In "The Sisterhood of the Susans," my colleague Susan Breslow writes about being given a Generic Girl Baby Name. I feel her pain. Karen is essentially a synonym for Susan.
My parents meant well. So did my husband's mom and dad, who gave him the boy-equivalent moniker, Mark. "I didn't have a dream alternative name," he says. "It did seem awfully plain."
And common. One year he was one of three "Mark K's" in his 70-child grade.
And so we vowed to give our kids names that we considered unusual – but not weird. "We didn't want them to be Rumor or Dweezil or something like that," says my husband.
Gwyneth Paltrow gives a lovely explanation for why she chose to call her daughter Apple, after the "wholesome" and "sweet" fruit. But no foods for us.
We named our oldest daughter Jasmine and nicknamed her Jazzy. She likes being able to choose between the two. "When I'm an adult, let's say I wanted to be a banker. I don't, but I don't think I could really go by Jazzy," she says. She can't think of a name she would prefer, she says. "That's just such a part of your identity."
For our youngest, we chose Gigi – for my husband's beloved Great Grandma Gertrude, who went by "G.G." For obvious reasons, we decided that Gigi, not Gertrude, would be her legal name.
Back in 1998, I co-wrote a Newsweek story about choosing baby names. We noted that the process was easier back in 1900, when people tended to just borrow names from religious or political figures. Their big choices were Mary (from the Bible) and Ruth (for President Grover Cleveland's daughter). A century later, parents started making up names. Moon Unit is, needless to say, not in the Bible. Moms and dads also increasingly turned to literature (picking Rue from the Hunger Games series) and music (picking singer Adele).
My name is more plain vanilla – so much so that a British publication called Karen Magazine uses the tagline "made out of the ordinary."
Still, much as I wish my name were a little more exotic, I realize that it's better than many alternatives. Unlike a moniker like, say, Buffy, it also gives its owners the freedom to do and be anything. I share a name with women of substance, including a U.S. congresswoman, Karen Bass. (She is 58 — a typical age for anyone who spells her name K-a-r-e-n.) Sisterhood of the Susans members, could we start a satellite chapter called Sisterhood of the Karens?
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