Names -- Traditional or Trendy

April 4, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

I suspect the recent upsurge in Old Testament names for boys expresses not so much a religious sentiment as it does a desire to be different but not too different. This trend towards trendiness and away from tradition isn’t just an American thing. It’s also true in France, where parents have had a free choice of names for less than 20 years. Before that, there was a government-approved list parents had to choose from.

The government still offers new arrivals some advice on names. Bapiste Coulmont links to a list of “French” names the government recommends to immigrants who want to become French – a process called “francisation.”* The list has about 400 names that are “French or currently used in France.”

But the French themselves don’t seem to have much use for that list. When I checked the most popular names that actual French parents were giving their newborns (the most recent year I could get was 2006), for both boys and girls, three of the top ten names were not on the list of “French” names.

Enzo (1) Ines (7)
Nathan (4) Jade (9)
Tom (8) Lola (10)

From what I understand, other unlisted names – Margaux, Apolline, and Victoria – have since climbed into France’s top ten.

Japan too. Several decades ago, when I was in Japan, nearly all girls’ names ended in either ko (), a few in mi () or e (). Now none of the popular girls’ names have these endings.

The trend isn’t universal. In Italy, all the top names are traditionally Italian.** Joseph and Mary (Giuseppe and Maria) top the list.

* The counterpart of Americanization. When the movie “The Americanization of Emily” was released in 1964, that name wasn’t even in the top 250, but the title was prescient. Thirty-two years later, Emily had climbed to #1, and she held that spot for over a decade.

** Italy has no list of approved names. But the law does allow a civil official to “advise and dissuade overly-creative parents” who propose names that are “ridiculous, shameful, or embarrassing.” (A newspaper article on this is here.) In the US, you can name your daughter Brooklyn no questions asked. But in Italy, tying to name your kid Testaccio might not go so smoothly.

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