Throughout history, cultures have attached great importance to names. In some cultures people, like cats, have secret names known only to themselves.
Most parents I know spent hours, days, even months writing down possible names, doing the best to ensure that their final choice would go with their surname and that the child’s initials wouldn’t spell out a word that could provoke ridicule.
American culture may not place the same value on the naming rite as some others. If you watched the movie Pulp Fiction, you may remember what one of the characters says about the meaninglessness of American names. Nevertheless I was astounded to read that in 1994 in New York City, 2,516 baby girls were named Female. In that same year, 3,639 baby boys received the name Male. Their parents hadn’t bothered to give them a name, so the sex designated on their papers was recorded as the given name. Although some of the parents later provided genuine names, many of the children grew up with names pronounced [fuh-MAHL-ee] and [MAH-lee], respectively.
Some countries have laws that curb excessive imagination in naming newborns. The United States is not one of them.
American celebrities tend to choose unusual names for their offspring. For example:
Some non-celebrities go further:
Despite names like these, a glance at the most popular names given to babies in the United States decade by decade reveals that traditional names have staying power. Good old-fashioned “Mary” remained in the top three until the 1970s; “Michael” made it into the 21st century.
Here are the top three name choices for boys and girls (Social Security statistics) for each decade since 1930:
Boys: Robert, James, John
Girls: Mary, Betty, Barbara
Boys: James, Robert, John
Girls: Mary, Barbara, Patricia
Boys: James, Robert, John
Girls: Linda, Mary, Patricia
Boys: David, Michael, James
Girls: Mary, Susan, Linda
Boys: Michael, James, David
Girls: Jennifer, Lisa, Kimberly
Boys: Michael, Christopher, Jason
Girls: Jennifer, Amanda, Jessica
Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew
Girls: Jessica, Ashley, Brittany
Boys: Jacob, Michael, Matthew
Girls: Emily, Hannah, Madison
The tide seems to be turning. Judging by 2013 figures, the boys are on their way to exotic names, while the girls are headed back to more traditional choices:
Boys: Jackson, Aiden, Liam
Girls: Sophia, Emma, Olivia
Boys: John, William, James
Girls: Mary, Anna, Emma
Related post: Names ‘Epicene’ and Otherwise
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