Have you ever looked at a name and thought to yourself, “Boy, I hate to be judgmental, but that name is an utter tragedy.” You’re not alone. Once we entered the 21st century, it really felt like parents took one of two paths: overcomplicating the spelling of their children’s names or making up some of the most baffling combinations of letters in order for their kid to be unique, quirky, or cool.
This phenomenon is known as “tragedeigh” (pronounced tragedy, like how some parents opt for the name Ashleigh instead of Ashley), a meme term deriving from the unconventional name choices spread around social media that are more often than not the butt of jokes. As one moderator of the popular Facebook group “That name is a tragedeigh,” created to dunk on these names, explained, “A tragedeigh name isn’t just a name that people dislike. It’s a name that’s been fabricated to be extremely unique or different.”
As millennials are now in child-rearing years (unless they’re opting to go child-free, which is an entirely different issue) and likely hope to give their kids some deeper sense of individuality, bizarrely spelled or pronounced baby names are popping up left and right.
Roll Call Is Getting Pretty Interesting Nowadays
Just imagine you’re visiting your child’s elementary school classroom, and you take a look at the wall decor and see a sign with all the classmates on it, including Kathyland, Byreyort, and Monserrat. Names like these could potentially become a source of embarrassment for the children, who end up resenting their parents’ decision in the future.
The eccentricities are seemingly endless. One Reddit user shared some of their cousin’s names, including Amehrika (pronounced America) and Stahrre (pronounced Star). Another traveled to a small Southern town, and while attending a parade, they made note of several local kids' names: Arisenn, Huntlea, Ellasyn, Bosstin, Bexlee, Zylabell, Breckley, and Linley.
The Baby Name Industry
You might be looking at these creative names and wondering how parents even come up with them. That’s where baby name experts come in handy, like those who run the website Nameberry.
Nameberry is a pretty solid resource for baby name research, but the information they aggregate also makes for some informative and entertaining TikTok content. In one video, Nameberry’s editor-in-chief, Sophie Kihm, explained the fastest-rising baby names from 2022. At the top for girls was Wrenlee (a variation of Wrenley), which Kihm noted is a modern, invented name, Neriah (a biblical male name), and Arlet, which Kihm said was the fastest-rising boy name from the year prior.
The fastest-rising boy names from 2022 were slightly less alarming, but still quite jaw-dropping for those of us who grew up around more common names from the Judeo-Christian tradition. For instance, the third rising baby boy name was Chosen, which Kihm called a “modern spiritual name.” Also topping the charts was Khaza (deriving from a rap musician’s son), Eithan (a “tragedeigh” spelling of Ethan), and Waylen, which rounded out the surge in cowboy and country music-inspired baby names.
If you really put your mind to it, there are incalculable options for parents to mull over when a bun is in the oven. But, as Peter Parker’s uncle once put it, with great power comes great responsibility. New parents and those expanding their family may understandably feel overwhelmed by the potentially burdensome task of picking the perfect name. This is where professional baby name guidance comes into play.
“Experts” Can Cash In on Kitschy Naming Trends
“I’m a baby name consultant. Here's how I help new parents choose the perfect names,” wrote Colleen Slagen, a nurse practitioner, mom of two, and baby name consultant in an interview with Today.
She explained that, based on her baby name obsession since girlhood, she ended up taking on a career as a baby name consultant. After launching her own business called Naming Bebe in 2022, Slagen went viral on TikTok.
Here’s how a consultation with someone like Slagen would work. First, you book one of Slagen’s packages (which start at $250), and then she sends you a questionnaire. Some of the questions may be things like “Are any names off limits?” or “What are the names that you like, but your partner has vetoed, and vice versa?”
From her own baby name repository that sits in her skull to several baby-name books and the internet, Slagen then researches to craft a list that meets your own criteria. She also consults people on their existing baby name list since, as she told Today, many parents keep their unborn child’s name under wraps until birth, but may get cold feet about their choice. Additionally, some consultants work with parents who regret the name they chose for their kid and want to change their baby’s name several months or even years postpartum.
Parents are setting up their kids to think that the world revolves around them and their uniqueness.
Some baby name businesses appear to be rather innocuous, while others seem pretty scammy. For instance, Vox reported that one consultant charges public figures up to $30,000 for “baby name branding” services.
Based on the caliber of celebrity baby names, like Lil Kim’s kid Royal Reign, Jamie Oliver’s kid Buddy Bear Maurice, Penn Jillette’s kid Moxie CrimeFighter, Ashlee Simpson’s kid Bronx Mowgli, Nick Cannon’s kid Rise Messiah, Jermaine Jackson’s kid Jermajesty, or David Duchovny’s kid Kyd, you’d hope that these kids’ celebrity parents didn’t drop tens of thousands of dollars just to get served a crappy name.
Some governments (yes, I mean a country’s actual legislative and governing bodies) are so opinionated about baby names that they’ve actually deemed certain ones illegal for use. For instance, in France, you cannot name a baby girl “Fraise,” which is the French word for strawberry; in Sweden, you cannot name a kid “Ikea”; in New Zealand, you cannot name a kid “Saint,” “Royal,” “King,” or “Prince”; and in Japan, you cannot name a kid “Akuma,” which is the Japanese word for devil.
Countries like Portugal even have tough regulations about naming conventions – you cannot use non-Portuguese names, nicknames, or alternate spellings. Clearly, the Portuguese would have a nightmare looking at the many, many different spellings of Kaylee we’ve got in America. (The answer is 79, by the way, and that’s the Name Nerds website’s chart-topper for the most different ways you can spell one name.)
Modern Names Are Rooted in a Desire To Be Different
The “tragedeighs” that millennials are subjecting their innocent little ones to are, in my opinion, an absolute shame. Giving unique spellings to your child’s name or making up culturally insignificant babble doesn’t actually guarantee they’ll become a unique individual – the life they lead as they grow into adulthood does.
You’d think that self-esteem culture would at least raise red flags for parents that the name they choose for their kid could cause them to face bullying or have stunted career opportunities. Instead, self-esteem culture gave rise to the mindset of “Every child gets a medal,” and therefore, simply being normal is no longer attractive.
In his book The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, Christopher Lasch writes, “To live for the moment is the prevailing passion – to live for yourself, not for your predecessors or posterity. We are fast losing the sense of historical continuity, the sense of belonging to a succession of generations originating in the past and stretching into the future.”
These popular but undeniably cringeworthy baby names are indicative of a cultural shift where names no longer carry significance, where people reject tradition and yearn to be perceived as “different.” But, being “different” isn’t a guaranteed path to happiness, not even in the boldly individualistic America.
As common as names like Peter, John, Jacob, Noah, Mary, Sarah, Hannah, or Abigail may be, these Biblical names evoke honor for a cultural and historical connection, as well as a greater spiritual purpose. They’re not boring – they’re actually ancient, strong, and overflowing with profound meaning. Belonging to a Judeo-Christian religion has provided Americans who may lack a strong bond with their ethnic background with a vast number of spiritually and culturally significant names to pick from that ties them to something greater than themselves.
Biblical baby names are also a beautiful way for people to keep in touch with their familial background, since over 2.2 billion people around the world practice Christianity and more than 15 million practice Judaism. But in America, the Christian identity is dwindling. Fifty years ago, roughly 90% of Americans called themselves Christian, while today, that percentage is closer to 64%. This can’t all be attributed to an increase in non-Christian cultures, however. Since 2001, belief in God in general has fallen by 16%, and overall religiosity continues to decline year after year. People aren’t leaving Christianity for non-Christian religions en masse. They’re just becoming spiritually agnostic or accepting apathy toward faith entirely.
If Americans have weak ties to their ethnic heritage and feel less of a relationship toward any existing Judeo-Christian tradition, it’s no wonder that the most popular baby names are now reflective of our new gods: celebrity and ego.
“Tragedeigh” names growing in popularity is textbook proof of worsening narcissistic behavior since they don’t draw from cultural or ancestral ties and instead prioritize grandiosity, vanity, and novelty.
When parents pick unconventional spellings or outright goofy sounding names, what they’re really communicating is an attitude of self-importance. Instead of the world (or society) revolving around a higher power or any semblance of respect for family or heritage, parents are setting up their kids to think that the world revolves around them and their uniqueness.
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