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It was a joyful morning at the make-believe circus. The children sang big top songs
as loud as they could, and on cue, they cackled like monkeys and roared like lions. The 2-year-olds class at our grandson’s nursery school was in rare form for the end
of the year program.
Sadly, though, Charles and Donnie missed the show. Roger, Richard, and Jerry
weren’t there either, and neither was Ed.
To be honest, they would have felt out of place. All the other little boys had first
names that could be confused for last names (Parker, Conner, Blake) or that end with an N and vaguely rhyme (Aidan, Brayden, and Jayden) Although it doesn’t rhyme
with much of anything, I realized how lucky we were to have a spare surname lying around in our family that also concludes with the letter N. Maybe our Hudson has both trends covered? Frankly, he can use the edge. Given the challenges he’s faced with
potty training, he probably could not have survived the nursery school playground
with a quaint moniker like Clarence.
Although I think the names currently in vogue for little boys – and little girls, too – are charming and beautiful, I miss my old playmates. Nobody told me they’d followed
Myrtle the Dodo Bird into extinction.
A quick search of Social Security’s web site confirmed my worst fears. The popular girls of my youth – Barbara, Linda, Sharon, Pat, Judy, Carol – are now wallflowers. They sit on the sidelines at the baby-naming cotillion with unfilled dance cards watching Olivia,
Madison, Isabella and Mia fend off legions of admirers. And the cute boys I pined for
– the cool Garys, the trendy Ronnies, the athletic Larrys – are about as out of the
loop as Elmer, Chester, and Adolph.
And so, I think it’s time I organize a support group for people whose names went out
with the Eisenhower administration. I have experience, after all, at being in with the
My Georgia peaked in popularity in 1894 with a rank of 85, and has been going downhill ever since according to the Social Security folks who keep track of these things. It hung on by its fingernails to position 305 in the most
The male equivalent, George, hasn’t fared much better despite the political clout of
Presidents 41 and 43.
Members of Over-the-Hill-Names-Anonymous (OTHNA) might commission research
to better understand why a particular name suddenly falls off the hit parade.
Understanding this could help one take the snubs less personally.
However, after reviewing the extraordinary data the Social Security web site provides, I’ve concluded it’s the same reason that makes anything else go out of fashion – if your
parents owned it, liked it, or wore it, it’s verboten.
For example, Linda, the number one name for girls in the years 1947 – 1952 and who lingered in the top 10 until 1965, came in at 592
in 2011. Obviously, Linda is your mother or her sister. She probably has gray hair, albeit with frosted blonde tips, and wears comfortable shoes with good arch supports. She definitely wouldn’t fit in at nursery school.
But what causes a name to become trendy in the first place at a particular moment
in time? Sophia, the most popular name for baby girls born last year, didn’t get a
mention in the top 500 the year I was born. That gives it the advantage of distance
from the Medicare generation, but I didn’t go to school with anyone named Bertha,
either, so why, then, Sophia? I would give Sophia Loren the credit – movie and TV stars
often inspire naming trends – but I doubt anyone having a baby last year knows who
No, I think it’s something more profound. I think it’s the zeitgeist. The zeitgeist, according to the dictionary, means the “spirit of the times.” It’s the mood of an era, the intellectual and cultural climate of a nation. What it really means is that five people get together in the school bathroom while you’re on the playground eating a bologna sandwich, and make all the important decisions for your generation. Then they come
out and hypnotize you and make it all seem like it’s your idea to start with.
Take me. I named our first child Shannan because I liked the sound of its soft assonance, and paired with Stamper, it had the benefit of alliteration, too. Mostly,
though, I chose it for uniqueness. I’d known only one other Shannan, male or female, in my entire life. So – yes, you guessed it – that name, variously spelled, leaped from nowhere into the top 20 names for girls the year she was born. Like a disco dancer, it made a great, big splash in the 1970s, and then glided out of the spotlight.
Stung by my failed attempt at originality, I opted to use an old-fashioned family name
when our second daughter was born. Nobody else likes those kind of names, right? My stillborn sister had been named Rebecca after my father’s grandmother, and so
Shannan’s sister would be named for mine. That very year, Rebecca catapulted to
the 10th most popular name for girls although it had loitered in the low 100s for most
of the 20th century. In fact, the year our Becky was born, and the next, marked the
zenith of the name’s popularity in all of history. It began to decline in the late 1970s, and last year, it slid in at 148. When our third daughter came along, I decided to
beat this name-biz at its own game. I christened her Georgia in giddy anticipation
of riding her coattails to a popularity our name had never known. Alas, the zeitgeist
refuses to be manipulated.
So members of OTHNA, we must strive to remember that over-the-hill is only a synonym for waiting-for-anotherturn.
By the way, have I told you about my Great-Uncle Ethelbert Hudson and his brother Ditzler and their sister Gertrude?
Now those are names waiting for their zeitgeist to come