Saturday, September 15, 2007

Naming Your Baby

I had two great-aunts, Hazel and Maud. Their sister, my grandmother, was named Blanche. I remember as a kid feeling sorry for them that they had such passé, fuddy-duddy first names. They were lively, forward-thinking women but their names made them seem so old fashioned. Would this ever happen to me? My mother assured me that it would not. She had chosen the simplest names she could think of for her daughters, Ann and Jane. These were classics, unlike her own hated first name, Isabel. It turns out, though, that if she had called me after herself I would have a much more modern sounding name. Isabel is now enjoying a vogue, after a slow period from the 1930s to the 1980s. In 2005, it was the 89th most popular name for girls. By comparison, in the same year Ann came in 650th (in the decade my mother named me, it was the 37th most popular.) And I was right about my aunts' names; Maud peaked at 130 around the turn of the last century and by 1930 it was undetectable.

When it came time to choose a name for my own daughter, I in turn fell victim to fashion. At the time she was born in 1984, Caitlin's name was 87th in popularity, but it's been on a downward slide ever since, to 193rd in 2005.

I learned all this from a fascinating chart called The Baby NameVoyager which tracks baby-name frequency over time, from the 1880s to 2005. If you won't be naming any babies soon, or any characters in novels, this website may not have any practical application. But I found it interesting to contemplate that, as with so many other things, I seem to have repeated my mother's mistake. Specifically, in giving my daughter a name that apparently is going out of style. And that is the same mistake Maud and Hazel and Blanche's mother made in naming them.

The Zeitgeist is hard to escape. I've heard so many stories of people giving their kids names they believed were not part of the latest trend, only to discover that a half-dozen others answered to the same name in the sandbox. Inevitably, these are the names that come to seem dated with time. Has this happened to you? Or not happened? If you had it to do over again, would you still choose the same names for your children?

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