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Perspective: Give Lakynn’s mom a break. Three cheers for Utah’s peculiar baby names

In a state full of kids, the desire for originality breeds an imaginative naming game. Let’s dispense with the shame

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Michelle Budge, Deseret News

The phenomenon that is Utah’s baby naming culture has been the target of more than a few jokes. On occasion, it’s even hit the national dialogue — like when Lakynn’s mom (see below) became the main character of a persistent internet meme:

And, then, in 2018 Twitter userAllison Czarnecki tweeted a series of uniquely Utah names she mined from her son’s junior high school yearbook. 

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Czarnecki’s list represents what I believe are the two types of names that qualify as distinctly Utahn. The “traditional” names with never-before-seen spellings (Madolin, Madisyn, Madysen, Katharin, Saydee). And then the names that seem completely made up or lifted from obscure “Star Trek” episodes (Atylee, Taeber, Macady, Taeg).

Those of us in the state are the first to laugh (albeit nervously) at this phenomenon. They can’t make fun of us if we’re already making fun of ourselves!

And, sure, I’ve rolled my eyes with a smug sense of superiority at plenty of mothers calling to their children Zephyr and Maxson.

But, as with all holier-than-thou attitudes, mine has been rooted in fear. Fear that I failed when I named my own kids.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I spent months agonizing over the perfect name for our daughter. I wanted something traditional but unique, classic but rare. My husband and I finally landed on Ivy, and we were sure she would be the only Ivy in the nation. A week before she arrived Beyonce gave birth to her first daughter and named her Blue Ivy.

Ivy is now listed in the 100 most popular names for girls.

As one of four Megs or Megans in my first grade class, I learned early on that there are benefits to a name that stands out. I had hoped to give my child a name truly unique, but still recognizable moniker.

And I failed.

Maybe I should have thrown caution to the wind and freestyled on my firstborn’s birth certificate. Or at least found a name unfamiliar to most people with a significant story behind it, like the stories of Utahns like Marné and Lucchese.

Heather Marné Williams-Young is named after Marné Whitaker Tuttle. According to legend, Marné Whitaker Tuttle’s mother named her Marne (with no accent) after the French town on the frontlines of World War I, thinking Marne, which rhymes with barn, was a beautiful name.

But Marné disagreed, so she added the acute accent over the e, and pronounced it “Mar-nay.” “There is nothing more Utah to me than women of a certain generation trying make their names more French by putting accents places they shouldn’t be,” Williams-Young says.

The irony, of course, is the original name (without an accent) was in fact French to begin with.

Marné Tuttle served as temple matron in the Provo Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1979-1982 during which time Williams-Young’s mother worked as a temple employee. Her mother and her mother’s roommate gave their daughters the middle name Marné. 

“There are a handful of us around Utah County who we’re all named after the same woman with the made-up name,” Williams-Young says. “I feel such a kinship with them.”

Meanwhile, Lacey Haworth named her daughter Lucchese, pronounced Lou-Casey.

Haworth grew up on a ranch with horses and cows. “My family is very into western clothes and rodeo culture,” she says. Part of that culture is Lucchese, a luxury cowboy boot brand founded by an Italian immigrant. “I’ve always been fascinated with the company and the boots themselves,” Haworth says. “I actually own a pair and they will be an heirloom I pass down. That’s how much they mean to me.” 

Haworth was surprised but thrilled when her husband agreed to name their daughter Lucchese. “It might not make sense to so many other people, and I know she’ll be telling people how to say it for the rest of her life, but we love that her name is unique, special to us, and has real meaning to our lives. I really hope that she will always cherish her name.”

I assume that’s every parents’ hope — to give their children names that are special and that they will cherish.

Utah has highest birthrate in the nation, and there are only so many names to go around. Naming a kid anywhere is a difficult and stressful undertaking, which is why some parents, apparently, call in the pros to help come up with a name. But naming a kid in a state with a whole bunch of kids can feel nearly impossible. 

Everyone here is trying to pick the name that three other little girls or boys in kindergarten won’t have. So we either accept that little Ivy will be one of many, or we have to get very creative, as all name creators once did.

You can’t tell me the name Blanche didn’t have its early detractors. And, in another 50 years, Lakynn may be canon.

Or maybe there will only ever be one Breknen or Linchy, and the Utah name phenomenon is just a flash in the pan. Regardless most original names are at worst harmless and at best mean something really special to the parents who created them, and the children who own them.

So I’m going to stop rolling my eyes at the more ambitious name-givers, and I’m going to ask Ivy if she’d prefer Iveigh instead.