THE CELEBRITY NAME GAME
Since the singer Grimes—her real name is Claire Boucher—first announced her pregnancy in January, the internet has been aflutter speculating what weird and wacky name she would give the baby she was having with Tesla C.E.O. Elon Musk. However, despite the anticipation of a strange name, Twitter still had a field day when the child’s bizarre name was revealed: X Æ A-12.
The name is apparently pronounced “X Ash A-12” (or “Kyle,” according to Twitter theorist @FinkyPloyd), and Grimes did eventually explain the origin of the name in a Tweet. She claims the child was named after the “unknown variable” (X), her “elven spelling” of Artificial Intelligence or love (Æ), and her and Musk’s favorite aircraft (the A-12 Archangel). The explanation generated more questions than answers.
Considering California only allows alphabetical letters and certain special characters (apostrophes, hyphens, periods, etc.), it’s likely that poor little X Æ A-12’s birth certificate will not meet the state’s regulations. Indeed, the couple did change the name of their child to X Æ A-Xii (now with the roman numerals for twelve) in order to fit the state’s regulations. But whether its X Æ A-12 or X Æ A-Xii, the result is the same: the baby’s name is yet another addition to the ongoing trend of bizarre and unusual celebrity baby names.
Back in 2013, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West made a splash by announcing they were naming their firstborn daughter North. Every child that has come after that has been given a name that you wouldn’t be able to find on BabyNames.com—following North in 2015 was a baby boy, Saint, then their second daughter Chicago in 2018, and most recently with a newborn son Psalm.
But in comparison to other Hollywood elites, the Kardashian-West’s names are rather tame. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow and singer-songwriter Chris Martin named their daughter Apple, actress Shannyn Sossamon named her son Audio Science, actor Jason Lee named his son Pilot Inspektor and actress Nicole Kidman named her daughter Sunday.
Celebrities have made a trend out of pushing the envelope with their baby names, which remains odd considering the superstar children will likely never have to worry about standing out in a classroom full of Emmas and Ryans. But why is there a unanimous celebrity agreement on weird names?
In the Journal of Phenomenological Psychology article titled “Being a Celebrity: A Phenomenology of Fame,” Dr. Donna Rockwell described fame as something that “defines you to a certain degree: it puffs you up, or it shrinks you down.” Other descriptions of fame included “an animal in a cage; a toy in a shop window; a Barbie doll; a public façade; a clay figure; or, that guy on TV.” This is to say that, psychologically, fame can cause a separation of self—the “celebrity self” and the “authentic self.” The “authentic self” is who you are whenever you’re alone, or more importantly, whenever the cameras are off. But the “celebrity self” exists to entertain; the need to entertain can possibly seep into personal lives, causing celebrities to give “entertaining” names to their children.
After the birth of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Apple in 2006, the New York Times wrote a piece comparing these unique names to a sense of privilege, something like a royal title. This isn’t an unreasonable assumption, as it’s essentially giving a child a stage name from the day they are born.
Another possibility is that it is a display of the parents’ creativity. These people are “creatives,” after all, so, of course, everything they do has to display that creativity to some extent. Celebrities are generally thought of as trendsetters and rulebreakers—yet settling down and having children is one of the most traditional elements of society, so of course the trendsetters have to balance that out by naming their children something unexpected.
Unique names are also potential brands. Kylie Jenner certainly faced backlash after trying to trademark her own first name, but there is no doubt that “North West” will certainly be a fashion line in a good ten or so years. While perhaps less deliberate, the signature Kardashian matching ‘K’ names have also proved to be a million-dollar idea.
Celebrities are trendsetters, and their influence even expands to baby names. According to BabyCenter.com, the fastest-climbing girl name of 2017 was Luna, in 2016, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen had a daughter named Luna.
But celebrities certainly aren’t the only ones who give their children odd names—they’re just the only ones talked about by the general public. Surely everyone has logged on to Facebook at some point or another to find an old acquaintance has named their child something like “Khaleesi,” or that they named their child something common but spelled in a way you haven’t seen before.
Of course, the rules aren’t the same for normal people. Nobody is offering a brand deal to some random kid named Daenerys born in Little Rock, but if Emilia Clarke gave her child the same name it would certainly earn Twitter’s attention. Whatever the reason, these names remain a time-honored celebrity tradition—as long as we keep talking about it, that is.