4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Gregor von Kallahann
- Published on Amazon.com
The market for baby name books must indeed be cut-throat. I mean, they're either THE VERY BEST BABY NAME BOOK (as claimed here) or THE ONLY BABY NAME BOOK YOU'll EVER NEED, or THE LAST WORD ON FIRST NAMES! Yikes! How daunting for those prospective parents who feel the need for such a guide. (I don't know how my own parents named EIGHT kids without ever purchasing such a book, but back then, I guess, people trusted their own instincts and sense of good taste).
Of course, back in the 50s and 60s, there were naming trends but not this near frenzy to be unique and original (but not so original as to be downright WEIRD), so the pressure wasn't so great. Nowadays, you gotta give the kid the right name, get him/her in the right pre-school and modern dance class and into a college prep program by age four or their lives will be ruined (and it'll be ALL your fault).
Bruce Lansky is nothing if not comprehensive, so for those seeking variety in naming, there will certainly be an abundance here. Of course, one of the book's selling points is the sheer number of names offered, but Lansky knows and you know that 99% are things most parents would NEVER even consider. It's nice to see what the most popular names in Bulgaria are, but most of them really won't fly at that trendy pre-school after all.
A look at the '91 edition (back when it was simply THE *BEST* BABY NAME BOOK (IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD) is instructive. Back the first name listed in the girls' section was (as you might guess) "Abbey, Abby." This time out, you have such exotica as 'Aolani and 'Aulani preceding (taking precedence, I guess, because there is an apostrophe BEFORE the actual "A"). Then you get the letter "A" by itself, followed by "Aaleyah" and "Aaliah" (listed as separate names, which certainly boosts the count). And you get "Aaron": I guess because somebody somewhere once named their baby girl "Aaron" (when they were going for "Erin" maybe?). You get the picture. Oddly enough "Abbey" and "Abby" are still given only one listing, and this time out are even joined by "Abbie." But now "Abagail," "Abbagail," "Abbigail," "Abbygail," and "Abegail" have all joined the pack--as separate listings. Hmmm. By the time you reach the more standard (and currently very popular) "Abigail," your head will be spinning. If it is, and you're thinking of naming your baby girl Abigail, take my advice: stick to the classic form and spelling. Your daughter will thank you.
Lansky and crew justify the separate listings by saying that they are mainly using spelling as their criterion for a name. There is an argument for that, of course. But separate listings for "Ann" and "Anne" seem unnecessary at best (and such was not the case in the earlier edition). Interestingly, Lansky seems to justifying separating out the "e" spelling of that name because (he claims) it can be used for boys. That will likely prove a headscratcher for most Americans, especially since many would consider the added "e" to be a more distinctly feminine way of spelling this very common GIRL'S name (no matter how you spell it, slice it or dice it). Yes, there are some European countries where that name (pronounced differently, by the by) MIGHT be used for boys. But even there, it's likely to be hens' teeth rare.
Of course, the increasing genderlessness of many given names is an established trend, and Lansky is right to note it. Names are even coded here, so that the reader can see whether the name is considered mainly masculine, mainly feminine, or truly unisex. This is mainly due to actual birth certificate namings, however, so the genderlessness of many nicknames is only touched upon. I have known almost an equal number of males and females who go by "Lee" for instance, but for about half of them (of either sex), it's actually a nickname. If you factor in alternate spellings like "Lea" (often pronounced as one syllable) and "Leigh," it's difficult to determine whether the name really is mainly masculine these days or not.
Lansky is by no means the scholar that someone like Leslie Dunkling is, and many have picked up on a few of the etymological confusions and downright errors in the various editions of his books. I actually don't think that's as severe a problem as all that myself. When name origins are in some dispute, or if, as I often maintain, they really DO have more than one source, he does try to give them all. The brevity of the entries, however, can make for considerable confusion. He actually gives three potential sources for the name "Gladys" (all that research for a name virtually NO ONE's going to use). The Latin root suggests "small sword," while in Irish, it means "princess," and the Welsh source suggests a link to the Latin "Claudia" (which means "lame"). A more scholarly text might have suggested the most likely source (unless it really IS derived from all those sources at different times and all kind of blended together. Possible certainly). But I like the fact that Lansky does not pretend he has the ultimate etymology for all these thousands of name. Many really are lost in the mists of time: and of course, these days, many are just made up and there's no need to force a meaning onto names given simply because someone liked how they sounded.
Which is also a big part of it, is it not? In fact, maybe Lansky's relatively strong emphasis on etymology could be viewed as misguided. Other guides are more prescriptive about what you definitely should and should NOT name your newborn. Lansky's got a good deal of that info too, but you have to consult lists at the beginning of the book. And even then, they're not all that inclusive. But then, people really should have some common sense on these matters. We all know what the "nerdy" names are. If you insist on naming your kid "Egbert" anyway, you deserve his lasting contempt.
If Lansky's book is truly the VERY BEST, it's still not perfect. But it's fun, and probably of some very real use to the naming challenged. It probably could have used a few less of the gimmicky lists (how many people are really going to name their kid after a cartoon character anyway?) and a few more practical guides (believe it or not, people often need pronunciation guides, Bruce!). Otherwise you might get little girls named Siobhan running around pronouncing it "See-O-Ban")