My wife has now finished the first trimester of her pregnancy so we can let people know that our little Theo’s going to be a big brother this fall. That means it’s time to think of baby names.
Most new parents want to give their child unique names and want to steer clear of the most over-used names. Yet if you tell your friends you’re naming your boy Jacob or Joshua, they’ll all cheer you on. If your little girl goes by Emily, Emma or Madison, they’ll think that’s darling. Yet those are the top three boy and girl names for 2003.
They are tens of thousands of kids getting these top names every year. All of the kids with these names are going to be getting nicknames to differentiate them from one another: just hope your little angel isn’t the one that gets tagged “The Ugly Emily” or “The Stupid Joshua” by their third grade classmates!
There are definite trends in names. Certain names tend to sound fresh and daring even when they’re overused and trite. The only way to train your ear away from such trends is to methodically study the data (the New York Times had a fasincating article on all this when we were pondering Theo’s name, Where Have All the Lisas Gone?).
Fortunately the U.S. Social Security Administration provides a list of the most popular baby names by year, going back to the turn of the twentieth century. Using this, my wife and I were able to choose “Theodore” for our first child’s name; born in 2003, he name is the 313th most popular boy’s name and dropping. Yet it’s a known name and there have been great twentieth century folks who have answered to it (e.g., Dr. Suess, Theodore Geisel).
How is a parent to choose? One recent afternoon I cut and pasted the top fifty boy and girl names of the first decade of the Twentieth Century. I looked up their current status (the 2003 data) to see what movement has occured in their placement. The old names are still known but some have fallen far out of use. Herbert, for example, was the 32nd most popular boy’s name in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, but now ranks a dismal 930! If you want a name everyone knows but no one is giving their kid, Herbert’s your choice for boy’s and Edna’s your choice for girls.
Now these fallen names probably sound awkward. But that’s the point: they run counter to the trends. I’ll admit that some deserve their reduced status; I cannot imagine saddling a little girl with “Edna.” But in the list are some gems which have been unduly demoted by the trend-setters.
We’ve been very happy with “Theodore,” the 26th most fallen name of the Twentieth Century. He’s officially named after his great-great uncle. The social security datebase assured us that the name was safe from trendiness.
So what will the new baby be named? Check in soon!! The due date is the end of August.
Update: drumroll please…. Our new son’s name is Francis! And further follow-up brought us Gregory and Laura. We’re officially out of the baby-making game now but if we were looking for more, Walt and Dorothy would be our next picks of classic-but-uncommon names.