HANNAH FRANK

IDA, WHO VANQUISHES GOBLINS

TO NAME A CHILD IS TO IMAGINE WHAT GOES ON HER TOMBSTONE.

DISCUSSED: Baby-Naming Fantasies, Pope Cornelius, Soul Train, Maternity Cults and Daddy Memoirs, Hipster “Attitudinizing,” Celebrity Chef Aldo Zilli’s Daughter, Twiggy, An Unearned Sense of Superiority, Kim Novak, Barry Obama, Backfiring Attempts at Assimilation, Cleveland Kent Evans and The Great Big Book of Baby Names, Names Most Frequently Given to Slaves, Boys Named Virginia

For a long time I’ve fantasized not about raising a child but about having one to name. In high school I was certain he’d be Cornelius. It’s hard to argue with Pope Cornelius, patron against earaches and twitching, and Don Cornelius, host of Soul Train, not to mention a robber baron, an occult philosopher, and a talking ape. It is flexible, too, offering nicknames like Niall (Gaelic), Neel (Indian), Cory (what the boy of Boy Meets World went by), and Neilos (Greek root of the Nile).

To name a baby is to give him the very thing that lives on even after he is history. Naturally, he shouldn’t be called something so familiar as to seem generic or, worse, forgettable—hence Cornelius. I’m not in high school anymore, though, and I’ve pretty much abandoned the idea of there ever being a Corny Frank. I don’t, after all, want to get myself in trouble with the likes of Troy Patterson, the TV critic for Slate, who has linked Otto and Ursula, names as edgily out-there as Cornelius, to “this moment of maternity cults [and] daddy memoirs.” Likewise, David Brooks has found Anouschka and Elijah to be “abusively pretentious,” akin to hummus snacks in their gross hipster “attitudinizing.” No matter that over 90 percent of the Elijahs born in New York City in 2007 were African American or Hispanic—that is, almost certainly outside the Park Slope demographic. Cornelius would work just as well for Brooks’s purposes.

Celebrity chef Aldo Zilli named his daughter Twiggy because, as he explained, he hoped she would look “as good at thirty as the real Twiggy does today.” My ambitions are slimmer: to bypass date-stamped names like Troy (it and other monosyllabic male names like Todd, Brent, Brad, Kurt, and Lance were most popular in the late ’60s and early ’70s) and names as unremarkable as David without broadcasting what Brooks would call my “unearned sense of superiority.” I aim for the unassuming yet snappy, the novel yet unobtrusive. A Marilyn is what I’m looking for. Much can be made of Norma Jeane Mortenson’s assumed name—how it was most popular a full decade before the actress first graced the movie screen, how its growth in popularity intersected with Evelyn’s decline and presaged Carolyn’s subsequent rise, how its hills and valleys are echoed in the trajectory of the not-as-popular Marianne—but nothing turns the M less buxom or de-moles that i. Marilyn Novak can attest to this. She was Columbia Pictures’ best shot at getting what Twentieth Century Fox had, but first the studio had to change her name to Kim.

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Hannah Frank is a graduate student in film studies at the University of Iowa.

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