Your Baby is No Hero

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How did you choose your child’s name? Or, if you’re still awaiting the first visit from the stork, what are some factors that will affect your naming decision? Will you name the tyke after a great-grandparent or favorite author? Would you still name your son “Colin” or your daughter “Veronica” if a Colin or a Veronica lived down the street? The metrics for every couple and every child are different. But, statistically speaking, the chances are that you won’t name your child to honor another person.

“We don’t name babies to honor people any more,” writes Laura Wattenberg at the unsurprisingly overlooked pre-parenting website The Baby Name Wizard. “Yes, that’s too sweeping a statement. You’re probably dredging up examples right now to prove me wrong. But on a broad, societal level it’s dramatically true–a sweeping statement to represent a sweeping change.”

Wattenberg cites some telling internal statistics from The Baby Name Wizard. After the historic election of Barack Obama in 2008, only about 60 more babies were named “Barack” or “Obama” than in the previous year. Now, you might say, Barack Obama is a pretty unconventional name for a bunch of conventional Americans. But compare 2008 to 1896. Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan saw his country name 1-in-2,400 children either the unconventional “Jennings” or the unconventionally spelled “Bryan” after his campaign. According to Wattenberg, Jennings’ presidential run had an effect “30 times bigger than Obama’s. It was enough to rank both names in the top 300 for the year. And in case your American history is a little shaky: Bryan lost the election.”

That’s not to say that parents aren’t naming children after leaders. Interestingly, parents are hedging. “We do name babies after presidents today, but we wait until their history is fully written, just in case,” writes Wattenberg. “Ronald Reagan’s death inspired far more little Reagans than his election did.”

Like a pair of designer sunglasses, more and more baby names are chosen for being fashionable. “As sound and style play ever larger roles in naming decisions, homages have to yield,” she writes. “Note, for instance, the decline of ‘Juniors,’ and the way grandparents are increasingly honored with middle names or initials rather than direct namesakes. We still love our parents (and ourselves), but style comes first.”

Wattenberg concludes on a final anecdote that suggests that honor naming isn’t entirely out of style–it has just gotten more obscure:

The homage names that do still pop up take different forms, like naming after crime victims. Compare two different figures who were big in the news in 2009: Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Caylee Anthony. Captain Sullenberger had the word “hero” permanently attached to his name for saving the lives of hundreds of passengers on a doomed airplane. Ms. Anthony, a toddler, was tragically murdered. The naming effect was a thousand more Caylees, and scarcely a Sully to be seen.

Source: The Baby Name Wizard

Image by tamakisono, licensed under Creative Commons.

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