Chicago West is a pretty badass name.
It is my hope that by naming their new daughter after one of the country’s most iconic cities, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are setting up their third child to be some kind of adventure-seeking archaeologist. They may also just really like the hospital. Whatever the case, as much drama as the name has created, by the standards of celebrity offspring, it’s a pretty standard name. When you have children named North and Saint, going all Windy City with your naming (shortened to ‘Chi’ for brevity) is par for the course. It’s not as if any of us expected her to be named Anne, and if she was, people would still mock it.
I clearly remember the hubbub that surrounded the revelation that Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin had named their daughter Apple (although it’s not as if ‘Gwyneth’ is an especially common name outside of Wales). It seems so quaint in the age of Blue Ivy, Bronx Mowgli, Buzz Michelangelo, and River Rocket. Miss Martin also followed in eclectic footsteps, from Moon Unit Zappa to Pilot Inspektor Lee to Moxie Crimefighter Jillette. You can almost sense the press disappointment when celebrities give their kids names like Jane or Jack. Admit it, you kind of still wish Duncan Jones went by Zowie Bowie. As much as we mock the storybook names or the rockstar homages or the general reclaiming of random nouns, we also crave it on some level. It reassures us that those people are indeed totally different from the rest of us.
The divide between celebrities and us so-called normal people is a strange, liminal space that shifts with the tides and has no real defining features. In an age where anyone with a webcam and obnoxious personality can make the same amount of money per year as Jennifer Lawrence, fame has become more attainable and less tangible than ever. Even as all of this changes at a rapid pace, there are things we expect from the famous: higher levels of cash-flow, increased scrutiny on their daily lives, and a tendency to do things that are a bit strange to everyone else. For celebrities, we don’t expect the rules to apply.
Many people have written about the possible psychological reasoning behind such celebrity name choices. A 2006 piece in the New York Times, written after Apple’s arrival, talked of the act as a way of bestowing not only uniqueness upon a child, but a sense of privilege, comparable to a royal title. Others have discussed such names as an extension of the parents’ creativity. It’s a way to break boundaries or show your transgressive nature. The very act of parenthood remains one of our deepest traditions, something our society preaches as the primary focus of life. If you’re a rockstar, having a kid is the ultimate uncool act, so of course you have to call your kid Fifi Trixiebelle. You’re hardcore, you’re larger than life, and you don’t give a fuck, so by bestowing your child with a name so impossible to ignore, you’re setting them up for a similar future. Penn Jillette admitted his daughter got the middle name ‘Crimefighter’ in the hopes that it could inspire her (and also because nobody cares about middle names).
Celebrities may feel the need to be trendsetters too. In 2009, ‘Mason’ was number 34 on the most popular boys’ names in America. Two years later, it had jumped to number two on the list. What happened in the interim period? Kourtney Kardashian’s son Mason Disick was born. The name Luna jumped from 77 to 24 in the period after the birth of John Legend and Chrissy Teigen’s daughter. It’s much better to be a leader than a follower.
There’s also the simple matter of money making. I doubt Kris Jenner gave her daughters names beginning with K in the hopes that it would lead to impeccable branding opportunities in their future, but it’s certainly a nice benefit. If it is your prerogative, you can ensure your child’s name is not only a unique expression of who you are, but its own intellectual property. You can’t trademark a name like Jane West (remember the pushback Kylie Jenner got from princess of pop Kylie Minogue when she tried to register her first name as a trademark?), but North West will probably be a clothing line in ten years time. When your name gets lots of headlines, it establishes you as a force from birth, and you’ll probably end up using it well once you’re old enough to be a celebrity in your own right.
None of this is necessarily new, nor is it unique to celebrities. We plebs are catching up to the trends and digging deep for old, weird, or unique names to give our kids. When I was born, Kayleigh had become the hottest girl’s name in town, in part because of that awful Marillion song, and nearly every boy on the ward was named Jamie. Jackson is currently the top boys’ name in America, in part because the spelling variant of Jaxon has risen in popularity. I have logged onto Facebook at least twice and seen someone I vaguely know with a child named after a Game of Thrones character. I literally know a girl named Panda.
But the rules are different when you have to go to a state school or apply for jobs via the internet or have no interest in being famous. People will pick on you if you’re that one kid in the class named Thor, no matter how badass it sounds. If you make it to the interview stage, you’ll probably be faced with a bunch of questions along the line of, ‘but seriously, your name is Snow?’ We all want to carve unique paths for ourselves and the generations that follow, but it’s in naming that we see the stark differences in terms of class. Think of the names the upper classes have that barely make us pause.
Call it creativity, attention seeking, branding preparation or just plain weirdness: Unique baby names remains one of the celebrity world’s most time-honoured traditions. We can follow in those footsteps or make new roads, but inevitably we’ll pale in comparison to the Jermajestys and Elsie Otters of the world.