Saturday, January 17, 2009


Disclaimer: People have strong opinions- and emotions- associated with certain names. The following is not intended to offend the reader or judge the namer. I just report the facts! Now, on with the show . . .

If you've had any contact with me for the past couple of months, chance are good that I've bored you with talk about my favorite topic: BABY NAMES. I've been pretty obsessed with them as the pregnancy chugs along, probably because they are a far less stressful topic to read up on than things like breast feeding and diaper changing (guh-ROSS!) I have become something of an expert, not only on the specific top names, but on the latest trends in baby-naming (so they can be avoided, as necessary). Sadly, I even know the top names by country.

For example, in England, the name "Lettice" is climbing fast. It took me ages to figure out that this name is most likely pronounced "Letitia." Oops! Yes, friends, danger lurks in baby-naming-land. If you want to play it safe, name your son "Jack," since it has held the #1 (or close to it) position in the UK, Ireland, and Australia, and it is becoming ubiquitous in America.

Because our last name is the 3rd most common in the United States, it is particularly important to us to avoid the most common first names, but obviously not pick a name that is so unusual that it brands the kids as freaks, right? Hence our challenge. Since I've become such a repository of info, here is the baby name tutorial:

Some trends, historically speaking:

Boys' names, finally branching out: For most of the 20th century, boys names exhibited hardly any diversity. You know these "usual suspects": John, James, Michael, Thomas, Robert, Frank, etc. A hundred years ago, these names each controlled up to 5% of the baby name market, whereas now the top boy name controls just over 1%. This lack of diversity is explained by the tendency to pass on male names (i.e., junior) and the fact that men's names are seen as sources of family tradition and lineage. Starting about 30 years ago (and probably partly due to changing immigration trends), boys names started to diversify to the point that for-decades-top-5-John is now barely hanging on to the Top 20. Expanded By contrast, girls names are much more subject to ever-changing ideas of beauty, whether it be gem stones (Ruby, Pearl, Opal) or flowers (Violet, Daisy).

Girls names: Hot, then not: Girls names have tended to become wildly popular, shooting to the #1 or #2 spot, then dramatically falling out of favor, for no apparent reason. As a result, some names allow you to practically carbon-date the owner (sorry, ladies- we didn't name ourselves, right?) Some examples:

Minnie (1880s)
Dorothy (1920s)
Marilyn (1930s)
Judith, Carol (1940s)
Linda (1950s)
Lisa (1960s)
Jennifer (1970s, 1980s)

The 1970s/80s: Back to Nature: This era brought the earth-mother out, as people looked to nature for inspiration and came up with: Dawn, Heather, Crystal, Ginger.

Recent Trends:

Place Names: Starting in the 1980s, it's as though the country cashed in its frequent flyer miles. From exotic locales (London, Paris, India), to U.S. states (Dakota, Montana) to the downright familiar (Brooklyn- the 57th most common name, nationally, but, interestingly, not to be found on the NYC registry- they must have been there and known it is not a place you want to name your precious baby girl after!)

Cutting Edge Trends:
Nouns: Apple, Satchel, Story, Sonnet, River

Granny-cool: (Note: many of these overlap with the below-listed "Colors"): These are the names that were hot hot hot at the turn of the last century: Grace, Lily, Eve, Anna, Ivy.

Colors: Violet, Ruby, Scarlett and even Cerulean (I don't even know what color this is).

I am going to stop here because A) I could go on forever and B) I'm getting bored!
You might be wondering what the pizza-baby photo has to do with this entry. The answer? Absolutely nothing. However, if you want to play "name this baby," particularly using any of the tools above, that would be fun, too. How about "Crispin"? or "Swaddle"?

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