Babies' names become a window into the psyches of Hollywood's elite
It's a measure of what we have come to expect from celebrities to consider that if Henry Fonda were alive and having children today, it would seem as likely for him to name his daughter, say, Hanoi, as simply to call her Jane.
It seems almost unimaginable for any 21st-century movie star to send his children out among the Hollywood elite equipped with ordinary names like Michael, Eric, Joel and Peter, as Kirk Douglas once did.
This point was driven home again last month, when Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband, Chris Martin, the frontman of the band Coldplay, named their newborn son Moses. It was an unlikely enough name for a baby boy born in 2006, but perhaps less startling than the much discussed (and mocked) handle his sister, Apple, born two years ago, will carry through life.Not that a name such as Apple Martin stands out among celebrity children anymore. The director Peter Farrelly plucked that very name for his daughter before Apple Martin came along. Even that name seems drab compared with such Hollywood baby names as Pilot Inspektor, cooked up by Jason Lee, the star of My Name Is Earl, or Banjo, the inspiration of the Six Feet Under star Rachel Griffiths, or Moxie CrimeFighter, a name chosen last year by Penn Jillette, the comedian and magician, for his daughter.
Skeptics scoff at the mad rush by stars to come up with exotic baby names as another means for the attention-hungry to grab headlines. But psychologists and others who have worked with high-profile performers say that the naming of children can function as a window into a psyche. Perhaps subconsciously, they say, stars seize the opportunity of parenthood to express their obsessions, ambitions and inner quirks in a way that is, for a change, unscripted and not stage-managed by publicists.
Jillette, for example, managed to satisfy a number of interests and objectives when he and his wife, Emily, gave their daughter her highly individual name.
"You're likely to be the only one in any normal-size group with that name," Jillette said by e-mail, adding, "'Moxie' is a name that was created by an American for the first national soft drink and then went on to mean 'chutzpah,' and that's nice."
Besides, Moxie CrimeFighter fits right into the creative world.
"Everyone I know with an unusual name loves it," he wrote. "It's only the losers named Dave that think having an unusual name is bad, and who cares what they think? They're named Dave."
Not all performers present their decisions in such terms.
"Apples are so sweet, and they're wholesome, and it's biblical," Paltrow said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2004. "And I just thought it sounded so lovely and clean." ("Moses," meanwhile, is a song that Martin wrote for Paltrow in 2003.)
But while middle-class parents increasingly trade in such standard names as Karen and Joseph for fancier ones such as Madison and Caleb, movie stars seem compelled to push the baby naming further. The names may be merely distinctive (say, Maddox, Angelina Jolie's Cambodian-born adopted son) or bizarre, such as Makena'lei Gordon, Helen Hunt's daughter, inspired by a place name in Hawaii. Celebrities may not so subtly be saying that for them ordinary rules need not apply.
The unusual celebrity baby name is not new. Decades ago, Anthony Perkins named his sons Osgood and Elvis, and Marlon Brando named his daughter Cheyenne. And Paltrow, the daughter of the actress Blythe Danner and the director and producer Bruce Paltrow, is named Gwyneth, after all.
But those who track the popularity of baby names say that the pressure for stars to come up with creative names for their children has grown in recent years, particularly as Hollywood members of Generations X and Y have moved into their peak years of child rearing, carrying with them their generation's taste for obscure pop-cultural references, iconoclasm and smirky irony.
Just as Frank Zappa proved himself the classic hippie prankster by naming his children Moon Unit and Dweezil in the 1960s, the actress Shannyn Sossamon, 26, established herself as a proud product of her times by naming her son, born in 2003, Audio Science.
The famous also have a traditional role as taste-makers. It's hardly a coincidence that the name Ryder, which was the 901st most popular boy's name in the country in 2001, according to Social Security Administration statistics, jumped to 341 in 2004, the year Kate Hudson and Chris Robinson chose it for their newborn son.
But as regular people - the sort who wait in line at restaurants and pay for their own clothing - try to catch up, the stars are pushed further into the realms of obscure names, in an effort to stay ahead of this particular fashion curve. So stars troll deeper into the Old Testament for name ideas (both Bono and Wynonna Judd have an Elijah, and Cynthia Nixon has a Charles Ezekiel), into world geography (David and Victoria Beckham have a Brooklyn, and Summer Phoenix and Casey Affleck have an Indiana) or even into Grandmother's attic. (Jude Law dusted off the name Iris for his daughter, and Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams exhumed the name Matilda for their first child last fall.)
Some therapists said that the celebrity impulse to foist odd names on their children amounts to simple narcissism by the parents, and the resulting status comes at the child's expense. The children, after all, are the ones who will have to raise their hands every time a teacher calls out "Coco" or "Eulala."
"It's like having a mini me," said Robert R. Butterworth, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, who has had actors on his patient roster. "The child is a part of them, not an individual. It's an appendage."
The burden of celebrity falls even on the unborn. The child Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are expecting has already been a cover subject for magazines.