The Current

Elon Musk and Grimes' newborn name X Æ A-12 'fails at the basic job of being a name,' says author

Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his partner, the Canadian singer Grimes, have named their new baby X Æ A-12. We talk to a naming expert about the choice, and the trend among parents to choose more unusual names.

State of California won’t let couple register unusual name, Laura Wattenberg says

Tesla CEO Elon Musk shared this image of his new son X Æ A-12, with tattoos Photoshopped on his face, on Tuesday. (@elonmusk/Twitter)

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Canadian singer Grimes have called their new baby X Æ A-12 — but the choice "fails at the basic job of being a name," says one expert.

"Assuming it's not all an elaborate prank, they've really crossed a line with this one," said Laura Wattenberg, founder of namerology.com and author of The Baby Name Wizard.

"The job of a name is to be the stand-in for a person, a signifier that presents us to others either in a social context or in a legal identification context," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"What they've come up with here is more of a glyph. It's something that — not only can no one spell or pronounce it — you can't even type it." 

The celebrity couple announced the birth of their son on Twitter on Monday, sharing a Photoshopped image of the boy with tattoos on his face

Grimes, real name Claire Boucher, took to Instagram Wednesday, explaining the name's pronunciation as X, A.I., A-12. On a podcast Thursday, Musk, meanwhile, said he will pronounce the name as X Ash Archangel.

Wattenberg says parents who choose a name like this aren't "thinking from the baby's perspective."

The name is either "a rather amusing prank," or "some sort of statement, that's different from the very deep and loving impulse that usually comes with a name."

"That impulse comes from a very deep place — whether you name after your grandfather, or you name after Kylo Ren from Star Wars, it's still a very heartfelt choice," she said.

Either way, Wattenberg says the name may not be recognized legally, as the state of California does not allow numerals.

From fitting in to standing out

She notes recent decades have seen a huge change in how people name their babies with "parents switching from choosing a name that fits in, to one that stands out."

The change happened in two phases, Wattenberg explained, starting with a rise of individualism in the 1960s in reaction to the more conformist '50s and later, the explosion of TV channels in the 1990s, coupled with the rise of the world wide web.

Canadian singer Grimes and Elon Musk announced the birth of their son on Monday. (Charles Sykes/The Associated Press)

"Parents would go to the internet, type in a full name that they were considering for their baby and say: 'Oh, no, it's taken,'" she said.

"Whereas in the past, there might be a baby in the next town over with that same name and you'd never know."

The preoccupation with naming intensified when countries started to publish the top names for girls and boys born in a certain year, she said.

"That created a kind of reverse arms race, where no one wants to be number one. There's a competitiveness to be unique." 

While there may be a positive side to the creative expression parents put into an unusual name, Wattenberg warned there can be a backlash.

"In a diverse creative naming culture, we are all sending a lot of signals about ourselves as parents, not about our children," she said. 

"People are very quick, very good at reading the signals that we send with names and in some cases, responding negatively if they think that that cultural signal is not something positive."

Despite that concern, she's not worried that Musk and Grimes will start a trend of alpha-numeric monikers.

"I think parents might try, but I think the legal system will push back."


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Richard Raycraft.

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