Friday, December 21, 2012

5 pop-culture baby names my son almost got stuck with

My son Selby was born three years ago today. His name was inspired by Selby Avenue, a major thoroughfare in our neighborhood of Saint Paul. My wife and I chose it because we wanted to give our boy a constant reminder of his roots and the city that spawned him. As he’s grown older, our strategy seems to be working. Now that he’s a cognizant toddler, he is delighted to know that there’s a street with his name.

Many of my writerly friends assumed that the name was a tribute to the late author Hubert Selby, Jr. I’ve never been a huge fan of that Selby’s work, but I can see why they’d think that. For one, Hubert Selby was a major influence on Lou Reed, and my dedication to all things Lou is well documented. For two, Mr. Selby was writer in residence at Columbia College Chicago not long before I started grad school there, and served as a mentor to many of my most beloved and respected colleagues. For three, I’m exactly the kind of pop-culture spewing dweeb who would saddle his kid with a sly tribute to some book, TV show or movie. As proof, here are five baby names that got strong consideration before Selby was born.

In its original airing, Arrested Development was something like a religion in my household, so it was only natural that it would come into consideration when baby names were on the table. We talked about “GOB,” we talked about “Tobias,” and then we remembered that duo’s ill-fated business partnership, Gobias Industries. (“As in, ‘Gobias some coffee!’”) I don’t  recall the specific reason that this delightful portmanteau got bumped from the list. I suspect it was mainly on grounds of sheer goofiness, and the knowledge that no one would ever pronounce it correctly.

My wife will tell you that she immediately vetoed this pick, but I still spent a few weeks brainstorming ways to win her over to naming our innocent newborn after The Wire’s shotgun-toting anti-hero. Now that I’m a few years removed from watching The Wire, I can admit that I’m glad she prevailed, especially since seemingly half of my friends have named household pets after Wire characters. At the time, though, I thought we were doing a serious disservice to the boy’s future street cred.

Jasper is a fine, old-fashioned name with a certain elegance about it. It’s also the name of a weird old man on The Simpsons, which is what brought it into serious contention for us. Unfortunately, it’s also also the name of a character in the Twilight novels. When we added that connection to the current upswell in old-timey baby names, we decided there was just too great a chance of a Jasper boom. (I do frequently employ Jasper’s immortal quote, “Sidewalk’s for regular walkin’, not fancy walkin’” when we take the boy out for strolls around the neighborhood.

My wife introduced me to the music of Archers of Loaf during my freshman year of college, and our admiration of Archers front man Eric Bachmann only grew when he launched the incredible Crooked Fingers. “Bachmann” looked like a clear front-runner for roughly one afternoon. Then we remembered that we lived in Minnesota, where people would almost certainly assume our son was named after another, considerably less awesome Bachmann.

My wife and I are both huge fans of The Venture Bros, Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick’s reliably brilliant action-adventure parody cartoon. Even though 90% of the characters on the show are reprehensible failures, the series – as well as the word “venture” itself – still maintains a sense of wonder, innovation and excitement that we wanted to instill in our son. 

This name actually made our final two. It wasn’t until we were all alone with our brand new baby boy that we were able to make a decision. Looking at that weird little lump of wrinkly pink flesh taking his first nap on his mother’s chest, we both agreed that he was Selby, not Venture. In the end it was the only name that fit, and now I can’t imagine calling him anything else.

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