The Daughter Also Rises

October 4, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

I still recall a Times wedding announcement from a few decades ago. The bride’s given name was Scarlett.

Why, I wondered, would someone name their daughter Scarlett? The text of the announcement pretty much answered that. Her debutante party had been a Gone With the Wind Ball, with the family’s estate transformed into Tara. 

Names are always, to some extent, a projection of parental ideas onto the child.* The question is: to what extent? It’s one thing to name your kid Jayden or Isabella because you think it sounds like a cool name – unusual enough to be hip, not so unusual as to be weird.  It’s another to saddle your child with your very specific fantasy derived from some novel or movie you imagine recreating in real life.  (Scarlett, I recall, had become an actress, so she may have been comfortable playing out other people’s fantasies, even her mother’s.) 

I had thought that this sort of naming had waned, so I was a bit surprised by this sentence in a post at The Monkey Cage, a political science blog:
First up is Brett Ashley Leeds, a professor at Rice University who has published widely on issues of international security, especially alliances.
I know nothing about Prof. Leeds or her work or her parents.  Nor do I have any idea what effect her Hemingway-derived name might possibly have had on her.  I expect that she has not taken up with journalists suffering from what we now call erectile dysfunction or with 19-year old toreros.  (I would also expect that she has long wearied of references like these.) I do note however that her post, “Why is work by women systematically devalued?” has a sentence about the effects street names might have on children. She writes, “from honorary names . . .they will receive messages that are likely to produce a subconscious bias.” I’m reluctant to make any such guesses about cause and effect.  But perhaps the messages that kids get from the names their parents give them is something Brett Ashley knows about.

* Names are parental projections, of course, only in societies where parents are free to choose the names of their children.

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