Monday, May 21, 2012

Naming the Baby


As if I needed another reminder how life is passing me by, I’m looking at the list of most popular names for newborns. Liam leads followed by Noah for boys and Charlotte and Sophia run one, two for girls. Who are these people? I never met a Liam or a Sophia.

In my day, Robert and William prevailed with John and James short-listed as well. We also had an assortment of Stanleys, Stevens and Sheldons. Irving and Harry belonged to the generation before as were Hilda, Selma, Thelma and Gussie before that.

I thought I was keeping up with the times when I recognized Debbie and Wendy but those have been passé for decades. Names come in on cat’s feet and leave in a fog.

Everyone named Sylvia and Shirley along with Betty and Barbara is likely to be on Medicare. That old standard, Mary, which tops the composite list for the past hundred years with 3,670,000 namings, is now in 63rd place and fading while Brooklyn is 27th. Brooklyn is actually a lovely bucolic name; at least it’s better than Bronx.

We have five Judys and four Ruths in our circle of friends which relegates them to bright ideas in pre World War II years.

I note three trends in the naming universe. The first is the urge to break from the flock. All babies are unique but some are more unique than others and deserve a special distinction from the get-go. This tendency however needs to be reconciled with the tradition of honoring an ancestor, if only with the first letter.

The second inclination among Americans seems to favor the Anglo-Irish which has bequeathed us not only Liam but landed Aiden, Oliver and Ethan in the top ten. Jewish kids end up with Ryan and Sean, a lifelong incongruity to go along with Lipshitz and Goldfarb. My mother and father seemed, even then, to be gripped by this deracination, pulling us away from Eastern Europe roots. My brother was given Arthur Mitchell and I was crowned Norman Phillip.

The other thrust I have noted is the turn toward the Old Testament. Noah ranks high and Isaac, Joshua and Jacob are in ascendance along with Gabriel and Benjamin. I wonder if Nebuchadnezzar is waiting in the wings? It is also true among girls with Rachel, Rebecca and Sarah on the rise. On the other hand, Naomi and Esther seem to have had their fifteen minutes.

I suddenly realize that the 2012 list is now available. Mason has climbed into first place and shoved Liam down to third position. Among new girls in our midst Emma and Olivia are one and two with Sophia, Ava and Isabella rounding out the first five. Ava Gardner, wherefore art thou?

I see that James and Robert are so dated they have made a comeback which proves that fashion is not linear but cyclical. If I live long enough my classmates from P.S. 99 may all return including Ursula and Constance and maybe even Myron and Harvey.

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