SIKESTON -- Long gone are the days when a baby's gender was the surprise in births. Today the surprise is in the child's name.
Take, for instance, Karen and David Hartle of Bloomfield. The couple named their son, who was born Feb. 13, after the sports network ESPN. It's spelled Espn but pronounced eh-spin.
"We actually saw a special on ESPN, and they had it as a baby's name, talking about several people who were naming their babies that," Karen Hartle said. "Usually they were putting a vowel in (between the p and n), but we decided not to."
Hartle said she liked the uniqueness of the name. Plus, her husband watches ESPN all the time, she said.
The couple, who are both sports fans, have known since around Christmas time they were going to use Espn somewhere in their son's name. Initially they were going to name him Reed Espn.
"But when he was born, he looked more like an Espn," Hartle said about her son.
So the couple swapped the names -- a decision Hartle said she was OK with. "We have four kids, and they all have unique names," Hartle said. "We like different."
In addition to Espn, the couple have another son, Treyton; and two daughters, Izzy and Tyrah.
The couple have taken their share of criticism and praise from family and friends for their son's name. Responses have ranged from "I wish my wife would let me name my baby that" to "Oh my gosh! I can't believe that," Hartle said.
"We had the skeptics, and some were a little negative about it, but most people liked it, and they expected it from us," Hartle said.
Joani Adams Bliss, Web master of Southeast Missouri Hospital in Cape Girardeau, said it's uniqueness parents are after these days.
"Parents really try to find something unusual," Bliss said. "Even if they try for the traditional name, they use an untraditional spelling."
In addition to Espn, some of Southeast's other unique names over the past year have been Taj, Tel, Cam, Loften, Yazmonique, Kennor, Kenleah, Berlkey, Akilleze, Delkin, Cameo, Ulysses, Sage, Roman, Julius, Proper, Ransom and Kelton.
"Your imagination is your limit," Bliss said.
At Missouri Delta Medical Center in Sikeston, the most unusual names this year were twins -- a boy and girl -- named Legend and Brissy, said the hospital's Maternal Child Nurse Manager Leslie Sisk, R.N.C., B.S.N. "The mom said the husband picked those out, and he was in charge of naming them," Sisk said.
Remington and Thunder were also among the uncommon names, Sisk said.
MDMC doesn't officially track most popular names for the year, Sisk said. However, Sisk does notice the naming trends.
"We seem to have some president names like Kennedy and Madison. State names like Dakota and Montana are popular as well as seasons," Sisk said. Sisk said she doesn't see many Jonathons, Michaels or Marys anymore. She, too, sees names with a twist on their spellings such as Daltin, Allyson and Kaytlin.
"The personalized stuff you always see at truck stops, they're not gonna be able find their names," Sisk said.
Parents are also going back to more of the older names like Jeremiah and Ellie, Sisk said.
Lydia, Sophie and Grace are popular girl names. For boys, Aiden is used a lot with various spellings such as Adan and Aidan, Sisk said.
"One name that's been really popular this year is Riley for both boys and girls and spelled different ways," Sisk said.
Southeast's two most popular names in 2006, which are compiled by using the names posted on the hospital's Web site, were Grace and Landon.
At Southeast, some parents opted for biblical names like Jesus, Lazarus and Neveah (heaven spelled backward) while others preferred place names such as Brooklyn, Houston and Texas, Bliss said.
And some parents reached for the stars, naming their babies Angelina, Jolie, Anderson, Cooper, Jude, Owen, Reese and Quinton, Bliss said.
One thing to remember is not take the spelling of anyone's name for granted, Bliss said.
"That's part of the uniqueness of them. ... Don't assume Michael will always be spelled with an -ael," Bliss said.
Another trend is transposing letters of a common name, Bliss said. "I do feel sorry for teachers though," Bliss laughed.
Most names aren't spur-of-the-moment picks either, both Bliss and Sisk said.
"With the ultrasound today, everybody usually knows what sex their child will be, and they have names picked out," Sisk said.
But if parents are still unsure when their baby is born, name books are available to help parents make a decision.
"A name is a very important thing," Bliss said. "It will be with you all your life."