Children are apparently the levers by which retailers hope to pry open your pocket, if the nakedly aspirational catalogs I get are any indication. Because I once bought a monogrammed chair for my daughter, I am now on the Pottery Barn Kids catalog list for life.
(At right: the daughter in her reading nook. I had asked her to take off her shoes, but she got distracted by a book halfway through. I can't chide her for that because I do the same thing.)
The thing that always bemuses me about this catalog is how meticulously it details the fantasy of productive, achieving upper middle-class life. The tidy family calendars hanging in the background feature activities like "violin," "swim meet," "family movie night: Wizard of Oz."
The prop styling include a paper cup with the drawn-on face of Max from Where the Wild Things Are, homemade mobiles with wholesome wood and paper parts (no plastic, no garish colors) and air plants in glass globes. And then there are the names, everywhere the children's names.
Pottery Barn Kids' promiscuous flinging about of first names fascinates me, because it pushes the market positioning from subtle (your brain picks up cues that either say, This life is my life or I want this family life) to right in your face.
Children's names are loaded. They say a lot about the parents -- revealing everything from parental education to religious affiliation to ethnic background to socioeconomic strata. Pottery Barn Kids not only features all manner of monogrammed items (so you can imagine your child having the same things and therefore the same privileged life as little Leo and Grace will), they also name their big-ticket furniture line after trending children's names. Those names are a signal meant to attract a certain kind of audience.
Here are all of the names in the September 2013 Pottery Barn Kids catalog:
BOYS (as determined by their appearance on items color- or interest-coded for boys): Aiden; Bradley; Carter; Cole; Drew; Dylan; Emmett; Emmitt (yes, two spellings); Gavin; Geoff; Grayson; Jack; Jacob; Jake; Jordan; Kevin; Leo; Logan; Mackenzie; Mason; Matthew; Nathan; Noah; Patrick; Riley; Sam; Taylor; Tucker; Tyler; Wyatt; Zach.
GIRLS (as determined by their appearance on items color- or interest-coded for girls): Abby; Abigail; Alex; Anne; Annie; Avery; Belle; Bianca; Brianna; Brooke; Cambria Elliot; Carly; Christina; Dahlia; Emma; Georgia; Grace; Hailey; Jade; Jessie; Julia; Kallie; Madison; Mia; Molly; Priscilla; Poppy; Samantha; Simone; Sydney; Taylor.
PRODUCT NAMES (for specific lines of furniture or accessories): Belden; Blythe; Cameron; Carolina; Catalina; Fairfax; Genevieve; Harper; Jackson; Jordan; Kendall; Larkin; Mackenzie; McKenna; Sabrina; Whitney.
What is interesting about many of the graphs for these names (where available) is how so many of the names have already peaked in popularity and are sliding gently downward. It makes sense. The catalog is aimed at parents of older children who are now outfitting the big-kid rooms, so perhaps we'll see more names like Lily, Stella, Nora, Nolan, Oliver and Eli once the bulk of those kids are out of toddler beds and ready for a pricey bedroom suite.
What I also find interesting are the names that are not in the catalog. I used 2006 as the average year here, since that's when a lot of the baby names listed above were either peaking or only beginning their descent, then hit the U.S. SSA site. Plenty of Pottery Barn names in the top 100 -- but notably missing were: Jose (#30); Savannah (#30); Destiny (#36); Isaiah (#39); Neveah (#43); Jayden (#49); Diego (#56); Brooklyn (#67); Carlos (#70); Aayliah (#90); Caden (#91); Kaden (#92); Alejandro (#96); Jayla (#99). Google around for name meanings and connotations for those names and you run across articles like "How to avoid giving your baby a stripper name" or lauding the decline of "Jose" as a good thing because it heralds assimilation into American culture.
Rightly or wrongly, names are regarded as a means of "trading up" a few runs on the class ladder. To me, it says volumes about the customer Pottery Barn wants when it names its products. And some of those things make me think that perhaps I don't want to be the customer that company wants.
Are you equally fascinated by the practices of naming consumer goods? Do you have strong opinions on what constitutes a "stripper name" or whether such a distinction is disgusting? Or would you like to talk about how that dang Anywhere Chair really is handy for small children? Hit me on Twitter at lschmeiser.