Some Advice from a Parent
Baby names for boys, like shoes and purses, go in and out of style, with some names rising into the top ten and others disappearing from view. Yet, unlike ephemeral consumer goods, your baby boy's name will be with him forever, and will become an integral part of his identity. That is why every parent feels a great deal of excitement (and trepidation!) when the time comes to choose their child's name. The choice of a name is the first of many decisions that you will make that will have lifelong consequences for your child. (But relax... the name you pick will be fine!)
The top ten baby boy names, as counted by the US Census Bureau, is made up entirely of traditional names. These are all names that have been common throughout the English-speaking world, or Anglosphere, as it sometimes known, for centuries. Many of these names have risen and fallen over time, only to make a comeback and return to the top ten list. Although parents are typically freer in selecting names (and spellings) for girls, tradition rules when it comes to boys. Take a look at the top ten baby names for boys.
What's in a Name
Every parent goes through the same thought process when considering what to call their newborn son. You want to choose a name that will lead to success, one that cannot be easily shortened into something unpleasant, that is common enough that it doesn't cause confusion, yet unique enough that there wont be four of them in your son's first grade class. Parents have to consider whether it can be combined with another word to make an unflattering nickname, and choose a middle name that doesn't make the whole thing a tongue twister. And then there are the initials. You don't want all of your hard work in choosing a name to go down the drain when you realize, too late, that your child's initials are "DUM," "PUS" or "JIP." For most people, their goal is to pick a moniker that sounds good, has a nice orthography, and honors the family's origin and history. The last thing a parent wants is to saddle their child with an inappropriate name. (Blanket, anyone?)
Don't Overthink It
When I chose my son's name, I was looking for something that started with a hard syllable, so that it sounded strong. I also wanted it to honor his heritage, have two syllables and a pleasant orthography. I chose, Cameron. It had the desired "k" sound, originated among the Gallic tribes the British Isles (our family is Swiss and Irish), has two syllables, and, because all of the letters are rounded, i.e., there are no tall letters sticking up, like "b" or "k," and no deep letters dropping below the line, like "p" or "g," I liked the way it looks. At the time, Cameron was ranked 39th most common name for a newborn boy, and was falling in popularity. This meant that it was common enough that everyone had heard of it, yet not so common that there were bunches of little Camerons at his school. And yet, little did I know at the time that "camaron" is Spanish for "shrimp." That is how nicknames are born. Despite all my deliberations, among his friends he is known as Cam, Cammy, Camo, Camster, Caminator, Ham (what?) and, yes, Shrimp. And he answers to all of these without hesitation. No amount of planning on my part could have ever prevented his friends from deciding to call my beloved son, "Ham!"
I also wanted a name with meaning. And, for each one that I considered, I researched its origin and meaning. A name is not, after all, a random collection of sounds, but rather was invented at some point to describe admirable qualities or hoped-for futures for their children and the unborn generations who would follow them. Cameron, as it turns out, was a fierce Scottish clan greatly feared for their prowess in battle. I liked that. But, I also learned that Cameron literally meant "crooked nose," an apparent reference to the condition of a warrior's face after many a battle. I finally decided I was overthinking it, and let go of my fears. Today, the Boyo is eleven years old, and is indeed a fierce warrior when the need arises. Thankfully, his nose is still straight.
Jerry and Jacob
As we all know, some names are hip and happening, while others are old fashioned or downright odd. What's in and what's out changes from year to year. Although Jacob has been at the top since the 1990s, back in the 1940s it was considered old fashion and strongly associated with farmers and hillbillies. In fact, before its current rise to the top, Jacob had not been popular in America since the Revolution. By comparison, Jerry was a popular name throughout the early 20th century, placing in the top ten throughout the 1930s. By the 1980s, Jerry had disappeared entirely from the top 200, while at the same time Jacob rose every year until it hit the #1 spot in the mid 1990s. In 1950, Jerry was a common name for young men, (think Jerry Mathers and Jerry van Dyke) while it was rare to meet anyone called Jacob who was under the age of 60. Today, the opposite holds true. It is unusual to meet a Jerry younger than 40, while Jacob is very common among young men throughout the country.
For the most part, there are no longer "regional" names that are popular in one part of the country, but not others. These days, any given name is more or less popular throughout the entire nation. However, there is clearly a geographic trend in the way new names rise to popularity and fade away to obscurity. Typically, a particular name will become popular in one area of the country, almost always the western United States, spread eastward, and then move to the South in a process that takes about five to ten years. Once a name has achieved nationwide popularity for a period of time, it will begin fade, only to be replaced by a new name. The popularity of a name fades, almost always, first in the region where its popularity originated, which again means, the western United States. In a process that takes five to ten years, its popularity will fade west to east, and will then disappear from the South last. This pattern probably reflects differences in American culture, where Westerners are more likely to embrace change and resist tradition, while Southerners tend to resist change and promote tradition.
Just as names come and go, so do sounds and syllables. Back in the 1980s, there was a surge of names for both boys and girls beginning with the letter "J." In the 1960s, names ending in "ford," like Bradford and Clifford were quite common. Today, the hard "K" sound is gaining in popularity, and the suffix "ton," as in Colton, Clayton and Quinton, is on the rise. Little research has been done on why certain sounds are popular at certain times, but likely, parents are trying to capture the feeling and rhythm of one name by choosing another one which is similar.
Yes, a name is very important. A name becomes closely associated with your child's identity, both in your mind, and in his. There are many factors to consider, both personal (like my preference for how the name looks on paper) and practical (like my well-founded desire to avoid naming my son after his great-uncle, Richard). There are easily foreseeable problems, like my high school friend whose family named him Lauren. And the unavoidable, like the parents who named their son Hannibal, the year before "Silence of the Lambs" came out. Choosing a name is a difficult, but meaningful process. The name that you choose will be the one people see on that degree from Harvard (and Yale and A&M)... the one that will one day hang in his office... you know... his office... in the White House. (A parent can dream!) And, after all your worrying and sweating the details, he will, thanks to his friends, go through life being called Ham or KweeKwee (don't ask!) or some other bizarre and well-loved name his friends will bestow on him. So relax. Pick the name you like, and don't try to overthink what his friends (and yes, his enemies) will do with his name. In the end, it turns out that character is more important than a name.
There are many tools that you can use to help you in making your decision in naming your child. You can research not only what names are the most popular and how that popularity has changed over time, but also the meaning and origin of the ones you like! Naming your child is one of the first memories that you will build with him, even before he is born. It is a story that, when he is five or six years old he will enjoy hearing again and again.
Do you have a favorite name? Let's hear your thoughts on your favorite baby boy name!