As I mentioned in the first installment of this series, I am truly fascinated by novel names. Every generation has them, and while it feels like we have more than ever, we can’t really know if that’s true.
In part one, what we have less of in 2012. There’s less pressure to Anglicize a name, encouraging parents to consider Matteo or Matthias, rather translating it to Matthew. Naming conventions and family traditions have faded, meaning that parents no longer look exclusively to relatives’ or saints’ names. And the need to put a formal name on the birth or baptismal certificate has lessened, meaning that we have Sadie and Sarah, Jonathan and Jack.
Now let’s turn our attention to what we have more of in 2012:
7. There is sometimes staggering pressure to avoid duplication.
Once upon a time, you might have named your son William after your dad, even if your brother Bill had already named his boy William, too. Then again, you might already share the name Mary with your sister-in-law, your best friend Mary Jane and your neighbor Mary Anne, to say nothing of the grandmother after whom you were named in the first place.
Today we see the absolute opposite: “We can’t use Zoe because my co-worker’s sister just used it.” Or “We considered Katherine, but my husband used to date a girl with a sister called Kate.” Most painfully, “My friend stole Mason, and now we have nothing to name our son!”
Instead, the parents settle on Ava and Claire and Riley, and they’re none too pleased when their next job brings them a boss with a daughter called Rileigh or the new neighbors move in with an Ava or Claire the exact same age. Popular names still repeat; we’re just far less tolerant of the ages-old phenomenon.
Because most of us change jobs, move towns, graduate from the local playgroup to a large middle school, we haven’t solved the problem of duplication if we know no child by the same name at birth.
Instead of shrugging off the repetition of William, cousins now call dibs on family names. As repeating names – even the most common, enduring names – becomes taboo, this inevitably means there are more names in use.
6. Access to the pool accelerates.
There’s a reason that the Bible was source for inspiration for baby names: it was there. Even into the nineteenth century, families owned few books. Those who learned to read often learned by reading Bible verses. If you wanted to find a name that you hadn’t heard used by your immediate family and neighbors, the Good Book was a go-to resource.
Literacy rates are tricky to pin down, but one estimate suggests that between 1841 and 1900, the rate in England and Wales soared from around 60% to close to nearly 100%. Books and other printed materials were becoming affordable for the first time, though a handful of novels could claim bestseller status as early as the seventeenth century.
We remember the world pre-Amazon, but few of us can think of what it would be like to not have a bookstore of some kind, and a lending library, too, readily accessible. The pool expanded slowly, with the Bible, along with a growing number of popular novels, songs, histories, and other sources encouraging parents to consider Homer or Geneva.
And now there’s this little thing call the internet, and we are flooded by the possibilities.
5. More access also means more information about the edges.
If we face a constant deluge of information, much of it is about lives at the extremes. While public figures can add their names to the pool, that’s been happening for centuries.
What’s new in the twenty-first century is that we’re surrounded by celebrity gossip and reality television. Suri and Apple might still strike you as outrageous – but you’re not surprised to hear them, and they make Sadie and Clementine sound downright ordinary.
It isn’t just Hollywood royalty, either – from the Kardashians to the Duggars, we hear extreme names often and casually. Khloe and Jinger open the door for Jorja and Cate. And when sports figures are known as Bear and Jimmer, is it really so strange to name a son Fox or Kenner?
Our familiarity with names on the edges expands the comfortable middle, making choices that would have been outside the mainstream just a few decades earlier feel perfectly approachable.
Catch up by reading the first installment here and the third and final installment here.
I think it is so funny about name duplication… I am totally on board.. I want a unique baby name.. Luckily Our top boys and girls names have not appeared on any family members or friends babies, or even on any of their “final lists”. I do think that its because most of mine are pretty rarely used and are not family names. I did get a little twinge when my husbands cousin (who we are very close with, so our kids would hang out often) named her little girl Parker. Parker used to be my favorite boys name pre-marriage, but that changed when when I fell in love with a man who’s name ends in -er. I thought I had gotten over loving the name and moved on, after all we have been married for 5 1/2 years… but when she used it I was still sad even though I new I was never going to use it because of it rhyming with our last name. Isn’t that funny/ weird. As for our siblings “claiming names”, no one has yet, but only time will tell. It is interesting how protective of baby names we have become.
C in DC says
I think part of the pressure not to duplicate names now is partially because we mostly only have 3 or fewer children. When you’re each having 10 kids, there’s going to be duplication somewhere among the cousins.
When my sister was pregnant the first time, I asked her not to use Peter, since that’s a family name for my husband but not for her and me. (It wasn’t on her radar.)
My daughters share names with others we know. In my office, there was a person who’s daughter shares the same name as A (his A is a year older) and there was a person who’s name was L. I resisted A’s name for a while because of the duplication, but since L was a name we’d loved for a long time, it didn’t matter to us about the duplication. We’ve since met another little A (she was in our last preschool) and heard of a few more. We’ve only met one other little L.
I was going to comment that some readers might not remember a world pre-Amazon, but someone already volunteered that… I feel old 😛
These are spot-on, I think…
Even if your region/area would still think you were weird for naming your kid Apple or Suri, they’d think “who does she think she is, Gwynneth?” instead of “what the crud kind of name is Apple!?” Some people wouldn’t realize, but a lot would…
As for name ‘dibbing’ – I agree it happens and to a greater extent than before… I’m guilty of looking at friends’ kids’ names and thinking, “hmmm… both her kids names are so similar, but not the same as her friends’ kids’ names… was that intentional? does her friend think she half-copied?” but then I’m kind of attuned to names maybe more than some, I guess. I’ve only run across one mom recently who shrugged off the whole thing and said, “I know Emma is popular, but I don’t care, I really like it.” Good for her!
The internet, without doubt, has broadened the names available to the average person to consider…. not everyone uses it, but a lot more people do… especially now that people who don’t remember a world pre-internet are reaching child-bearing age. Alright, now that I feel positively ancient, I’ll stop here.
I’m with Nook on the name dibbing thing. A name does not belong to you no matter how much you’ve always loved it and dreamed of having a child with that name. Taking a name you love off your list because someone you know used it is just silly to me.
I totally agree with you on number six. I think Internet resources mean that names are going to start coming in and out of style much faster than before – I wouldn’t at all be surprised if in, say, thirty years my grandchildren are given “edgy and cool” names like Barbara and Donald.
I don’t pay any attention to celebrity gossip and reality TV, so I’m not sure what to think on that point. I can tell you that in my corner of the world, celebrities don’t do anything to make a name seem more unusual. Something like Archer or Clementine would definitely get you some weird looks.
A good friend recently
British American says
Aww, I’m sorry it didn’t go over well when you mentioned also naming your son Henry. 🙁 My friend said that she was fine with us using the name that she’d just used – though in our case, I’d told her ahead of time that it was “our name” and then they decided to use it too, after their baby was born.
We have a Henry too – and a George. Oliver is one I liked a lot too. And Oscar. Hope you can find a name you love for your son.
The baby isn’t due until July so we have time. Henry just felt right and we wanted to honor a family friend who goes by “H.” Harry and George 🙂 are now in the running.
On name duplication: My grandmother wanted to name my dad Thomas, but the woman in the delivery room next to hers had used that name so she went with her second choice. Not surprisingly, she never saw that woman again and kicked herself for years over not using her original choice. And this was in the 1940s! My dad actually prefers the name she chose in the end, go figure. I agree with you, though: the fear of name duplication has reached epic proportions.
British American says
Very much agree on the pressure to avoid duplication. We ran into the
On my mother’s side of the family, I am one of seven granddaughters (no boys!) and we all share either a fn or mn. Katherine Ann, Hannah Katheryn, Sara Elizabeth, Jessica Elizabeth, Madeline Claire, Claire Nicole…so it’s not such a big deal to me for cousins’ and extend family to share names as long as they don’t have the same first name.
Then again, my sister was named Sara Elizabeth “Sally” after my mother’s grandmother. When my niece was born she named her Sara Grace “Gracie.” Since neither one of them goes by Sara, it wasn’t such a big deal that they share the same first name either. Though my sister does admit it can be a bit confusing when she receives mail for Sara E. & Sara G.
My middle name is Ann after my dad’s mom. I always liked the name Anna for a girl and was a bit upset when my cousin had a baby girl she named Annabel. Even though we live in separate states and see each other rarely, I doubt I’d use the name Anna. Having an Anna & an Annabel in the same generation is where I would draw the line.
It warms my heart to hear of another Sara nicknamed Sally – there aren’t many of us around! (So I’ve found, anyway.)
I’ve only met one other Sally (Sara) as well 🙂 My sister was in the same year with three other Sara(h) Elizabeth’s who all went by Sara(h) so it made her appreciate Sally a bit more.
I keep feeling pressure to use family names, and honestly I feel very little wish to. At least recent generations. There is a lovely Jasper in my family tree, and he was quite handsome if his portrait is true to life. I have a feeling I will use that name, even though it is becoming popular.
I don’t feel like a boys name has to be completely unique. Now girls names are something else entirely. I don’t want anyone within a 50 mile radius to have the same name, and I am willing to dig to find a name that works.
In our extended family there is no such thing as dibs. My aunt always wanted to name a son Simon but one of my uncles beat her to it when he had Simon Peter. When she did have a son, she still named him Simon. Although I do think you’re right about that. We’re much less likely to name children a certain name if we know it has been used by someone that we know.
I think he major factor in deepening the name pool is the internet. No doubt about it. And on a completely different note, I’m very happy that I don’t remember a world before Amazon (or Google) 🙂
Nook of Names says
I think you’re spot on that the internet has not only increased access to names and name data but demonstrated those more unusual names in use, making, I think more people braver.
I also believe the whole “name dibbing” thing is getting out of hand! I’m a firm believer in using the name that’s right for you and your immediate family.