the saint west story, or how celebrity baby names became a thing

As the Kardashian-West spawn becomes the most highly-searched entity on the Internet we ask: when did celebrity baby naming become such a closely-watched blood sport?

by i-D Staff, Emily Manning, and i-D Team
08 December 2015, 12:55am

Saint West's name has only been out there for four hours and it's already the #1 Facebook trending topic, #1 Twitter trending topic, and the subject of over 4 million Google searches in the minute before I wrote this. The memes have begun stacking up, and everyone seems to have an opinion about the newly announced name of America's Most Famous Baby.

This would have been the case no matter what he was named. Bookies began placing bets on Baby West before his gender was even announced.

Celebrity baby names have become eagerly anticipated events, especially as they've moved away from… well, actual names. Blue (Bey and Jay), Blanket (Michael Jackson), Breeze (Bristol Palin). Any word is a possibility, and we read as much into these increasingly head-scratching monikers as we once did to celebrities' love lives and lifestyles. Baby names are assertions of individuality and proof of creativity for everyone, but especially those whose public image and branding depend on it.

It wasn't always this way. When musician Frank Zappa notoriously named his kids Diva Muffin, Dweezil, and Moon Unit in the 60s and 70s, the family was considered more freakish than inspired. Starting in the late 80s, word names became more popular, especially for celebrities. Filmmakers Spike Lee and Woody Allen both named their sons Satchel (Allen's son is now known as Ronan). Remember how excited everyone got over little Apple Martin in 2004? That now sounds positively prosaic compared to M.I.A.'s son Ickitt.

So why are celebrities like Kimye treating baby naming like a competition? And, more importantly, what does it say about our culture that we care? (You can say that you don't, but social media stats don't lie.)

Speaking with André Leon Talley on Vogue's podcast earlier this month, Kim Kardashian West said, "If you don't post something once you get into that mode and things are going on in your life, it's almost as if it didn't happen because you didn't post it." She might be describing this weekend's painfully long gap in her social media, when Baby West had landed in Beverly Hills but was as yet unnamed. Kim's last Instagram, a deeply pregnant selfie, racked up thousands of anxious comments from fans begging for an update. Now that they have it, Saint West already has dozens of fan accounts on every social media platform.

So one answer is right there: the loop of social media has heightened the scrutiny of and interest in celebrities. As their followers rack up, we're listening to what actors and musicians are saying, and validating it. Celebrities now have a 24/7 platform to voice their thoughts on everything from politics to parenting, so their choices and opinions are everywhere.

Philosopher George Berkeley posed the question of whether trees in a park exist without our perception of them over four hundred years before Twitter. But its dilemma remains relevant: would Jaden Smith tweet such weird things if no one were listening? Would Miley wear pasties if she didn't get photographed?

I'm going to guess no. And similarly, celebrities wouldn't be giving their babies such odd names if we weren't giving them quite so much attention.

When the most popular names of 2015 include outliers like Caden, Jaxon, and Aria, celebrities have to work much harder to make sure that their kids can't find their nameplate keychains at the mall. As Americans get more savvy about giving their children unusual and interesting names, celebrities have to go deeper into their dictionaries. Not even Saint was a first in the celebosphere; Pete Wentz's son is Saint Laszlo.

If the point of celebrities going rogue with their kids' names is to be unique, the irony is that the uniqueness doesn't last long. Because we make fun of these kooky names, and then we copy them. When the Beckhams named their son Brooklyn in 1999, it was considered pretty out-there. Now, it's the #38 name for girls in America. Jay Z and Beyoncé tried (and failed) to trademark the name Blue Ivy, losing out to a wedding planner. Jay told Vanity Fair, "you don't want anybody trying to benefit off your baby's name."

That's the life cycle of a celebrity baby name: oddity to meme to Pottery Barn product name to most popular shout at the playground. These stars bank on their trend-setting prowess, but then complain when their choices get popular. How many times have you heard a rapper decry a style because "everyone started wearing it"? A child's name is somewhat more permanent than a Hood By Air hoodie. So why not give up and go #backtobasics? For West child number three, we vote John. 

Kim Kardashian
Jay Z
kanye west
Blue Ivy
North West
Saint West
celebrity culture
baby name
celebrity baby names