Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What's in a Name?

"A rose by any other name is just as sweet," Shakespeare had his Juliet say. But did Shakespeare know that in the 1900s "William" was the second most popular name for boys in the U.S., the eighth most popular in 2007? Did he know that there were over 240 "Juliet"s per million babies in the U.S. in 2007 and that it was the 516th most popular name? When she asked, "Wherefore art thou Romeo?", what Juliet meant to say was, "Why did your parents give you such a dumb name? Didn't they know that in America in 2007 it would be the 505th most popular? Why couldn't you have been called "Jacob," the most popular American name in 2007?" Poor Juliet: it seems "Rose" itself used to be in vogue in this country, reaching its apogee in the 1910s, when it was the 16th most popular; by last year it had dropped all the way to 351. Turns out that "Rose" by another name would in fact have been sweeter.

Where's am I getting this information? Check out the NameVoyager, up on Laura Wattenberg's new blog to promote her book, The Baby Name Wizard. Be ready to give an hour of your time seeing how popular or unique all your friends' names are.

As for my names, check this out: in the 1880s, "Charles" was the fifth most popular for boys; last year it was the 62nd. Ouch. And "Chad"? Not a single boy (or at least a statistically insignificant number of boys) was christened "Chad" in the U.S. between the 1880s and the 1930s. "Chad" reached its peak in the 1970s at number 30, then plummeted to 433 by 2007. I have a suspicion that the 2000 election had something to do with that. Who wants to name their child after something that dimples, tears, hangs, gets pregnant, AND gives Bush the White House? I bet there weren't too many ancient Greeks naming their daughters "Helen" after the Trojan War.

What about "Emily"? The name's always been around, but for the past five years, it's been number one for girls in America. My parents wanted to call me "Emily" if I had been a girl. But they thought it might be kinda creepy to name their kid after their beloved dog. They like to say their second choice was "Betsy Ross Reynolds," since my due date was the Fourth of July.

I'm going to hope they're just pulling my leg on that one.

Then again, if our child arrives a week early on Halloween, we'll name her "Pumpkin" or "Candy" if she's a girl and "Dracula" or "Ichabod" if he's a boy.

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