Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What the Names We Pick Tell Us About Ourselves

Google searches help parents choose names, according to the New York Times', What’s in a Name? Ask Google.  After looking at specifics for a particular name, many are drawn to the Social Security Administration's website. It allows you to check the popularity of names over time. You will find on the SSA's website the following list:
Top 10 Names for 2010
Rank Male name Female name
1 Jacob Isabella
2 Ethan Sophia
3 Michael Emma
4 Jayden Olivia
5 William Ava
6 Alexander Emily
7 Noah Abigail
8 Daniel Madison
9 Aiden Chloe
10 Anthony Mia
Name data are from Social Security card applications for births that occurred in the United States.

As the Times' article states, some parents want a popular name and some want a more unusual name, as long as it isn't too weird. You couldn't be more of a conformist over the years than by picking my name, Michael. It's been the most popular name in the country from 1954-1959 and 1961-1998. My mom picked Michael because she liked the sound and ethnicity of the name. She didn't do a Google search, and try and find a name that would let me vanish in the crowd.

Can we learn anything about our preferences from the list of names? Indeed, we can. It is quite interesting that four of the ten boys' names on the 2011 list (Ethan, Michael, Noah, and Daniel) are mentioned in the Hebrew bible. The popularity of the ancient Greek name Alexander, derived, of course, from the most famous Alexander (the Great), the conqueror that changed middle eastern history, is popular with Jews, but is not a religious name. Anthony is derived from the Christian Saint Anthony (the Great, the Hermit, or of Kiev, all important Christian leaders). Aiden is an Irish pagan name. William is from the German Wilhelm and also from the Norman invader, William the Conquerer, and Jayden is a hybrid of Jay and Hayden, coming on on the scene from nowhere less than 20 years ago.

In summary, the great majority of currently popular male names are  based on either religious figures or generals.

Only one of the girls' names, Abigail, is from the Hebrew bible. The rest of the girls' names come from all over and show no consistent pattern.

It seems that we want either saints or strongmen for our sons. We are not as interested in profound meaning when naming our daughters.

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