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Earlier this month, The Atlantic published an article by sociology professor Philip Cohen in which he tries to answer the question "Why Don't Parents Name Their Daughters Mary Anymore?" As the charts show, "Mary" has plummeted while "Emma" has risen after having fallen. Other names have also gone away or returned to popularity over the years. You can see the top 10 names for boys and girls in 2011 here and the change in popularity of the top 500 names here.

I've always been interested in how names change through the generations, but also in how ethnic names rarely cross over. For instance, despite a prediction that "Barack" would make it into the top 1,000 baby names after President Obama's election in 2008, that didn't happen. From 2007 until the end of 2011, only 169 newborns had been named "Barack," according to the Social Security Administration. That's obviously not because Obama is unpopular but rather, in my opinion, because his "foreign" name just doesn't resonate.

Despite all the propaganda about America being a melting pot—I prefer the stew-pot metaphor personally—only some names get blended in. There just aren't that many Irish named Raúl or Esmeralda or Deshi or LaShonda. As in so much else, the dominant culture imposes nomenclature on ... well ... on nomenclature.

In my own family, the Seminole names mostly disappeared after the generation of my grandmother (Simmalikee) and her sister (Hitochi). Her kids got names like Golda, Nadine, Rhoda, Wilson and, the one exception, Tahama. My mother's sisters got the older generation's names as their middle names (Rhoda Hitochi and Nadine Simmalikee). But otherwise the Indian names disappeared. (My cousins and I were also given informal Seminole names but they were never actually used and appeared on no birth certificates.)

Most Indians today, on or off reservations, give their children "anglo" first names, or adopt the fads that the dominant culture does, with kids being called "Amber" or "Brandon" even if their last name is Osceola. One reason for that is because many Indians forced into boarding schools in the century and a half between the 1820s and the 1970s were forced to take Christian names. Another reason is that native speakers of Indian languages have dwindled. Today, for instance, only about 4,000 of the estimated 90,000 tribally enrolled Muscogee (Creeks) and Seminoles in Florida, Texas, Alabama and Oklahoma can speak their common "mother tongue." Without that language of origin, the names disappear, no matter what grandma or great-grandpa was named. The principal chief and assistant chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, for instance, are named Leonard and Ella, respectively. The first and second chiefs of the Muscogee Nation are George and Roger, respectively. That's a far cry from Menawa or Hollater-Micco.

Whatever their ethnicity, many people don't like their names. And they may not just be whining because they wanted to be named Juanita and got named Rosario instead.

According to a study published in the March 2009 issue of Social Science Quarterly by David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee of Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, there is an association between what you're called and how you behave.

Results show that, regardless of race, juveniles with unpopular names are more likely to engage in criminal activity.

[Kalist and Lee] analyzed state data by comparing the first names of male juvenile delinquents to the first names of male juveniles in the population.

Researchers constructed a popularity-name index (PNI) for each name. For example, the PNI for Michael is 100, the most frequently given name during the period. The PNI for David is 50, a name given half as frequently as Michael. The PNI is approximately 1 for names such as Alec, Ernest, Ivan, Kareem, and Malcolm.

The least popular names were associated with juvenile delinquency among both blacks and whites. [...]

[A]dolescents with unpopular names may be more prone to crime because they are treated differently by their peers, making it more difficult for them to form relationships. Juveniles with unpopular names may also act out because they consciously or unconsciously dislike their names.

"First name characteristics may be an important factor to help identify individuals at high risk of committing or recommitting crime, leading to more effective and targeted intervention programs," the authors conclude.

If only I could blame my name for my 23 months in reform school.

What about your names and names in your family? Were they cause for trouble on the playground? Do you love your name? Do you have an "ethnic" name outside the mainstream or did you taunt the kids who did? Do you still have issues with your parents for what they named you? Did you officially change your name or adopt your middle name or some nickname because you hated your first name?


Do you like the name you were given at birth?

53%318 votes
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| 596 votes | Vote | Results

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