One thing is certain.
Whatever I thought the Clooney twins might be called, and whatever names might have caused a stir in my social media and yours (remember yesterday morning, when Reality Winner was the biggest name in the headlines?), I never, never expected this much digital ink to be spilled on ‘Ella’ and ‘Alexander’.
Ella and Alexander.
Whatever you expected, it wasn’t this. Right?
Not after Phinnaeus and Hazel, or Monroe and Moroccan, or Marion and Tabitha, even non-twin combinations like Wyatt and Dimitri. You expected that the names would be at least a little bit surprising or different or new, somehow, right? That celebrities tend to take advantage of having been exposed to lots of names, and of wanting to stand out a little bit – not to mention the bonus of getting to name two at once… and you hoped there would be something more to chew on.
Or at least, I did. I expected something else. Partly because that’s what we’ve come to expect from George Clooney. He’s been surprising us for years, since he leaned out of mere movie stardom and into more interesting things like Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck. Since his forays into politics have been mostly well thought-out and well-received. Especially since, after years of bland blah girlfriends on red carpets, he chose a partner who is not a red carpet fixture but an exceedingly intelligent and successful woman with a non-show-business career. Who, if we flatter ourselves, might remind us a little bit of ourselves.
Whose name is Amal.
When all is said and done, this is what breaks my heart a little bit. The babies are half-Lebanese-British by birth and will be citizens of the world. Their names could have been anything, and people would have accepted them because George Clooney said so. As usual, I stress that there’s nothing wrong with Ella and Alexander, per se—but I struggle to find the reason they couldn’t have been Layla and Iskander, for example. Still wearable and pronounceable everywhere, but unmistakeably a little bit ‘other’. A little bit unafraid to be Middle Eastern names, because why should they be?
Get all your complainy questions and Greek chorus out now. “Why can’t they name them anything they want?” Of course they can. “What’s wrong with those names?” I’ll say this until I’m blue in the face. There’s nothing wrong with them. They’re fine names. They’ve been around a long time.
But I struggle when people refer to them as ‘classic’. Classic to whom?
It took me less than a minute to find people relieved that they were ‘normal’. As opposed to what? What constitutes an abnormal name?
The issue isn’t that the names are ‘too boring’ or ‘too used’, even though the least kid-interested among you know that they’re in full use in every elementary and high school you pass on your way to work.
But the reason they’re worthy of comment, to me, is because I can’t shake the feeling that choosing such well-trodden ‘normal’ names sends an implicit message that Middle Eastern or Arabic names are not as desirable. That the name their mother has is not something to be emulated. That now that they are Clooneys, they should have names that are ‘normal’.
I’m overthinking it, of course. They’re just names they like. Maybe they’re names Amal and George dreamed of from the moment the script turned pink. But in a time when we have such a massive lack of understanding of Middle Eastern and Arabic culture, I can’t help but wish there’d been a greater attempt to find the beauty in names from another culture.
This is a lot to ask, of course. I never fault people with no Greek heritage for choosing the name Phoebe, or for the non-Scottish to adore Duncan - so why should it be any different for the Clooneys just because one of them is of Arabic origin?
It's because representation matters. It's because choosing Anglo names when one parent has a name that is "other” can be interpreted as feeling like there's something to hide or be ashamed of. Names matter. And they continue to send a message long after the birth certificates have been signed.
The Clooneys probably just like Ella and Alexander. Maybe Arabic names sound harsh and unappealing to Clooney’s ear—or to Amal’s, for that matter. Maybe there's nothing here to see except two parents who are about to be tired choosing names they loved. But I can’t help but wish they’d found a way to love something else.