Baby Names – Choosing Trendy or Traditional
By Barbara Freedman-De Vito

Lists of baby names are always fun to look at, whether

you’re seeking a name for your soon-to-be-born baby boy or

baby girl, wondering about the popularity of your own first

name, or just curious about what baby names are currently

hot.

What I find particularly interesting is tracking the popularity

of baby names over the decades. In looking through U.S.

government baby name lists from 1880 to the present,

some amusing patterns emerge, particularly in regards to

baby names for girls.

For example, in Victorian times Biblical names, such as

Mary, Sarah and Ruth were very popular for baby girls. There

were also many baby names that sounded very

old-fashioned to me, as a kid growing up in the 1960s,

including names like Martha, Alice, Bertha and Minnie.

From the 1920s to the 1950s certain baby names rose in

popularity. For example, I went to school with many Susans,

Debbies, Patricias, and Lindas. All of these baby names

have since waned, to be replaced, by the 1980s, with fancier

names such as Jennifer, Jessica and Nicole. When I was a

children’s librarian in the 1980s my preschool storyhours

were populated with little girls named Lauren and Jenny,

and little boys named Alex and Matthew.

More recently there’s been a lot of renewed interest in

more “old-fashioned” baby names like Hannah, Abigail and

Ethan, plus many Biblical names such as Sarah, Rachel,

Joshua, Jacob, and Samuel. There’s also been a surge in

nontraditional baby names including Madison, Ashley and

Brianna for baby girls, and Brandon and Logan for baby

boys.

It’s interesting to consider the whys and wherefores of

such developments. Sometimes, I suspect, the popularity of

a specific actor or fictional character might result in many

babies with a particular name. For example, were some of

the Lauras born in the 1970s and 1980s given a name

suggested by older brothers and sisters who were growing

up watching “Little House on the Prairie ?” Were some

attributable to the super popular Laura of “General Hospital”

fame ?

Today Madison is a very highly ranked baby name for girls

(ranking number 3 in 2003) but, when the film “Splash”

came out in 1984, Tom Hanks’ character told Daryl

Hannah’s character that Madison was not a bona fide first

name.

While baby girls’ names seem quite subject to the whims

of fashion and the top ten lists can change radically over

time, I’ve noticed that, in general, the top baby names for

boys remain far more stable. Names like John, William and

James are perennials, perhaps because baby boys are

often named for their fathers, perpetuating the popularity of

certain baby names from generation to generation. The

“Junior” factor aside, baby boys are also less apt to be given

fanciful names.

A comparison of the changing fortunes of my own first

name, Barbara, with those of my husband’s name, Robert,

gives a good illustration of the difference in stability between

baby girl names and baby boy names over time.

My name grew in popularity in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s,

peaking at the number 2 position in baby name popularity,

which it tenaciously held from 1937 to 1944. When I

attended grad school, of a class of approximately forty

students, there were no less than three baby boomers

named Barbara. Should I thank the actress Barbara

Stanwyck for this? Alas, my first name later suffered a slow,

steady decline and placed at a pitiful number 628 position

on the baby names popularity list for the U.S. in 2003.

Robert, on the other hand, has survived the vicissitudes of

baby name popularity. It held a coveted spot on the top ten

most popular baby names list every year from 1896 to the

late 1980s, often peaking at number 1 between the 1920s

and the 1950s. It has gradually slipped since the 1990s, but

still managed to hold the respectable slot of number 35 in

2003.

When naming a baby there are, of course, many other

points to consider besides how popular or unique a name

is. Here are some helpful tips that you can use with your

other children to get them involved in choosing a name for

the new baby and to make the process fun:

1. Baby names need to go nicely with the sound of your last

name. Also, pick a first name and a middle name that go

together well. (So maybe not something like Erasmus

Beelzebub Smith!)

2. When your family finds a name you all like, look at the

initials to be sure that you don’t give the new baby a name

with initials that will make people laugh. (So maybe not

Pamela Iris Green, which equals P.I.G.!)

3. You might not want a baby name that is so unusual that

the other kids will make fun of your little brother or sister as

he or she grows up. (So maybe not Rosebud or Molasses!)

4. You also might not want a baby name that is so trendy

that it will sound funny by the time the baby is ten years old.

(So maybe not Sunshine!)

5. You probably shouldn’t pick a name that’s really cute for

an adorable little baby but will sound silly when the baby

grows up. (So maybe not Dimples!)

6. Avoid baby names that might produce insulting

nicknames when people shorten them. (So maybe not

Smellonius, or Smelly for short!)

7. You and your family might not want a name that is so hard

to spell or to pronounce that people will always get it wrong

and your poor little brother or sister will have to go through

life correcting people. (So maybe not something like

Incandescence, or is it Incandessints? )

8. You and your family might want to pick baby names in

honor of favorite relatives or ancestors, or special names

that show your family’s ethnic roots. You might even find a

special name from a book or movie that you love. (Like

Harry?)

9. You might want to look through books of baby names and

pick one that has a special meaning that you like – maybe

something that means “sweet” or “kind” or “brave.” (So

maybe not wimp!)

10. You might want to think about names that will go nicely

with your name and your other brothers’ and sisters’ names,

so that if mom or dad are calling you all for dinner or signing

a birthday card to grandma it won’t sound too crazy.

(So maybe not “Happy Birthday, Grandma! Love, Joey,

Cindy and Dweevo!”)

There are hundreds of names waiting for you out there, so

good luck on your search for the perfect name!

Barbara Freedman-De Vito is a professional storyteller and artist. Visit Kids T-Shirts, children’s clothing, and adult’s clothes decorated with pictures and words

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