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Naming The Stars: Why do Celebs Choose ‘Weird’ Baby Names?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Vic chapter.

Moon Unit, Malibu-Barbie, X AE A-12. These aren’t characters from a fantasy or sci-fi novel; they are the names of real,living children with celebrity parents. 

When stars share the news of baby joy, we eagerly anticipate the details, including the name reveal. Sometimes, celebrities go for something conventional, but frequently, we aren’t disappointed as famous parents pick outlandish names! 

From Oonagh to Apple… ever wondered about the phenomenon of weird celeb baby names? I looked into the theories and history behind this bizarre trend. 

The History

It’s difficult to trace an exact beginning, but some suggest musician Frank Zappa, as an early pioneer of unusual baby names. Known for his eccentricity, Zappa didn’t hold back when naming his daughter. He and his wife, Gail, welcomed their first-born “Moon Unit” in 1967. Moon’s middle name comes from the idea that her arrival made the Zappa family a complete “unit”— pretty adorable! Moon was later joined by brother “Dweezil” (known as Ian Donald on his birth certificate), “Ahmet,” and baby sister “Diva Thin Muffin.”
Though their names may seem conservative now, this trend began with the baby boomer generation—a US study by San Diego State University showed a surge in unusual names in the 1960s and 70s. Author Pamela Redmond suggests this is because this was the first time people were concerned with being “cool” as youth culture rose.

The Theories

Celebrity names have remained unusual in recent decades. Jason Bateman and his wife Amanda Anka welcomed their daughter “Maple” in 2012, while Beyonce and Jay-Z introduced the world to “Blue Ivy” the same year. Of course, who can forget baby “North West,” the son of Kim Kardashian and rapper Kanye West? 

According to the New York Times, the reason famous people opt for unusual names could be their sense of individualism and desire to continue their legacy of success for future generations. Beverly Hills-based psychologist Jenn Berman suggests that among the famous, “There’s a sense of ‘I’m special, I’m different, and therefore my child is special and different.’” 

Celebrities are also often relatively wealthy, which might explain their willingness to “stand out from the crowd,” said psychology professor Michael Varnum in an interview with the BBC. He conducted research showing that people in better socio-economic conditions are likelier to choose uncommon names for their children. It makes sense that Hollywood, a mecca for wealthy people who want to stand out and gain success, would be a hot spot for unique names. 

There’s also the idea that many professions that lead to fame—acting, music performance, even influencing and content creation—are creative endeavours. According to NBC, naming expert Laura Wattenberg suggests that choosing “weird” names extends this creative expression. 

Some might also embrace the attention that baby naming brings—influencers can use “baby name reveals” as content for their platforms. Trisha Paytas is never one to shy away from a trend, and she has racked up views on an episode of her podcast, revealing the name of her second baby, which is going to be Elvis. Rihanna’s partner, A$AP Rocky, also used social media to announce the name of their 1-year-old, RZA (pronounced riz-za). Alliteration runs in the family, as Ri-Ri and Rocky chose ‘Riot Rose’ for their daughter.

Wattenberg also told NBC News that the proportion of celebs opting for less common names was no more than in a general population sample. The media follows celebrities; when they choose an odd name, we might be more likely to hear about it, but regular people go for strange names, too. One New Zealand couple even lost custody after trying to name their baby “Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii.” 

Overall, many suggest that celebrities are just on board with a general trend in society, away from traditional names; according to one study in 1950, 30% of boys had one of the top ten names; in 2007, it was down to 10%- so modern baby names vary way more than in previous decades.

The Verdict

Names can do a lot for a person; they express individuality, can tell a story of our ethnicity or family history, or even be passed down from family members. Having an unusual name is one way for a kid to stand out—from birth! 

That said, when it comes to the children of the rich and famous, they may want to step away from the limelight, and a unique name might make it even harder. During childhood, David Bowie’s son was called “Zowie Bowie” but changed it to the much more ordinary “Duncan Jones,” so he could forge his path as a film producer without the weight of his dad’s name. 

One BBC article suggests that unconventional names can help us break traditional biases, such as allowing children to express their identity without the burden of a traditionally gendered name. As more Millennials and Gen Z-ers generally go for weird and wonderful names, celebs are just along for the ride!

Sarah is a 27 year old MA Art History and Visual Studies student at Uvic. She loves writing about art, film and music. When she's not busy blogging or studying she loves to dance, practise yoga, visit galleries and cook yummy vegetarian food!