Nameberry, a website devoted to baby naming, has analyzed the page views of its own site and come up with a list of names likely to be the most common choices this year. (Go here for the same story, one meta-level removed). They don’t say much about their methodology other than to say that they have a pool of 3 million page views, which can mean both 1) if you find a remarkable trend in that much data, it won’t be a mistake (i.e. if you find a strong relationship, it probably won’t be a statistical quirk) AND 2) in that much data, you’re running a big risk of finding phantom trends that are really statistically significant but weak (i.e. you’ll be really sure even about tiny blips that don’t tell you much). Bearing that caveat in mind, let’s go through the list quickly and the reasons the professionals at Nameberry come up with to explain the trends.
1. Rue – from The Hunger Games
2. Emmett – from Twilight
3. Ivy – from Beyonce & Jay-Z’s recent offspring
4. Weston – from the son of a character on The Office (US version, I guess)
5. Adele – The Monster with Many Grammys
6. Grayson – Last name of a family on some show called Revenge
7. Aria – Opera (not the browser) is finally coming back?!
8. Cyrus – From a Kennedy-Bushesque dynasty of pop music
9. Estelle – Name of the recently born Swedish princess
10. Cato – Apparently another character from The Hunger Games, unless the Classics are coming back?!
11. Blythe – Parental subconscious really means ‘blight’?
So 8 (and a half, if you count royals) of 11 are drawn straight from pop culture. Of course, those generating these page views are consulting the internet for ideas, which might also mean that they’re already very plugged into pop culture, but then who isn’t?
Cynical SOBs like Yours Truly will probably jump quickly to the idea that these names are chosen as extensions of the parents’ desired brands. It’s a message to the world, but since the parents can’t know what to tell the world about someone as yet unborn, it’s a message about the parents themselves. The message might be about the parents directly (e.g. “We’re the kind of people who have kids as sweet and innocent as this figure that our peers will know from pop culture, like Rue.”), or it might serve the parents’ more profane interests. (Example 1: When I first heard that B & J-Z were naming their daughter ‘Blue Ivy’, my first, immediate thought was ‘That sounds like a perfume.’ and the bottle design and ad campaign formed involuntarily in my head in about 15 seconds. Example 2: I know a couple whose eldest daughter is named ‘O’hara’. I asked the mother about the name’s origins recently. When she was pregnant with O’hara, she ran a hair salon. Assuming her daughter would one day take over the family salon, the name ‘O’hara’ was going to work perfectly with the business, as in ‘O’haira’s’ or ‘O’hara’s Hair’.) And this doesn’t seem to be all that new. I seem to remember lots of Britneys, Brittanys and the like about a decade ago, there were a lot of Alexes and Samanthas back in the Family Ties days, and The Partridge Family was reproduced in many households in the 70s, I’m sure.
Okay, so parents are really thinking of themselves when naming their kids, but is there anything new going on here besides the fact that the parents are looking to pop culture for inspiration? Fathers have been naming sons after themselves and their fathers for millennia. It’s almost a rule among royalty, and it used to be a much stricter almost-rule. It would be a fair guess that Jewish boys would be more likely to be named ‘Joshua’, and for sons of Muslim parents to be named ‘Mohammed’, than you’d expect in the population as a whole. Names in cases such as these clearly are not chosen from out of a hat. Is referencing pop culture really new, is it just the case that other traditions have different sources of ‘pop culture’ to reference (i.e. holy texts & great ancestors), or is there a meaningful difference in the two practices?
For contrast, bear in mind that some parents in other cultures go about it very differently. For example, in a few west African countries, it’s conventional to name kids after the day of the week on which they were born, which is why it seems that every 7th Ghanaian is named Kofi or Kwame. Closer to home (for many of you) a couple of economists found that 30% of black girls in California had names that were unique to themselves, at least in the state. If you want to give your kid a unique name, you’re not going to check the internet, unless you wanna try to spin the wheel.
So what does this practice mean?
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