We need to talk about why the name Kevin has acquired such a bad rap.
My parents named me Kevin when that name was in its heyday. My moniker was the 14th most popular baby boy name when I was born in 1959, according to Social Security Administration data, rising from 95th in 1949 and 332nd in 1940. It would reach as high as 11th in 1963 before steadily declining.
In the government agency’s latest assessment in 2018, Kevin ranked a depressing 125th. What the hell, Kevin’s? What the hell did we do to fall so far?
Believe me, I’ve tried to do my part to maintain the good Kevin name. I don’t smoke, drink too much, or litter. I try to limit profanity to a few times a day. I recycle and don’t spit on the sidewalk. I pick up dog poop. I drive an economy vehicle, not a gas-guzzling machine. I drive my teen-aged kids to work and their various events without grumbling too much. I don’t attend church, but don’t look down upon those who do. And it’s really hard not to look down on someone when you are five-foot-nineteen.
Still, my good name has been sullied. The name of one of the 1999 Columbine teen mass killers — Dylan — is more popular than mine. The other — Eric — is only 35 spots below me. The names of other real-life mass murderers or serial killers, including Charles, Adam, Aaron, Ted, Jack, and David, are more widely used for babies these days than mine. Theodore declined in popularity for a few years after the crimes of Ted Bundy were widely publicized in 1989. But that name rose to 44th most popular last year from the peak low of 314th in 1999.
In Germany, there is a disease named “Kevinismus.” There is also a Wikipedia page on “Kevinism,” which seems to be the prejudice against guys named Kevin. One study a few years ago by a Duke University professor and a German researcher found that the worst first name to have was mine.
In 2013, The Guardian advised Prince William and Kate Middleton: “Whatever you do, don’t call [your new baby] Kevin.” Of course, they named him George.
As far as I can tell, there has never been a mass killer named Kevin in real life. So where is this Kevin hate coming from? Kevin Spacey couldn’t do this much damage with his sexual harassment. By the time all that crap came out, the Kevin name had already fallen out of the Top 100. Could Kevin Hart’s homophobic tweets in 2010 and 2011 cause our name to decline from 41st in 2008 to 72nd in 2013? Most people weren’t even aware of Hart’s remarks until 2018.
Surely Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City to join a championship team in 2016 and grab an NBA ring didn’t impact the situation much, did it? Kevin Bacon’s film roles as a sadistic guard in 1996 and a pedophile in 2004 likely didn’t help our cause, but hey, remember how carefree he was in Footloose? Rapper Kevin Federline sure didn’t help our image, but even he couldn’t have caused that steep decline by himself.
So for years, I’ve wandered in the dark, clueless about the demise of my good name, feeling like I was forever swimming against a rip current, helpless to do anything to stop the slide. Then recently, I chanced upon a book at a library sale. I usually only read nonfiction these days — I don’t have time for escape novels. Truth is stranger, and more interesting to me, than fiction.
But the title of this novel — We Need to Talk About Kevin — naturally attracted me. Why do we need to talk about a guy with my same name? What have we done to society? Again, the mass murderers have names like Ted and Jack and Jeffrey and Charles and Dylan and Timothy. When I found out that Kevin character was a teen-aged mass killer who flung arrows with a crossbar to methodically execute his dad, younger sister, nine classmates, and two adults, I was horrified at first. Then curious. Like with the latest mass shootings, I couldn’t look away.
And then it clicked. When this book came out in 2003, the Kevin name ranked a still-respectable 32nd on the popular baby name list. After that book became a major British-made movie with the same name in 2011 — which I totally missed since its North American release was limited —and then went to DVD in 2012, the Kevin name quickly fell out of the Top 100.
Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not. After reading that book, I wouldn’t name a new baby Kevin, either.
Reviews for both the film and book were mostly good. Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert gave the film four stars. It holds a 7.5 out of 10 rating by viewers on IMDb. “We’ll be talking about Kevin for years,” wrote The Guardian. “Impossible to put down,” wrote The Boston Globe.
The film and book’s reach is not insignificant. The book has sold more than 1 million copies and been translated into 25 other languages. Some 128,000 people like the film’s Facebook page, which has the address of “Kevinmovie.” Actress Tilda Swinton, who played the mother who wonders if her ambivalence about raising a son was a factor in how he turned out, won awards from numerous film associations and was nominated for a Golden Globe. Author Lionel Shriver, who usually refers to the book as simply “Kevin,” won the Orange Prize, one of the UK’s most prestigious literary awards.
How do we real-life Kevin’s compete against the storm of the major film and publishing marketing machines, which seem to have the goal of making our name synonymous with a mass killer? I could see calling this book and film We Need to Talk About Hannibal or We Need to Talk About Jeffrey. Maybe that was the point to choose a name less obvious as a killer. But it’s just so unfair to us real life Kevin’s after we have spent our lives trying to live a good life, right?
In 2011, Shriver wrote that she came up with the “Kevin Katchadourian” name for the teen killer after “combing through the phone book.” A “large number of fiction readers” knew “exactly who Kevin is, and that number is set to swell once a cinema audience joins the mix,” she stated.
That may be good for Shriver’s bottom line, but not our good name, right, Kevin’s?
So we real-life Kevin’s have our work cut out for us, once again. In 1948, we were ranked 127th on the baby name list. But we rose from those ashes. We can do it again, can’t we?