Dylan Matthews of Wonkblog recently wrote about countries like Denmark and Sweden with exceptionally strict naming regulations, including the prohibition against gender-neutral or -ambiguous names. In America, land of the free, there are relatively few restrictions on what we name our children. We aren’t allowed to use numbers or most non-letter symbols, and some states have pushed for a certain level of censorship, but otherwise we have free rein. Consequently: bizarro spellings (and misspellings), portmanteaus, inappropriate homages, and names we hope are urban myths like La-a (pronounced Ladasha) and Shithead (pronounced Shuh-thay-duh). In other words, Ryan and I are free to name our child Shenanigan — or Kermie, or Batman, or He Who Shall Not Be Named — but we can’t name her 820. Alas.
And after all, as Katy Waldman recently wrote for Slate, what’s wrong with some names over others? Why are some noun-names (Rose, April, Hunter) okay and others are not?
Why is it that you can call your daughter Wren but not Seagull? Why can my Southern colleague marry a guy named Tripper without thinking twice, but George Costanza draws fire for wanting to dub his firstborn Seven? It all seems so arbitrary.
When push comes to shove, I guess it really does come down to parental choice. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel awfully sorry for the Hashtags and Seagulls of the world. Middle school’s gonna be rough.