Over the last fifty years, American parents have radically increased the variety of names they give their children. In the 1950s, the 50 most popular names accounted for 63.4 percent of all boys born, and 52.1 percent of all girls. But by 2004, the top 50 names covered only 34.6 percent of the boys and 24.4 percent of the girls. As more people move to the United States and use popular or traditional cultural names, the variety of names increases. Also, parents from all ethnic backgrounds are now more likely to search out less common names for their children.
In this new climate for naming, it's more important than ever for parents to have good information on which to base this important decision. This article will provide the help you need to find the best name for your baby. We will compare common and unusual baby names; we will look at how ethnicity and culture have influenced baby-naming trends; and we will examine how the media have affected these trends. Let's get started with some baby-naming tips.
The first step in this exciting process is to consider as many names as you can. In this article, you'll find a few dozen baby names to get you thinking about the process. You should be especially interested in the name's origin if you want to choose a name that reflects your ethnic background. You should want to learn about the name's history, whether you're looking for a name that is popular today or one that is more nostalgic. You should also want to know about famous people or well-known characters from movies and literature who have had the name, because this is part of the heritage you pass on to your child.
Although you're free to give your baby any name you choose, deciding what to call your child shouldn't be put off until the last minute. Parents should remember that any spur-of-the-moment inspiration for their baby's name could affect that child for a lifetime. Before you choose a name, take the time to ask yourself a few questions:
- Is the name easy to spell and to pronounce?
- Is it easy to remember?
- What nicknames can be derived from it?
- Do the initials form a word? If so, is that word likely to prove embarrassing in any way?
- Does the name itself resemble any words with unsuitable meanings? It's a good idea to check an unabridged dictionary, especially if you are choosing a very uncommon name, to make sure you won't inadvertently cause your child embarrassment.
It is recommended that you give your child a full name rather than a diminutive form of the name. A name that's cute for a baby may not age well. Katherine Louise is preferable to Katie Lou. You can always give a child a nickname, and the traditional form will remain his or her legal name.
Use care in naming your child after a well-known living person, such as a politician or entertainer. You cannot predict anyone's future, and your child might be stuck with a name that has a negative connotation.
Consider your last name, especially if it's hyphenated. Does the first name you've selected flow easily with the middle and last name? Also, avoid using first names that, in conjunction with your last name, are too cute, such as Crystal Glass, Candy Barr, Destiny Child, or Phil Fuller.
If possible, both parents should agree on the baby's name well in advance of the due date. Once you've decided on a name, you should try to stick with it and avoid last-minute changes. Read this information with your family, make lists of your favorite names, and discuss your reactions. Your child will appreciate your thoughtfulness.
One big decision for parents is whether to chose a common or unusual name for their baby. Common and unusual names have their own positives and negatives, according to researchers. Check out their findings in the next section.
Common and Unusual Baby Names
Is it better to have a name common to your age group, one that everyone has heard, or an unusual name, one that may cause comment when people first hear it? Psychologists and sociologists have studied this question for years and still cannot agree on the answer.
Names and Stereotypes
On one hand, a great deal of evidence shows that when people hear a particular name, they have strong and specific stereotypes about what sort of person bears that name. For example, most Americans expect a woman named Courtney to be attractive and successful but one named Bertha to be loud and obese. Research has found that teachers may give a higher grade to a school paper by a student named Michael than to one by Hubert, even though the papers are identical.
Photographs of attractive young women called Jennifer are more likely to win a beauty contest than equally attractive pictures labeled Gertrude. Employers are more likely to grant African-American job applicants interviews if they have names like Angela or James rather than Tamika or DeJuan. Much of this research has found a strong correlation between the frequency of a name in our culture and its rated desirability, especially where names for boys are concerned.
On the other hand, research that compares actual people with common first names to those with unusual names often shows the latter having an advantage. People with unusual first names are more likely to be listed in Who's Who and are more successful as psychologists. College women with uncommon first names score higher on scales of sociability and self-acceptance; they are also more likely to have a positive sense of individuality, which helps them to resist peer pressure.
Why do these different studies seem contradictory? Part of the answer is that the first set of studies forced people to form impressions based on the name alone. In contrast, recent research shows that including information about an actual person compensates for most of the negative effects of stereotypes and creates a different context in which to view a name.
For example, if told we were going to meet a man named Igor, we might conjure up the image of an ugly, stupid, and evil character like Dr. Frankenstein's henchman. But if Igor turned out to be a handsome and intelligent young man who explained that his parents had admired the composer Igor Stravinsky, we would probably find his name to be intriguing and sophisticated.
Names and First Impressions
Another reason for the conflicting results from this research is that uncommon names and names with negative images are not necessarily the same. Boys called Derry or Quinlan and girls called Cosima or Prairie will have a chance to create their own first impressions, free from established stereotypes. They can develop a positive, individual self-concept unhampered by the negative images that go along with names such as Adolf, Ethel, Myrtle, or Elmer.
In the final analysis, of course, your choice of a common or unusual name depends on what you believe is best for your child. After all, there are many occasions in life, such as submitting a job application or seeking admission to college, where a name does have a chance to create a positive image on its own. Having a popular name such as Emily or Jacob might be an advantage. If, on the other hand, individuality and creativity are especially important to you, a more unusual name might be better.
But whichever line of thought you follow, remember that a name is more than just a neutral label. The names you give your children will become lasting and important parts of their self-image. Of course, merely selecting a desirable name for your child does not guarantee happiness and success, but boys called Buckshot, Cartel, Craven, Furious, Hades, Lucifer, or Rope and girls called Density, Jealousy, Mirage, Passion, Sanity, Secret, Tyranny, or YerFancy will have a hard time overcoming the belligerent or ridiculous images names such as these evoke. (All these names were given to real children born in the United States since 1995!)
Many parents consider baby names that will reflect their strong ties to their ethnic heritage. Other parents rely on customs to help them choose. In the next section, we will discuss how ethnicity and customs have influenced baby names in the United States and around the world.
Cultural and Ethnic Influences on Baby Names
As long as there has been language, there have been names. Naming is the first task of speech through which we differentiate one person or thing from all others. Every society has a naming system, and all these systems have certain common elements.
Throughout the world, each child is assigned a sound or series of sounds that will be his or her name. Because that name is a part of the language of the child's parents, it immediately identifies the child as belonging to a particular society. So our names identify us both as individuals and as members of a group.
In many parts of Africa, a child's naming day is a festive occasion that usually occurs a week or so after the birth. Girls are named sooner than boys, but only by a day or two. An older person bestows the name, first by whispering it to the baby, because a newborn should know his or her name before anyone else does, then by announcing the name to everyone attending the ceremony.
Many Native Americans developed naming systems in which a person's individual name included the name of his or her clan. For example, all the members of a clan that has the bear as its totem animal have names relating to bears, such as Black-Bear Tracks and Black-Bear Flashing Eyes.
In some groups, children are given secret names that are not revealed until the child reaches puberty or another important stage of life. In other Native American nations, an event that occurs at a child's birth may become the child's name. Today, a person living on a reservation may have one name at home but a different name when he or she is off the reservation.
In China, all given names are created out of words in the Chinese language that have an obvious, immediate meaning. Names are believed to reflect the character of the person, and great care is taken in selecting a child's name. Usually about a month after the child is born, the parents attempt to create an original name. Many girls are given names that signify beauty, such as Sweet Willow or Morning Star. Boys are given names that reflect strength and good health. In rural areas, many Chinese names still include a "generation name," a word or syllable that is the same for all children born in a family in the same generation. Three sisters, for example, might be named Yuan-Chun, Ying-Chun, and Xi-Chun, which mean "First Spring," "Welcome Spring," and "Cherish Spring."
With China's one-child policy, this custom is fading in urban areas, but some Americans of Chinese descent continue this tradition by giving all their children names containing the same syllable (such as Mar- as seen in Marco, Marisa, Marla, Marlene, Marshall, Martha, and Marvin). Most Chinese-Americans give their children American-style first names, though they often give a Chinese-language name as the middle name, as in Brittany Ngon Lee.
Jewish names are some of the oldest names in use today. A Jewish boy is named officially when he is circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. A girl is named as soon as possible after her birth. Traditionally, an Ashkenazic Jewish child is not named for a living person for fear that the Angel of Death will mistake the child for the older person if their names are the same.
Other Ethnic Influences
Historically, first-generation immigrants to the United States from Europe and East Asia have tried to adopt American naming customs, though since they are not completely assimilated into the culture they often give their children names that seem out of style. For example, recent immigrants from China and Korea are much more likely to name daughters Linda or Eunice than other Americans.
The second generation of an immigrant group usually gives their children names that are no different from those of the majority. The third and fourth generations, however, often begin to revive names from their ancestry. Many Irish-Americans began this process in the 1940s, re-introducing traditional Irish names such as Sean, Kevin, Sheila, and Caitlin that have gone on to become generally popular. This process has now begun with Italian-Americans, who, since 1990, have strongly increased their use of traditional Italian names such as Isabella, Gianna, Lorenzo, and Leonardo.
Because of the strong influence of Islam and Hinduism, immigrants from the Middle East and South Asia don't adopt "Western" names as readily, though they do often try to choose names from their religious traditions that they think will be easier for other Americans to pronounce. Muslim-Americans give their children names such as Ali, Fatima, Zaynab, and Ziad; Hindu-Americans use names such as Aryan, Diya, Mira, and Rohan. Many names popular with East Indian-Americans, such as Arjun and Shreya, have been influenced by the stars of India's huge Bollywood film industry.
In the 1960s, some African-Americans began to give their children names from African cultures. Some adults also changed their names to African or Muslim names. Because slaves were often assigned the surnames of their owners and given common first names, choosing African names is a way for African-Americans to acknowledge their heritage before slavery. However, only a few genuine African names, such as Ayana, Kwame, and Jabari, have become widely popular in the African-American community. Muslim names from the Arabic language, such as Iesha, Jamal, Malik, and Aaliyah, have been more popular recently, even with African-Americans who have not adopted the Islamic religion.
Since the 1970s it has become more common for African-Americans to create new names for their children by combining their own set of fashionable sounds and syllables. Names for girls formed in this way are called "Lakeisha names" after one of the prime examples. Lakeisha names are created by linking a fashionable prefix, such as Sha-, La-, Ka-, Shan-, or Ty-, with a fashionable suffix, such as -isha, -ika, -onda, -ae, -ique, or -ice. The resulting names are almost always accented on the second syllable.
In the 1970s and 1980s, names beginning with La- such as Lashonda and Lashay were most popular. In the 1990s, Sha- names such as Shameka, Shanae, and Shaniqua were fashionable. In 2004, names starting with Ja- or ending in -iyah such as Jakayla, Jamya, Janiyah, and Taniyah were in vogue. But the point of this custom for most parents is to create a unique name for their child, and many are successful. Even in states as large as Pennsylvania, each year the average African-American girl receives a name that no other African-American girl born in that state is given. It was not possible to include many of these unique names, such as Azanae, Kyaire, and Zaterria, but they are now the most typical kind of names for African-American girls. Names for boys that have been created similarly include DeJuan, Deonte, Jamarion, Ladarius, and Quantavious.
Traditionally, Hispanic-American babies were often given saints' names, and both male and female saints were considered appropriate. Hispanic-American boys are often given religious names such as Jesus, Angel, and Salvador. Girls are often named in honor of the Virgin Mary, using words from her devotional titles such as Araceli, Rocio, Consuelo, Dolores, and Mercedes.
Other traditional Spanish names popular in the Hispanic-American community include Carlos, Enrique, Fernando, Francisco, Jaime, Javier, Jorge, Jose, Juan, Julio, Luis, Marcos, and Miguel for boys and Adriana, Beatriz, Carolina, Daniela, Gabriela, Isabel, and Maria for girls.
Traditional boys' names remain especially common in the Hispanic-American community, because there is still the expectation that most boys will be named after their fathers or grandfathers, a custom that is now rare in other ethnic groups.
However, not all the names popular with Hispanic-Americans are traditionally Spanish names. Hector, Oscar, and Rene have long been popular names for boys in Latin America, and non-Spanish immigrants to Central and South America, as well as the modern media, have introduced many new names. In particular, Spanish-language television programs called telenovelas, most of which are produced in Mexico, have popularized the names of their stars and characters wherever they are shown, including in the United States. For example, Vanessa, a very British name, is popular in the Hispanic-American community because it was the name of the title character in a television program starring Lucia Mendez, one of Mexico's most popular actresses.
Other non-Spanish names more popular with Latinos than Anglos in the United States include Astrid, Daisy, Evelyn, Leslie, Lizbeth, and Yasmin for girls and Axel, Edgar, Edwin, Elmer, George, Giovanni, Omar, and Yahir for boys. Ariel and Alexis are very common names for Hispanic-American boys, while other ethnic groups now give them mostly to girls. Some Latino parents also create brand-new names for their children, especially daughters. At the moment, invented names beginning with the letter Y are in vogue, and many Hispanic girls are being given names like Yaritza, Yanelis, Yosayra, and Yuritzi.
Common Baby Names Around the World
Today, many parents in the United States want the name they choose for their baby to reflect their ethnic heritage. Although the names they pick may be unusual in this country, these parents are interested in choosing names that are popular in the country where their ancestors lived. Of course, names in other parts of the world go through fads and fashions just as they do in the United States. The names in the following lists have recently been popular in various parts of the world.
- Girls: Emily, Olivia, Jessica, Sarah, Georgia, Ella, Grace, Emma, Hannah, Sophie
- Boys: Jack, Lachlan, Thomas, Joshua, James, William, Matthew, Daniel, Benjamin, Nicholas
- Girls: Lea, Rosalie, Noemie, Laurence, Jade, Megane, Sarah, Audrey, Camille, Coralie
- Boys: Samuel, William, Alexis, Gabriel, Jeremy, Xavier, Felix, Thomas, Antoine, Oliver
England and Wales:
- Girls: Emily, Ellie, Jessica, Amy, Sophie, Chloe, Lucy, Katie, Olivia, Charlotte
- Boys: Jack, Joshua, Thomas, James, Daniel, Samuel, Oliver, William Benjamin, Joseph
- Girls: Lea, Manon, Emma, Chloe, Camille, Clara, Ines, Oceane, Sarah, Marie
- Boys: Lucas, Theo, Matteo, Thomas, Hugo, Enzo, Mathis, Maxime, Clement, Leo
- Girls: Marie, Sophie, Maria, Anna, Leonie, Lea, Laura, Lena, Katharina, Johanna
- Boys: Maximillian, Alexander, Paul, Leon, Lukas, Luca, Felix, Jonas, Tim, David
- Girls: Emma, Aoife, Sarah, Ciara, Amy, Katie, Sophie, Rachel, Chloe, Leah
- Boys: Sean, Jack, Adam, Conor, James, Daniel, Cian, Michael, Eoin, David
- Girls: Adi, Chen, Feigel, Hallel, Maayan, Maya, Neta, Noa, Noam, Shira
- Boys: Bar, Fishel, Gai, Ido, Nachman, Natan. Oren, Tom, Yisrael, Zalman
- Girls: Guilia, Sara, Alice, Martina, Francesca, Sofia, Anna, Elena, Chiara, Matilde
- Boys: Alessandro, Francesco, Matteo, Filippo, Andrea, Davide, Luca, Riccardo, Lorenzo, Mattia
- Girls: Momoka, Haruka, Ayaka, Misaki, Sakura, Nanami, Yui, Hina, Rin, Haruna
- Boys: Yuuki, Yuuta, Haruto, Souta, Kouki, Takumi, Kouta, Ryouta, Haruki, Kaito
- Girls: Rawan, Suzan, Lana, Diana, Tala, Leena, Tamara, Reem, Randa, Amal
- Boys: Sami, Rani, Samer, Kamal, Bisher, Imad, Raed, Hazem, Nader, Amjad
- Girls: Sanne, Lotte, Emma, Anne, Iris, Anna, Julia, Femke, Lisa, Amber
- Boys: Sem, Daan, Thomas, Tim, Lars, Lucas, Bram, Milan, Max, Jesse
- Girls: Emma, Julie, Thea, Ida, Nora, Emile, Maria, Sara, Hanna, Ingrid
- Boys: Mathias, Markus, Martin, Kristian, Andreas, Jonas, Tobias, Daniel, Sander, Alexander
- Girls: Anna, Antonia, Elena, Galina, Irina, Mariya, Olga, Svetlana, Tatyana, Valentina
- Boys: Aleksey, Alexander, Ivan, Konstantin, Mikhail, Nokolai, Pavel, Sergey, Vladimir, Yuri
- Girls: Lucia, Maria, Paula, Laura, Marta, Alba, Andrea, Claudia, Sara, Nerea
- Boys: Alejandro, David, Daniel, Pablo, Adrian, Alvaro, Javier, Sergio, Carlos, Marcos
Television shows and movies that become popular also give parents ideas for baby names. Check out some of these media influences in the next section.
Media Influences on Baby Names
Many names that suddenly become popular are inspired by figures in the media, whether they are real actors or athletes, such as Ashton Kutcher or Jalen Rose, or fictional characters such as the mermaid Madison in the film Splash.
Of course, modern parents are not the only ones affected by the media of their day. Thelma, for example, became a popular name for English and American girls after British author Marie Corelli invented it for the beautiful heroine of her bestselling novel Thelma, published in 1887.
But since the 1950s, television has been the most effective medium for creating new name fashions. Mallory, for example, became popular for girls when the character called Mallory appeared on Family Ties in the 1980s. Although a few American parents had named sons Dylan after Welsh poet Dylan Thomas or perhaps musician Bob Dylan in the 1960s, the name exploded in popularity in the 1990s after the character Dylan McKay appeared on Beverly Hills, 90210.
Daytime soap operas also affect what Americans name their children. Kayla, now one of the top 25 names for girls in the United States, barely existed before Kayla Brady appeared on Days of Our Lives in 1982.
People often assume that when parents take a name from the media they want to honor the star or character who has the name. This is rarely the case. Most parents today don't want their children to have common names, but at the same time they want the names they choose to "fit in." They are therefore always on the lookout for "different but not too different" names, and when such a name gets a lot of exposure in the media, many parents discover it at the same time.
This is shown by looking at the names of the characters on the hugely successful television comedy Friends. The names Ross and Joey weren't affected at all by the program; Monica and Rachel had very tiny increases, and Phoebe a somewhat more noticeable one. The series had the biggest impact by far on the name Chandler, which more than doubled in use just after Friends became a hit. This was not because viewers liked or admired the character Chandler any more than the others, but because he was the one who had the cool new name that young parents were searching for.
Even horrific characters can have a positive impact on a name's use if the name itself fits in with fashionable sounds. Gage, Peyton, and Samara are examples of scary film characters who nevertheless inspired namesakes. Names in the news can also have an effect. The number of American girls named Camille increased by 50 percent in 1969 and 1970 after Hurricane Camille hit the Gulf Coast, so it can be predicted that the number of girls named Katrina will increase in 2006 in spite of the name's association with a huge natural disaster.
Any media that is popular with people in their 20s and 30s can create a fashion for a name. Popular music inspires names both through songs, such as Rhiannon, and singers, such as Shania. Today's young parental generation is now starting to discover baby names like Raiden and Rinoa through video and computer games. Some parents are still inspired by novels, as shown by names such as Arya and Novalee. Science fiction and fantasy books, video games, and films are particularly noticeable as name sources, probably because these stories often require writers to create brand-new names.
Choosing your baby's name is a very important decision. The guidelines mentioned in this article, hopefully, will help you select a name that both you and your child will enjoy for a lifetime.
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