Jul 2, 2010

Pick a Peck of Poplar Palin

this post originally appeared on nycmomsblog on October 16, 2008

I am not poking fun at Sarah Palin's family. That would be in poor taste. Rather, I'm going to spend a few moments publicly bemoaning the fact that one of my children shares the name of one of hers.

Quick! Name Obama's kids! Having trouble, right? Now try McCain's kids, or Biden's kids? Can't do it. There's Megan McCain who said "no one knows what war is like other than my family [p]eriod" and there's Bo Biden whose name I only know because of all the Fee Fie Fo Biden jokes, but I can't name the rest, and, probably, neither can you.

But Sarah Palin's kids' names are up there with Apple and Moses. Palin's kids' names are (of course) Track, Willow, Bristol, Piper, and Trig--which I think must be short for trigonometry. Everyone knows them, most people make fun of the outrageousness of them. There's even the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator where you enter your own name and watch it morph into something like 'Rifle Commando Palin' or 'Blaster Puck Palin.'

Writing here under a pseudonym, I feel compelled to preserve my young daughter's own anonymity, so I won't divulge which name is the same. But let's pretend Sarah had a daughter named Poplar. And let's pretend I had named my own daughter Poplar. Let's say the name Poplar was a departure from our older children's names, and that it was chosen because it was a combination of several family members we wanted to honor, as well as just being a damned cute-seeming name. And until Palin's Poplar came along, we'd only ever met maybe one or two other Poplars.

There's a strange thing in our neighborhood, and maybe in Wasila Alaska as well...there's this incredible baby naming freedom. In fact, most of the names in our neighborhood seem to indicate an intent to be original, to side step the more obviously common names like Ethan, Emily, Tiffany, Andrew... Of course the strange by-product of that is every boy in our neighborhood is named Hudson or Lucian, and every girl is Ella or Eden. We also have Arrow, Lion, Tiger and Boo.

So we've all had a bit of fun naming our children. And some of us have had the same exact kind of fun naming our children with the odd result that the original names have become common and the regular names rare. Surely the mom who chose the name Daisy never envisioned that her daughter would have to be Daisy R. for her entire elementary school career to distinguish her from Daisy L. and Daisy C. while the one girl named Lisa would get to be the only girl named Lisa.

My first two children have names mined from some of the older branches on my family tree. They are actual names (not types of fields or mathematics) but are more in the old-fashioned category, and we've never met another child with one of their names (older adults, yes, but no kids) which, I have to say, is kind of nice, though it can be frustrating that souvenirs never come pre-printed with their names. My third child is the one with the same name as one of the Palin crew. My fifth grader wrote an essay for school (he was able to choose the topic himself) that was a hilarious rant against Senator McCain, and in it he listed things that bothered him about the Republican ticket, and number one was that Sarah Palin's daughter has the same name as his little sister. I thought that was really cute, until a few weeks later when I found myself at a birthday party for a child I didn't know very well. I had to tell about a dozen different people that my daughter's name was 'Poplar' and I found myself cringing every time, since given the current political climate it kept seeming to link me to Sarah Palin, and that made me very unhappy.

It reminds me of when my son--at age four--had these delicious long blond locks and then he had his first haircut and ended up looking like all the other little bowl-cut towheads--with the platinum blond straight top and the little brown 'V' of hair close cut at the top of the neck. I was in a little hippie bread shop in a little hippie town upstate and he was calling me 'mommy' and I had this strange realization that I felt like his ultra-conservative 'do was somehow misrepresenting who he was, who I was, and what types of things we value (or don't put much value on). Strange, and probably not so great to admit, but true.

The way we dress or style (or don't style) our youngsters is a reflection of who we are. Likewise, the names we choose to give our children are also a way of advertising our own taste. Several dozen families naming their first child Michael doesn't necessarily join them at the hip politically, but two different moms choosing the name Poplar for their daughter? Those moms must have something in common, right? And that's precisely what made me cringe as I met new people at that birthday party and told them my daughter's name.

I am hoping that, come November 4th, Sarah Palin drops off the media radar. It might take a little bit of time, but I'd like to get back to the world where I can say my daughter's name out loud without thinking that I'm being subconsciously linked to a politician who really doesn't represent me, or speak to me, and who doesn't even seem to care about me--or my daughters, for that matter--at all.

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