The Times West Virginian

Opinion

May 16, 2014

A lot of how we decide what to name kids comes from popular culture

With the primary election now out of the way, the decisions made and the candidates whittled down in number, it’s time to focus on the really important issues that confront us.

Yes, we’d like to talk baby names.

Back the way it used to be, baby names would pretty much be handed down in families. If you had a grandfather or great-grandfather named Everett, chances are a grandson or great-grandson would be christened with that name somewhere down the road.

And a great-grandmother Mary would earn a bouncing baby granddaughter the same name as well.

Of course, that isn’t the case anymore.

The Social Security Administration recently announced its most popular names for babies. And Noah has ended the 14-year run of Jacob.

Among girls, Sophia clocks in at No. 1 for the third straight year.

Personally, we’re OK with naming kids after a Biblical boat-builder like Noah, or even a grandson of Abraham, like Jacob.

But we’re curious as to how families decide how to name a child in the year 2014. We aren’t surprised to find that picking a baby’s name is a big business that’s heavy on analysis.

The rise of Noah highlights a trend toward more smooth-sounding baby names, said Laura Wattenberg, creator of Babynamewizard.com.

“You compare Jacob with all its hard, punchy consonants, versus Noah and Liam, you can really see where style is heading,” Wattenberg said.

She also says that the most popular baby names aren’t nearly as popular as they used to be. For example, just over 18,000 babies born last year were named Noah. In 1950, when James was No. 1, there were more than 86,000 newborns with that name.

About 21,000 newborns were named Sophia last year. In 1950, more than 80,000 were named Linda, the top name for girls that year.

“In the past, most parents were picking from a pretty well-defined set of names,” Wattenberg said. “Literally for hundreds of years, the English royal names dominated. You had John and Mary and James and Elizabeth.”

“Today,” she said, “we get names everywhere.”

Indeed we do. And a lot of how we decide what to name kids nowadays comes from — wait for it — popular culture.

Social Security also charts the fastest-rising names each year. These names may not be in the top 10 or even the top 100, but they moved up more spots.

For girls, the runaway winner was Daleyza, which jumped a whopping 3,130 spots, to No. 585. Daleyza is the name of the young daughter of Larry Hernandez, a singer who stars in a Spanish-language reality TV show called “Larrymania.”

“Reality TV is one of the biggest style-makers today because it gives us a constant new stream of names from all over the place,” Wattenberg said.

For boys, the fastest-rising name was Jayceon, which jumped 845 spots, to No. 206. Two hip hop artists are named Jayceon. One simply goes by the name Jayceon. The other, Jayceon Terrell Taylor, is a rapper who goes by the stage name The Game.

We’d like to think the surging popularity of Noah is because people are spending more time reading their Old Testament, but we’re old-fashioned that way.

We expect it has more to do with last year’s movie release starring actor Russell Crowe, although parents could do worse than finding inspiration in a Biblical epic.

Come to think of it, Noah sounds pretty good. It’s one of those comfortable names, we guess, come rain or come shine.

— The (Beckley) Register-Herald

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