Posted by: laughs4dads | May 31, 2010

Naming Conventions

Here’s a fun fact: according to the Social Security Administration (and yes, I really looked this up), of the Top 10 Girls’ Names in 1950, not a single one was on the Top 10 List in 2009.

Besides explaining why you rarely meet anyone under 40 named “Barbara,” it also shows us how cyclical baby naming is. It’s not necessarily a modern phenomenon: only one girls’ name from the 1920 Top 10 list shows up in 1950 (whatever happened to all the Mildreds anyway?).

Boy’s names are not quite as volatile, although the changeability is increasing. Only two names stayed in the Top 10 from 1950 to 2009, but six kept their status from 1920 to 1950.

There are also clearly-defined fads in baby-naming. You know how it seems like every man in his 30s has a name that starts with “J?” It’s almost true. In 1977, over a third of the boy’s names in the Top 20 started with “J”: Jason, James, John, Joseph, Joshua, Jeremy or Jeffrey. (In 1950, it was just 10%.)

Here’s a current fad: girl’s names starting in vowels. In 2009, 12 out of the top 20 started with “A,” “E”,” I” or “O” (sorry, no “U”s). In 1985, it was just five out of 20.

And the top girls’ name for 2009 was Isabella, not coincidentally the name of a lead character in the Twilight series of books and movies. This to the chagrin of my daughter Casey who tends to take a dislike to anything she deems overly popular, not to mention the fact that she much prefers the mean vampires of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the sparkly undead in Twilight.

But I digress.

What’s the point of all this? Well, Jessica and Michael (top names of 1987), when you’re ready to have kids, keep a few rules in mind:

  1. Don’t name your kid after a current celebrity. A few years ago, it may have seemed like a good idea to name a girl “Lindsay.” And there are plenty of poor “Britneys” running around, hopefully with underwear.
  2. Don’t inflict your lifestyle onto your baby. How many successful 40-year-olds do you know named “Rainbow?”
  3. Gender-neutral names are fine…but only for girls. Your son, Leslie, will hate you forever.
  4. Don’t get creative with spelling. You’ll be condemning your child to a lifetime of repeating “That’s Karen. K-A-R-Y-N-N-E.” Or getting into conversations like this: “That’s Emily with two “E’s:” “E-E-M-I-L-Y?” No, “E-M-I-L-E-E.”
  5. Consider whether your selection is steering your child into a particular field. I mean, if Bronko Nagursky hadn’t become a football player, what else could he have been? An accountant? On the other hand, that’s exactly what “Myron” will become. That, or a rabbi. (By the way, Bronko wasn’t his real name; it was “Bronislau.” Much better.)
  6. Know that certain names carry perceptions that will haunt your kid throughout his or her life. “Bambi,” for instance, will never be taken seriously. Even if she has an IQ of 198 and works in a Think Tank, people will be expecting her to pop bubble gum at any moment. Or start stripping.
  7. Be aware of how cruel children can be. Try to avoid names that can easily be rhymed with derogatory words, or ones that are self-contained double entendres. You have to know that “Rick” will have a few tough years in elementary school.
  8. Don’t choose random words as your child’s name. There are babies out there right now named “Lyric,” “Genesis,” “Justice,” and “Essence.”
  9. Don’t make stuff up. My brother-in-law, Gary (see “Bad Influences, Part II, 3/5/10) is convinced that some parents toss a bunch of Scrabble tiles on the table to determine their baby’s name. How else to explain D’brickashaw Ferguson of the New York Jets?
  10. Don’t take your lead from what celebrities name their babies. Yes, Nicholas Cage named his kid Kal-el, Jason Lee’s kid is “Pilot Inspektor” (also breaking rule #4 above) and Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter is “Apple.” Then there’s Lourdes, Madonna’s child and, going way back, Chastity Bono. But before you select a similar moniker, remember that if someone’s going to have a name like that, it’s really, really helpful to be really, really wealthy.

In conclusion, let me just say that you have to go down to number 496 on the 2009 list before you get to good old “Roger.” I think it’s time “Roger” made a comeback.

If I ever have another daughter, that’s what I’ll name her.




  1. Well… I am guilty of the funny spelling of a conventional name, and my last name rhymes with “hoochie” (and therefore, also rhymes with everything else that rhymes with “hoochie”), and my nephew (will be anyways) was born this week with the Scrabble-tile name of Jahari, which, in addition to sounding like he should be some African Nile goddess or something, was a marked improvement over the other choices tossed around (D’Brickashaw, anyone?)

    • For the record, you are not guilty of mis-spelling your name…your parents are!

  2. I have a Karla (I just preferred that spelling for no good reason) and a Lilith (who goes by Lili which takes its spelling from a direct shortening of Lilith and the song Lili Marlene as performed by Marlene Dietrich) so I am guilty of the weird spelling sin. What strikes me as odd is the fact that my wife’s name is Sarah and people invariably want to leave off the h. When I was growing up I knew a lot of Sarahs but no Saras.

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