Naming Baby


A GONIZING OVER A NAME FOR YOUR BABY?

A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, YOU’D HAVE HAD IT EASY.

BACK THEN PEOPLE TENDED TO JUST BORROW NAMES FROM RELIGIOUS OR POLITICAL FIGURES.


Top girls’ names at the turn of the century, for instance, were Mary-for you-know-who and Ruth, for President Grover Cleveland’s daughter. Today a baby girl is more likely to be christened Morgan, Madison or Michaela than Mary. Ruth does not even make the top 100—though Chelsea does. The nursery rhyme of the new millennium, it seems, might well be “Brittany had a little lamb.”


“Parents today are all looking for something that’s different,” says psychologist Cleveland Kent Evans, author of “Unusual ‘ Most Popular Baby Names” (and himself named after his maternal grandfather, Grover Cleveland ). “Everybody wants their kids to be unique. It’s going to be really unusual for there to be a kindergarten class in the next few years where there are two kids with the same first name.” That’s because even the most popular names these days are bestowed upon a lesser percentage of kids. In the 1830s, for example, about one in six girls born was named Mary. The most popular girl’s name now—either Kaitlyn or Sarah, depending on the survey—goes to only about one in 50 newborn girls. The point, then, is not so much that we’ve joined the Frank Zappa school of child naming (there are still many, many more Marys than Moon Units); it’s that parents are reaching into a far more diverse pool of names.


Besides a hankering for individuality, parents today are increasingly driven by ethnic pride, says Kathy Ishizuka, author of “10,000 Names for Your Baby” and the mother of two boys, Keiji and Noah . She points to a friend’s daughter, who bears the melting-pot moniker Kuling Choy Siegel. “We’re going to see more of that, partly because of the rise in interracial marriages,” she says. Evans cites a boom in the Irish name Conor and says that, thanks partly to the prominence of actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Italian-Americans are reaching back to the old country for names. Even some Americans of Anglo-Saxon descent are going ethnic, appropriating the traditionally Hispanic Pilar (for girls) and Kai, a gender-neutral Hawaiian name . For black parents, creative naming is a longstanding tradition. “African-Americans are a little bit more courageous,” says Bruce Lansky, author of “15,000+ Baby Names.” “They’re literally willing to just make up a new name.


Names inspired by religion, too, are on the rebound, a trend experts predict will continue. “The millennium is going to bring more religious enthusiasm. It always does,” says linguist Leonard R.N. Ashley, author of “What’s in a Name.” Expect more Sarahs and Joels — and their young pals Darius, Elijah, Isaiah and Zachariah. Political figures, on the other hand, may have lost their power to inspire. “Nobody’s being named Bill Clinton Smith or Gerald Ford Brown,” says Ash-ley. In fact, the name Hillary had just broken into the top 100 when the Clintons entered the White House. It then plummeted in popularity . “It was just incredible,” says Evans. “I’ve never seen something fall so fast.”


Royalty, though, is a different matter—at least in Britain. The British National Health Service Register reported that the number of babies named Diana, tradit-ionally about three a month, jumped to 29 in September, 1997 afte r the prin-cess’s death. A similar spike is expected here —though we’ve got our own royalty to honor. It’s no accident, says Evans, that both Michael and Jordan are extremely popular names. Last year, 1997, Michael was No. 1 among boys (Michaela was 31st among girls) and Jordan was 25th among boys (37th among girls). It’s a good thing Michael’s parents didn’t name him Poindexter.


KENDALL HAMILTON and

 KAREN SPRINGEN


SOURCE:

NEWSWEEK Magazine

February 16, 1998. (Pg. 15)



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