Pittsburghers catch up in naming babies after places

Three guesses why he's Tré Rivers


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It all started, the experts believe, around 20 years ago, somewhere around Montana and the Dakotas, quickly migrating east to Brooklyn, Ireland, India, China and beyond.

And while Pittsburgh is, as usual, a decade or so behind the early-adopters, we have finally caught up with the trend of naming babies after places -- although in typical Pittsburgh fashion, we seem to prefer sports venues.

Exhibit A can be found on page 28 in the Nov. 5 issue of ESPN The Magazine, where little Tré Rivers Kemerer, age 2 months, gets his very own picture, taken at his very first Steelers game -- against the Buffalo Bills.

You didn't misread that: it's "Tré," not "Three," because, his mother says, they liked the sound of the No. 3 in Spanish -- with a French accent for flair.

"We didn't want him named after ketchup," Shawnta Kemerer says, when asked why she and her husband didn't name their child after Heinz Field.

"We had wanted to show our love for the Steelers in some way, but players come and go," said Mrs. Kemerer, 29. "Three Rivers will always be of great significance to us, and our baby will always have that Pittsburgh connection."

The Kemerers aren't the only parents who feel that way.

Steeler Gerard Petrocky, grandson of a season ticket holder from Mt. Lebanon, was born Nov. 19, 2006, nine months after the Steelers won a fifth Super Bowl. While Kim Petrocky's baby is not technically named after a physical place, Steeler Nation is a sort of spiritual place -- "a state of mind," she notes.

Neither Tré Rivers nor Steeler Gerard lives anywhere near Pittsburgh, but the Kemerers, of Lancaster, Ohio, and the Petrockys, of Tampa, Fla., feel keenly attached to the muddy football fields of Western Pennsylvania, attending as many Steeler games as they can.

Closer to home, there are parents who are just as homesick for sports venues outside of Pittsburgh: In Crafton, there's Jackson Fenway Holt, 11 months; in Oakmont, there's Cameron Hernandez, 23 months, named for the indoor stadium where Duke University's Blue Devils play college basketball; and 4-year-old Keagan Penn Kresge, of Mars, named after Penn State.

In America today, baby naming has become a full-fledged competitive sport thanks to the Internet, a narcissistic celebrity culture and loosening family traditions, with one particular subset of this trend -- babies named after places -- finally coming into its own.

"It all started when Hollywood movie stars started going for those western names, like Dakota and Montana," says Linda Rosencranz, who, with Pamela Redmond Satran, co-authored "Beyond Jennifer and Jason" in 1988, the first big book on the subject.

Today, London and Paris are popular names, "although Paris is fading, for obvious reasons, because of Paris Hilton's troubles. But every time I think we've reached the tipping point, I'm proven wrong."

The fortunes of sports teams may also play a role in a name's popularity. The Red Sox's World Series victory in 2004 is credited with pushing the name Boston into the country's top 1,000 most popular names -- it's currently 626th.

While a search on the Social Security Administration list for the name Pittsburgh or PNC Park came up empty, there are a few people walking around with locally inspired names: Schenley Kent, now living in Harrisburg, who was named for the park in Pittsburgh's East End; and Sylvia Venezia Kauffman, a sophomore at Allegheny College, whose name is a blending of three places her parents lived or visited: Pennsylvania, Tanzania and Venice.

On Ms. Rosencranz and Ms. Satran's Web site, www.babynamebible.com, and other baby-centric sites and chat rooms, there are "name polls" ("Liam or Emerson?" "Inbal or Anais?") where members can test drive a wealth of different choices. In one such poll on www.babynamegenie.com, Savannah Grace outpolled Paris Kathryn, 53 percent to 45 percent, while India Justine got only 3 percent of the vote.

Most Americans, though, aren't as willing to experiment. The top three names for boys and girls in America for 2006, according to the Social Security Administration, were Jacob, Michael and Joshua and Emily, Emma and Madison -- as they have been for several years in a row. However, one place name did crack the top 100, at least in the girls' category: Brooklyn is 64th on the list for 2006, although no place names are listed for boys.

Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger's choice of Ireland for their daughter's name seems to have struck a chord among some Pittsburghers.

"Both my husband and I have Irish blood in us, and we loved the name," said Frances Quirin Mauler of Baldwin, who named her own daughter Ireland nine years ago, saying several other parents she knows have since followed her lead.

Then there are those who believe that somehow a child's personality evolves to fit her name, which is why Gerri England loves her third daughter's moniker so much: Londonne England, now 38, "marches to the beat of a different drummer," said Mrs. England of West Mifflin. "She is the sweetest person and always had a special flair of her own."

Alleen Nilsen, a professor of English at Arizona State University and president of the American Name Society, believes that the mother who names her child after a sports team or arena may simply be yielding to an instinct for family preservation by encouraging the father to feel a stronger connection to the baby.

"I have had mothers tell me, 'I don't need my mother's maiden name. I know this baby is mine. But my husband has to identify with this baby and feel a part of it.' "

That theory doesn't wash with Lorraine Holt, mother of Jackson Fenway, who says the real story behind her son's name is more complicated -- and perhaps something of a cautionary tale for other Pittsburgh parents who would name their baby after the Red Sox, or any sports team from out of town.

Growing up in Erie, Ms. Holt became a rabid Cleveland Indians fan, while her husband Ben, a Clairton native who lived in Florida as a child, had no baseball team to root for. By the time he returned to Fox Chapel to attend high school, it was too late for the Pirates: Mr. Holt had pledged his heart and soul to Boston, forever.

When the time came to name their baby, Ms. Holt first thought of her beloved grandfather, Jack Frank Bowdie, who died when she was 10. But they didn't like the name Frank, particularly.

"We tried to think of other names that begin with 'F', and it took about two minutes to come up with Fenway [after Fenway Park, the Red Sox stadium in Boston]. I told my husband, 'We're missing the obvious choice,' and he looked at me and said, 'You wouldn't really let me do that, would you?' And I said, 'Of course I would.' "

Her parents and siblings -- die-hard Cleveland fans -- were appalled.

"They did everything they could to talk me out of it. But I wouldn't budge."

There was, in fact, a little family tension during last month's playoffs, she added.

"But after the Indians lost, my father called me and said, 'OK, tell your husband Jackson can put on his Boston stuff now.' "


Mackenzie Carpenter can be reached at mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949.


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