MONIKERS Parents use strategy for playing name game

Professor finds that parents are naming their babies after elite products.
In what may be the strangest baby-naming trend in recent years, parents are turning to the grocery aisle, car dealerships and department stores for inspiration.
Cleveland Evans, a psychology professor at Bellevue University in Nebraska, analyzed the names of 4 million babies born in this country in the year 2000 and discovered a nascent and unusual trend: Parents naming their babies after products.
Although there were hundreds of thousands of Ashleys and Emilys and Joshuas and Jacobs born that year, Evans was intrigued by the more unusual names. There were 55 Chevys, 12 Camrys, 7 Courvoisiers (named for the cognac), 17 Dodges, five Darvons and six Ronricos.
The girls' names included 298 Armanis, 164 Nauticas, 36 Cateras (a Cadillac) and six Cartiers. And there were an astounding 442 girls named Essence -- a name inspired, he believes, by the magazine.
"Everybody is looking for something different," says Evans. "So they are going out and finding names."
We're all products of our time. But some of us bear the trademark more than others.
"There have been girls named Chanel since I started collecting names 25 years ago," says Evans. "Chanel was just a last name in France before it was the perfume."
Likewise, Tiffany was a store before it was a name for girls -- and one of the earliest examples of product placement.
Top of the charts
In the 1980s, some Americans turned to television for inspiration. For example, the name Ashley was a boy's name until 1983, shortly after the character Ashley Abbott appeared on The Young and the Restless. The name spread like kudzu across the country, immediately jumping to the top of the charts and holding forth there until 1997.
Similarly, in the 1990s, Americans began naming their babies after places -- witness the explosion of Austins, Dakotas, Savannahs and Arizonas.
But in a twist that surprised even Evans, he discovered five girls born in 2000 who were named Disney. That's right -- the perfect vacation destination.
Although American parents clearly have a history of seeking out unusual monikers, the concept of naming a child after a consumer product is, with a few exceptions, a new phenomenon.
Follow guidelines
But there appear to be some general guidelines that parents use. Above all: When naming children after products, select high-end, luxury goods. You don't run into many children named Hyundai. Or Kmart.
Still, social scientists are pondering this question: Why do parents bend over backward to give their children names such as Infiniti, Guinness and Rayon?
Blame it on the incredible diversity of choices Americans face every day, says names researcher Herbert Barry III from the University of Pittsburgh.
Become diverse
It just makes sense that Americans won't settle for the same plain-Jane names anymore. Indeed, when Barry studied the most popular names for girls and boys from 1900 to 1999, he discovered that girls' names started becoming more diverse in the 1950s -- during the Nancy, Karen, Deborah, Susan era -- while boys' names were pretty predictable until the 1980s, when names like Justin, Jason, Brandon and Nicholas reflected parents' desire for unconventional boys' names.
Although there are still plenty of Hannahs and Emilys, Matthews and Christophers, the top 10 baby names are given to a far smaller number of children.
"The intrinsic purpose of a name is to distinguish people from others," says Barry. "But in previous years, people wanted to avoid a name that was too unusual. They wanted a name that would be popular, wouldn't be ridiculed."
Searching the Web
Today, however, parents don't want their little Ashley to be the 22nd Ashley in kindergarten. So they're scouring the Internet to find the most popular names -- and working hard to avoid them.
What they're coming up with is definitely uncommon.
Take the 29 babies named Skyy, for instance. Although Sky has been popular since the 1960s, the spelling of Skyy gave away its origin -- Skyy vodka.
"One of the names that surprised me was the number of Evians, the bottled water," says Evans. "There were 10 boys named Evian and 15 girls. That was one I hadn't quite thought of before."
Nautica was no surprise to Evans, who'd seen that one gaining ground. But the name has become almost exclusively female. Armani, by contrast, still seems to be a unisex name -- perhaps the Dana of its time. In 2000, he found 273 boys named Armani and 298 girls.
And though he found five children named Darvon in 2000, Evans thinks it's unlikely that naming children after drugs will become popular. So don't expect to see a spate of Viagras, Celebrexes or Nexiums.