I am of the age where many of my friends are having kids and so I’ve been exposed to more conversations about what to name one’s child than I ever could’ve imagined. I’m sure people have always had long contested discussions with their partners and friends about naming, but I can’t help but laugh at the role that the Internet is playing in these conversations today. I clearly live in a tech-centric world so it shouldn’t be surprising that SEO and domain name availability are part of the conversation. But I’m intrigued by the implicit assumption in all of this… namely, that it’s beneficial for all individuals to be easily findable online and, thus, securing a fetus’ unique digital identity is a tremendous gift.
Over the summer, Omar Wasow worked on a project at MSR about transparency and the implications of putting criminal records online. We were both flabbergasted by all of the efforts underway to publish arrest records as well as sentencing records. Omar is interested in whether or not publishing criminal arrest records negatively affects individuals’ ability to rejoin society once they’ve served their sentences. Does this information affect people’s ability to get a job? To rent an apartment? Etc. One thought we had was that it’s a lot easier to live down a record if you have a common name and, thus, are just one of many in a sea being searched.
Most parents don’t want to imagine the implications of searchable arrest records on the lives of their future spawn, but I can’t help but think that it’s pretty absurd to believe that all kids are going to want to be self-branded highly-visible easily-searchable adults. Sure, we all want our kids to be successful, but what if they’re not? And what if they don’t want to stand out? I always thought it was horrific when parents would name their kids ridiculous names that were destined for torturous middle school nicknames, but what does it mean to take it to the next level such that they stick out like sore thumbs online? It’s a lot easier to live down middle school than to live down a persistent digital identity.
I’m not at all sure if it’s better to give a kid a unique name so that they can stand out like a shining star or to go with a more generic name so that they can quietly stay invisible if they want. There’s definitely something to be said for naming a child at puberty instead of at birth, but, well, that’s not really how American society is structured.
Anyhow, I don’t really have any answers on this topic but it sure is entertaining to watch it unfold all around me. If you’ve got any advice that I can offer to my friends from your own experience, please holler cuz it sure is causing lots of folks heartburn.