Posted by Jay Livingston
Where can you find the following?
If you said “in the Old Testament,” give yourself one point. You paid attention in Sunday school.
But these names are also among the 50 most popular names for boys in 2009, according to the US Census. The first four on the list were in the top 10.
Three weeks ago I spent some time with a relative named Noah. He’s two months old. My grandnephew. Twenty years ago, the name Noah was not even in the top 200. Now it’s in the top ten. But why? As I tell students, individual choices add up to social facts. And these fashion trends in names should alert us to the idea that seemingly individual ideas and choices (like whether a name is cool or not) are subject to social influence. The influence is largely invisible and unintentional. Nobody is trying to pressure anyone’s choice of names, and unlike fashions in clothes, nobody is making any money from changes in ideas about what’s cool. I suppose the better question is not Why but How. How do names go in and out of fashion?
In any case, I have no explanation for this flood of Old Testament names, I don’t think that the country is more religious now than in years past. There were only four names I recognized as New Testament (Matthew, Luke, John, James).* I doubt that the nation is becoming more Hebrew and less Christian. Besides, on the girls’ side of the roster OT influence pretty much disappears. Only Sarah (21), Hannah (23), and Leah (28) were in the top 50. Even New Testament names were given short shrift (is anything ever given long shrift?). Only Chloe (1 Corinthians) at #9.**
Some other name trends have continued, notably the final “n” for boys. In addition to the four in the above list, add Jayden, Aiden, and Brayden, Landon and Brandon, Jordan and Justin, Logan and Ryan (but bye-bye Brian), among others for a total of 21 out of the top 50.
* Matthew, Luke, John, and . . . .James? Mark, for some reason, hasn’t been in the top 50 since 1994. I did not put Michael on the list; he appears in both testaments, though the mention is brief. Like some other popular names (John, David), it has lost most of its Biblical overtones.
**Mary was #1 or #2 for nearly a century - the Census name site goes back only to 1880; Mary was #1 or #2 from that year till 1966, when she fell to #3, and it was downhill from then on. She dropped out of the top 10 forty years ago, out of the top 50 ten years ago, and now isn’t even the top 100. (Joseph, in that same period has been no higher than #7 but no lower than #16.)