What’s in a name? Shakespeare said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
That would seem to suggest that it doesn’t matter what name we give a new baby.
Hold it. Any parent or grandparent will differ with the bard.
A whole lot of thought goes into naming a new arrival to the family. Everyone gets input, of course, and the list of baby names often grows quite long. It may be fun, but it isn’t easy, unless everyone agrees that the infant should be named for someone already near and dear. A simple choice is to name a baby after mom or dad. It is so effortless that parents risk being considered uncreative.
Sometimes ancestors are honored by a newly born namesake. Many families work hard to keep a name alive. The Harrison clan that produced two U.S. presidents and a signer of the Declaration of Independence has at least one Benjamin in every generation.
The baby-naming process can be simple or complicated. My parents chose very “safe” names for their six boys: Robert, James, Michael, Davis, Russell and Jeff. For their daughter they chose Patricia, another solid no-nonsense pick.
Modern parents often want names that are not so common. Sometimes scholarly research comes into play. It is called onomatology, the study of proper nouns.
To be more specific, the study of a human name is called anthroponymy. A fancy word for a person’s name is orthonym.
If there is a baby coming into your world, what orthonym will be hung on that new arrival?
If you follow what’s trending, you will go with the names listed as most popular by the people who ought to know: the Social Security Administration. They say that Emma was the most popular name for baby girls last year, followed by Olivia, Sophia, Isabella and Ava. The most common name for boys last year was Noah, followed by Liam, Mason, Jacob and William.
Names go in and out of style like men’s ties and women’s hair. Ten years ago the most popular names were Jessica and Michael.
A century ago the most popular female names were Mary, Helen, Dorothy, Margaret and Ruth. For the boys of 1915, the top names were John, William, James, Robert and Joseph.
There have been some clear winners over the years. For 41 of the last 100 years, the most popular girl’s name was Mary. For 44 years of the past century, the No. 1 boy’s name was Michael. Other heavy hitters have been Jennifer, Emily, Lisa, Jacob, Christopher and David.
These days there is plenty of technology to help floundering onomatologists. A website called babynamewizard.com is a one-stop shop for prospective parents. Visitors can scroll through thousands of names to find the perfect one. They can even type in favorite letters and build a name from scratch. The “namipedia” feature provides a world of information for whatever name you choose. Details are provided about the origin of the name, related names and lists of popular people who already have that moniker.
I learned that James, a perennial favorite, peaked in popularity in the 1940s. It is the most popular given name for United State presidents (Madison, Monroe, Polk, Buchanan, Garfield, Carter.) It is also the most common first name for Indiana governors (Ray, Whitcomb, Williams, Mount, Hanly, Goodrich.)
I was pleased to learn that bloggers on the site concluded that James sounds like a handsome and intelligent person and is the perfect name for a man. It is amazing how accurate these websites are nowadays.
As for Shakespeare and his “rose by any other name,” Rose is number 81 in the top 100 list of girl’s names over the past century. Alas, Violet, Lily, Petunia and Hyacinth didn’t make the cut.