The email from a parenting website trumpeted its last member survey in boldface type: “The 20 Most-Hated Baby Names.” On any given day, it would have been only one of dozens of headlines that cross my desk, most blown off without a second glance. This one, with its deliberately incendiary choice of words, set off the kind of prickle I get when I know I’m being manipulated. Wow, I thought, wouldn’t a baby name have to be downright appalling to inspire emotion as extreme as hatred? Cruel, one-of-a-kind monikers like Sluttina or Jerkbert? But something about the come-on wasn’t right. So I bit.
On the site, I found the list of most-hated names included the likes of Patricia, Ruth, Susan and Sandra. On the boys’ side were equally traditional monikers like Roger, Arthur, Jerry and Walter. While these names are not currently popular, did they really arouse such bald malice in parents who chose other names for their children? Parents give a child a name whittled from thousands of choices. How could a group of parents inflict something as potent as hatred on other parents’ choices?
As it turns out, there was no hatred at all behind this shameless SEO-grubbing headline. An editor’s note at the bottom of the article stated that “The names that appear above are not necessarily uncommon or universally disliked; they are simply the names that (our) members chose the most infrequently when asked to vote on their favorite names.”
Oh. The names are not universally disliked, just “most hated.” This easily qualifies as the new low in hate rhetoric. Take one of life’s most joyous—and personal—choices and apply the negative option. You didn’t choose it, therefore you must hate it.
It’s a cheap journalistic trick, but it’s hardly unusual these days. So, does one hyperbolic, misleading post in a universe of billions matter? I think it does, and here’s why.
Raise your hand if you have a child with autism in your life, a child who is a concrete thinker, for whom feelings and reactions are either black or white. Who struggles with identifying emotions in himself, who doesn’t yet understand the complexity of his emotions, let alone those of others, who grapples with understanding the concept of opposites. I raised one of those, and that is why I cannot turn a cheek to the flippant and ubiquitous manner in which our culture has come to use a word that should be reserved only for the deepest of ugly emotions. . .