Forbidden Baby Names You'll Want to Avoid
The landscape of baby names is more complex and varied than ever before. Decades ago, many American babies were named one of only a few dozen variations, and a number of those monikers were legacy names meant to honor another family member or historical figure. Thus, the preponderance of Lindas, Nancys, Roberts and Johns of our earlier generations, followed by a generation of Jennifers, Amys, Davids and Joshuas.
But today, parents often seek creative names for their children. Certain old appellations, like Henry and Dorothy, have been resurrected. Place names and last-names-as-first-names are popular today, as are new and invented ones. While many potentials are definitely on the table, there are a few names that should probably be left off your short list. Let’s take a look at those forbidden baby names.
Jezebel was, “the Phoenician wife of Ahab who, according to the account in I and II Kings, pressed the cult of Baal on the Israelite kingdom but was finally killed in accordance with Elijah’s prophecy,” according to Merriam-Webster.
If you have some Biblical literacy, you’ll know that the authors of the Bible do not look kindly on cults and idols; worshippers of so-called false gods were often put to death and seen to deserve that fate. The dictionary’s second definition for Jezebel is, “an impudent, shameless or morally unrestrained woman.”
The Jezebel stereotype was used by white slave owners to justify the rape of black women slaves — implying that black women were hyper-sexual Jezebels who wanted to be violated. Though reclaiming hurtful words is a worthy goal, and the internet publisher Jezebel does an interesting job with it, there’s a lot of loaded history here folks.
Synonymous With Betrayal
The Biblical figure Judas Iscariot was a disciple of Jesus and the one who betrayed him with a kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane — thereby allowing the Roman soldiers to identify and arrest him. Seen by certain extremists as a representative of Jewish people, Judas’ actions as reported in the Bible have also been used to justify anti-semitism.
Even though a tiny number of Americans do name their babies Judas each year, let’s be honest — it’s less of a name, and more of an epithet. Unless you’re open to your baby’s name being synonymous with the word betrayal, you’ll probably want to skip Judas. Judah, on the other hand, is a perfectly acceptable alternative. And Jude (á la Jude Law)? Yes, please.
An Outdated Name That Connotes Other Things
Dick, the once-popular nickname for Richard, is one of those monikers probably best left to the dustbin of history. According to Baby Center, Richard was the fifth most popular American boys name for all of the 1930s and well into the 1940s. In the ’50s and ’60s, it waned in popularity only a little bit. Consequently, many men of our grandfathers’ and fathers’ generations went by the name Dick.
Evidently, the word has been associated with male genitalia since at least the 19th century, but it wasn’t synonymous with “jerk” or “contemptible person” until the 1960s when a lot of the Dicks — many of them presumably nice gentlemen — already had their names.
Other Outdated Names
The name Fanny was sometimes given on its own during much of the 20th century, and sometimes served as a nickname for Stephanie, Frances or Francoise.
But in an age of butt lifts, butt augmentation and media worship of Kim Kardashian West’s derriere, it’s probably ill-advised to name your baby something that immediately conjures images of rear ends. Are we right?
Names Tainted by Pop Culture
Homer was the author of the “Odyssey,” one of the most well-read and well-loved epic tales of all time. Appearing originally in the oral tradition of ancient Greece, it’s a masterpiece of storytelling and meter. But if you were a kid in the ’80s or ’90s, chances are that, when you hear the name Homer, your first association is “The Simpsons.”
Homer Simpson — the butt-scratching, belching, low IQ father of Bart, Lisa and Maggie who managed to get both arms stuck in vending machines — is probably not the kind of namesake for a beloved newborn boy you had in mind. One word, my friends: D’oh!
Here’s another name originally associated with the classical era. This Carthaginian general from 2nd century B.C. is widely thought of as one of the shrewdest military commanders of all time. As is, Hannibal probably wouldn’t be every new parent’s first choice for a baby name. But if you’ve ever seen the 1991 film “Silence of the Lambs,” the name is likely associated with psychological manipulation, murder and cannibalism.
Anthony Hopkins superbly scared the pants off us in the film as the serial killer, Hannibal Lecter. Clarice Starling, played brilliantly by Jodi Foster, was nearly a match for him. Spoiler alert: Hannibal gets away. So, even though it is admittedly a cool-sounding name, you may want to skip over this one unless you want your new baby to evoke terror in anyone over the age of 30.
Rarely has a toy been the subject of such adulation and abhorrence — from adults, no less! Collectors fawn over the doll, but Barbie has long been criticized for her unrealistic proportions, prompting fears that girls would develop body image issues or anorexia while trying to emulate her. (To scale, she would be 5-feet, 9-inches tall with a 36-inch bust, 18-inch waist and 33-inch hips.) Grown women with Barbie’s measurements, in fact, would lack the body fat percentage required to menstruate, and many a feminist has refused her daughter a Barbie doll.
Of course, the problems with her proportions are compounded by the fact that Barbie was, for most of her long history, blonde, white and rich, and some versions of her repeated phrases like, “Will we ever have enough clothes?” and “I love shopping!” Though certain strides have been made (multicultural Barbies, curvy Barbies, etc.), the very word “Barbie” is fraught with an appearance-oriented, anti-feminist slant.
Questionable Disney Princess
For many people, the name Pocahontas strongly evokes cultural appropriation. While Disney perhaps deserves a little credit for their first feature-length film with a woman of color as the protagonist, many people of Native American descent have pointed out that the less brutal parts of this historical figure’s life were highlighted while the horrific parts were whitewashed in the film.
Granted, we’re talking Disney here — no way would the studio have accurately portrayed kidnapping, forcible marriage and the occupation of her people’s land, among many other hardships that the real Pocahontas endured. But should the movie have been made at all? Some say no. So, unless you have a strong connection to Algonquian heritage, that probably means you shouldn’t name your kid Pocahontas. A compelling case has even been made against dressing your kid up as Pocahontas for Halloween.
Potentially Litigious Names
OK, so Beyoncé and Jay-Z were denied a petition to trademark their daughter’s name by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office — but we still wouldn’t recommend naming your child Blue Ivy. Reportedly, the couple sought the trademark in order to preserve the name for a possible future line of baby products such as strollers and diaper bags and faced a challenge by a luxury wedding planner whose business held the same name.
Unless you have very deep pockets, I’d say that it’s not worth risking the ire of two potentially litigious parties. And isn’t ivy green anyway?
Names of Dictators
For many people living in the U.S. today, there are a handful of names that instantly and viscerally evoke all the things you don’t want associated with your brand-new bundle of love. Adolf, the first name of Germany’s World War II era dictator and mastermind of the Holocaust, is absolutely one of them.
And since last names as first names are trendy these days, make sure to also avoid Hitler.
Name of a Yugoslavian Human Rights Violator
Similar to Hitler, there are other names that bring genocide to mind, especially for anyone who paid attention to the news from the 1960s to the early aughts. Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslavian President of Serbia and later Yugoslavia, is the first that comes to mind.
He was charged in 1999 with war crimes associated with the brutal ethnic cleansing that took place during the war in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, and was also accused of corruption and embezzlement of funds from his beleaguered country.
And an Iraqi Political Leader
Another human rights violator that comes to mind is Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi military and political leader.
During his long totalitarian rule from 1979 to 2003, he was responsible for disappearances, politically motivated killings and at least 250,000 deaths among his own people.
And a Cambodian Communist Leader
And let’s not forget Pol Pot, the communist leader of Cambodia from 1963 to 1981. During his rule, the party forcibly moved much of the population to agrarian collectives.
As a result of government brutality, malnutrition and exceedingly difficult working conditions, nearly 25 percent of the Cambodian population died.
Names Associated With Terrorism
Osama, while a perfectly good Arabic name, has been marred in Americans’ perceptions by 9/11 and Osama bin Laden.
With the unfortunate bigotry and hate crimes directed toward Arab-Americans in the post-9/11 world, it’s probably best to skip the name Osama to avoid any vitriol directed toward your family.
Politically Charged Names
If you’re on the political left, you probably lack affection for these first family names already. But even if your politics run to the right or the middle, consider the fact that the president has had approval ratings in the range of 30 to 43 percent for much of his time in office.
Many people your child will interact with both now and in the future will not harbor warm feelings for these political family names, so do consider that before naming your daughter Melania or Ivanka. Same goes for anything related to families of past administrations. You really never can be too cautious these days.
Tech-Inspired Brand Names
A few American parents have named their babies Facebook, Google or Hashtag and other techie names. Unless he or she is like the late, great, Prince, who notoriously changed his name more than once, consider the fact that little Facebook or Google will have to live with his or her name for life.
Look, we grok brand loyalty and fandom, but what if the namesake tech companies get acquired, go out of business or become outdated sometime down the road? Little Facebook will be answering to an anachronistic tech name, akin to Typewriter or Telegram. We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that it’s probably best to leave your baby’s future tech handle to him or her.