Re-naming America?

(I know I’m supposed to be blogging about Haiti and I promised a post today about the Port-au-Prince airport—but, I swear, the issue I address below is an “event horizon,” of sorts.)

In case you missed it, yesterday, posted its list of top 100 names for 2010—an annual event that’s more than making a name for itself!

So—I hate to ask a seemingly indelicate question.  But—What’s up with baby names these days?

Why are the first names of most newly-born kids in the US names that merely decades ago would have been nothing other than good, old-fashioned last names?

Why are we so obsessed with family names, we’ve nearly abandoned the sacred tradition—centuries, rather millennia in the making—of assigning “Christian names” to our newly hatched Madison’s and Mackenzie’s?

I know the American “family” is in decline.  I know many now say America a “post-Christian” nation—(which is itself a misnomer, I might add).  Does this underlie the confusion? 

Seriously!  What’s up?

Why is every Tom, Dick, and Harry now named Taylor, Devon, or Yale? 

And what about these names with oblique, more often than not overt, allusions to the aristocrats of academia? 

My own nephew, born last month, is named “Rhodes”—God bless his little, “high-IQ-ed” heart.  I know his grandfather is a professor, and his aunt, yours truly, spent WAY too many years not making NEARLY enough money in academia—(thus, the high dollar move to blogging)—but that’s a lot of pressure on a little guy!  How’s that for a “you-better-make-the-grade-or-else” kick-in-the-ass?

Now, I know I should keep my family out of this.  I know my brother could and probably should kill me. (But he has a really great sense of humor; his name is “Tyce,” by the way, if that tells you anything about the DNA of naming in my family.)

I know, as well as you do, that a rose by any other name should smell as sweet, but what about poor “Baby Rose?”

Why has she morphed into little “Reagan?”  Yes, I kid you not; she’s number 66 on this year’s list of most popular girls’ names in the US.  I love the old Gipper as much as the next left-leaning, non-Bible-toting, “doesn’t-give-a-hoot-about-Hollywood,” Democrat in America.


Enough is enough!

My mother called me “Kathryn” for a reason.  I was named after my grandmother, her first name, I might add.  And there were a total of three “Kathy’s” in my kindergarten class—I was born in an era, now sadly past, when “normal” naming still happened in America—was right up there with good breeding!

Speaking of breeding—does it say anything about all that’s vogue in naming that my dogs are “Ralph” and “Lucy?”

What’s next? has itself used a “top-secret algorithm” to determine what names will climb in popularity next year, and according to the “online parenting and pregnancy destination” the boy’s name “Max” is predicted to “gain momentum in 2011”—climbing from its current spot at number 46.  Are the sons (and daughters) of America already being named after their canine companions?

Or am I barking up the wrong tree?

(And tomorrow—I’ll yap about the Port-au-Prince airport—I promise!)

24 thoughts on “Re-naming America?

  1. LOL I like old fashioned names too. Although I have to admit I was named “Elisabeth” after my grandmother, but hardly ever use my full name.

    Our families are very amused that we give our pets nice old-fashioned English names. Instead of I guess more traditional dog and cat names.


    • I go by “Kathy” more commonly than “Kathryn”–but some folks do call me the more formal name, which I someitmes enjoy.

      Yes, the animal names are amusing, and I had noticed your choice of traditional English names for Rosie and Lucy.

      Glad you got a laugh!


  2. This is really funny, Kathryn – loved it! Thanks for the laugh – I needed a fun diversion today!
    I know you miss the cold – I feel the coldest in London today than I have EVER felt! Toes-falling-off kind of cold! Sending some of that your way!


    • Ah, Sunshine, we’d love a bit of your London chill here in Port-au-Prince! Thanks for passing along the opportunity to snuugle in front of a roaring fire with a good cup of tea! And thanks for reading. I’m glad I made you laugh!


  3. When I bought my house in 1992, the 88 year old woman across the street was named Reagan. It’s an old Irish name meaning “little king”, so probably was originally a boy name. Lots of boy names shift to girls and never go back (Ashley, Whitney, etc.). I do see the trend now for family names to be used as first names, and even named my son Jackson, but this trend is pretty old too…remember Bailey from WKRP in Cincinnati? (Not to mention my old neighbor…). The names I don’t get are things like “Apple”…what Gwyneth Paltrow named her first child!


  4. Laura’s comment makes me think of the patronymic/matronymic surnames used in Scandinavian and Slavic countries e.g. Arnaldur Indridason (translates as Arnaldur, son of Indrid) or Svava Jakobsdóttir (Svava, daughter of Jakob). So there’s no family name.

    Sounds really cool – you get a more unique name – but it must make it difficult to keep track of who is related to whom.


    • Lisa, you’re right about the difficulty of tracking family relationships with the Scandinavian naming conventions! I’ve started doing some family research on any branches of my family that I can get information on, and I may well have to call it quits on the Danish branch. My maiden name (Jacobson) has only been constant for five generations, and before that it changed every generation as you describe. That’s fine if you still live in Denmark on the same farm your family has worked for centuries, and everybody knows who everybody is … not so fine if you’re in the States trying to find family names!


  5. lol! I love this post. My youngest granddaughter is a Madison (Madison Grace…which I find kind of pretty). My oldest granddaughter has the more old-fashioned Emma but her middle name, Addison, is related to baseball (Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs — my son and daughter-in-law are, obviously, fans).

    My parents named me Robin at a time when mostly boys were given that name so perhaps they were on to something back in the late 50’s. There was a fad with boys’ names converted to girls’ names (in the 90’s I think?). Sydney, for instance.

    At least no one in my family has been named Moon Unit…yet. 😉


  6. Love this post. We have a dutch surname which no-one can ever spell so have called our children Joe, Sam and Ed. When Joe was at kindy there were 8 Jasmines – all spelt differently. It drove me nuts!


    • So glad you enjoyed my mini rant! 8 Jasmines is a lot for any class! How many students? I’m thinking, if there were 25 kids, that means a third of the class was named “Jasmine”–insane!

      Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll come back——–


  7. Kathryn, thanks for the comment that pointed me back to your blog – I’m glad I found it!

    I started noticing this trend back in the early nineties when my summer job had me sorting and filing thousands of patient files at a hospital. The file covers had little identifying information, but they included each patient’s full name and age to avoid mixing them up with other patients with the same names – when two adjacent files had names like “Jennifer Parker, 25” and “Maddyson Parker, 0”, it wasn’t too hard to figure out that somebody had just had a baby.

    Last names and “creative” spellings abounded, and I wrote down some of the most egregious. I’m not sure what became of my surreptitious little list, but I have never forgotten the two worst offenders – Jonathan respelled as “Johnathyn”, and what I presume was meant to be Katie Lynn respelled as “Kae-D-Lyn.” Yes. Just like Toys-R-Us.


  8. So funny. I’ve thought about why people name their children what they do. Sometimes, there is a reason, even if it seems random. Other times, it’s just plain strange. And the weird spellings, ugh. My kids all have biblical names, with the first letters or entire name to stand for deceased family members.


  9. Hi! Found this post through a comment you left on “The Art of the American Nickname” post by Sarojini. I have to say, I can understand the shift to less-common names (having grown up as one of many, many Katies) but I completely agree that some names (Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Apple” and all of Frank Zappa’s kids being the most popular examples) take “unique” to a whole new extreme! And all those crazy spellings – ugh! I much prefer the simple, classic names, like my god-daughter Rose! 🙂


    • Ah, Rose is such a lovely name. I know what you mean about variations on Kathryn./Kathleen being really common. I was one of three Kathys in my kindergarten class–Yikes!

      At any rate, thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment! I hope you’ll come back soon!


  10. Hi Kathryn,

    I absolutely loved your ‘little rant’, as you called it 😉

    Although this post is titled ‘Re-naming America?’ and all your comments are related to that, I’d like to point out that we’ve been seeing the same trend in Spain -where I’m from; Now seeing someone given a traditional name is an exception :-O



    • Thanks so much for reading my rant. Glad you enjoyed it! It’s fascinating to learn that the same thing is happening in Span. I wonder why these kinds of shifts happen.

      At any rate, it was great to have you visit! Hope you’ll come back. I will check out your blog now. Hope you have a great day!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s