Monday, January 16, 2012

A Look Back at Popular Baby Names

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, January 16, 2011,

In about two months, my youngest son Nate and his wife Melissa are going to have a baby. This much-awaited child will be my second grandchild, and my first granddaughter. And she will have a name. That is as much information as I can glean or am allowed to reveal about the situation at the moment.

You see, my son and daughter-in-law tend to be private people. In fact, that's a bit like saying the CIA likes to keep things quiet. Unlike some members of our family, they do not publicize nearly every aspect of their lives in one medium or the other. I know, it's strange - but I hear some people are like that.

They actually have discussed with us some of the first names under consideration. There is nothing firm, and no clear-cut favorite. I would share them with you good readers, but I am convinced a lightning bolt originating from the Baltimore area would immediately descend upon me and wreak havoc and destruction.

But the whole thing got me thinking about baby names. I did some research and looked at the most popular names from my year of birth (yes, they did keep stone tablet records back then) as well as the era when my kids were born. Then I added 2008 when my grandson (did I mention his name is William?) arrived, as well as the most popular monikers of 2011.

In 1956 when I was born, the three most popular names for each sex were Michael, James and Robert - along with Mary, Debra and Linda. William was a lofty 6th that year. I was quite pleased to find it had even been in the top 10.

When my son was born in 1979, Michael was still the most popular boys name followed by Christopher and Jason. On the female side there had been a complete change with Jennifer, Melissa, and Amanda now topping the charts. When son Nate arrived in 1981, Jennifer was still number one with Jessica now in second just ahead of Amanda. Michael was still king on the male side, followed now by Christopher and Matthew. William had inexplicably and unfairly been reduced to 15th place. By the time grandson William made his triumphant appearance in 2008, that noblest of names had rebounded to 8th place. Jacob was now number one, followed by the incredibly resilient Michael and newcomer Ethan. The distaff side had been completely reshuffled, with Emma, Isabella and Emily now leading the pack. And new names were appearing high on the list, such as Jayden, Aiden, Chloe and Mia.

Finally, a check on the year just ended shows Aiden, Jackson, and Mason as the three most popular boy's names. Sophia, Emma, and Isabella are now the top three girl's names. And in the unkindest cut of all, William has been relegated to 22nd place. I have already demanded a recount.

Ahead of William on the male side are names such as Brayden, Caden, and Jayden. Is rhyming now required to be in the top 20? Noah is number nine, and with all due respect to my cousin Noah - that name is 13 spots ahead of William? Something is clearly wrong here. Heck, even Caleb was at number 11.

But of course, my concentration needs to be on the female names. After all, this is my little princess who is on her way to join the family. Not that I have any say in naming her, nor should I. But I still feel a responsibility to at least be conversant in the names of the day. You never know, I could be asked for my opinion. For a man married nearly 35 years, that is a rare occurrence. You have to be ready.

I'm fairly confident whatever name our kids pick for this special child will not be one of the more out-there names. To the best of my knowledge, they did not have to revise their list when "Blue Ivy" was used by Beyonce and Jay Z. My son has told me the only thing I can be absolutely certain about is that the new baby will not, under any circumstances, be named William.

I guess I'll just have to learn to live with that.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist, proud grandfather, and a supporter of the name William. He can be reached at

Friday, January 13, 2012

Shooting Shows Need to Revise Hunting Laws

The column below originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, January 13, 2012.

When off-duty state trooper John Bergeron of Norton went hunting in the woods not far from his home on the last day of 2011, he had no idea his life was going to change forever in one awful moment - along with the life of Cheryl Blair. And now residents of Norton and other semi-rural communities are wondering how safe it is to venture far from their backyards.

Just as hunting season was coming to an end, Bergeron fired his weapon and struck Blair, a 66-year-old grandmother out walking her two dogs in a wooded area in her neighborhood. As this is written, she remains hospitalized with a bullet wound to her body and is fighting infection and complications. She has undergone at least two surgeries and her condition remains serious.

Bergeron called 911 for help, and stayed with the shooting victim until paramedics arrived. He told police he thought he had fired at a deer. He was remorseful during the 911 call and apologized profusely to the wounded woman while on the phone.

Local police investigated along with Environmental Police. Norton police were quick to declare it an accident and announce there would be no charges filed - too quick for some, who wondered if the state trooper was receiving preferential treatment. Norton police have said no such treatment was given. The Environmental Police investigation is still under way at press time.

There can be little doubt this was an accident, a case of shooting at the wrong target without any intent to cause harm to another human being. But should the shooter face charges of some kind? Do hunting regulations in Massachusetts need to be revised for safety reasons? Is it reasonable to expect a state trooper, who carries a gun as part of his job, to exercise better judgment than Bergeron did in this case?

The legal issue is certainly complex and requires a careful review and understanding of the law. But the facts here cry out for some type of corrective action. A grandmother walking her dogs near her own home was shot by a trained trooper who by his own admission mistook his target. That simply cannot be chalked up as an unfortunate accident and forgotten.

I am not a hunter, nor a "gun person." But I understand and appreciate the right of hunters to legally and responsibly practice this ancient art, even if I am not a fan. I also appreciate the right to bear arms, although I do not believe it extends as far as many others do.

But when you hunt in the local woods you assume a grave responsibility. You simply cannot discharge your weapon unless and until you are 100 percent certain of your target. You need to know you are shooting at a deer and not a golden retriever. And yes, that can be tricky and difficult. But when you are a licensed hunter and step into the woods with a dangerous weapon, you accept that burden.

There is also a responsibility to avoid walking in hunting areas without reflective clothing. But seriously - should we all be afraid to walk more than 500 feet from our homes at the risk of being shot? Is being able to hunt that close to dwellings so important that we risk the lives of people like Cheryl Blair?

I grew up in Norton when kids often played in the woods, and hearing gunshots was not unusual in the fall and winter. I live in a wooded section of Norton now, and my kids grew up knowing to be careful of wandering too far. But today, Norton is not a small country town. It is a community with 20,000 people jammed into 27 square miles. And like it or not - things have to change.

It is fair to say hunters have fewer places to go now than in the past. It is also a fact the overwhelming majority of them practice their hobby safely. This incident appears to be the result of a bad hunter, not an indictment of hunting itself. Yet the rules for all hunters may have to change.

If that results in even one fewer grandmother getting shot, I'm all for it.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a lifelong resident of Norton. He can be reached at

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Great Ironic Foxboro Casino Debate

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Monday, January 2, 2012

As part of the Great Casino Debate, Foxboro is involved in a serious discussion concerning free speech. Ironically, folks are clamoring to be heard on the topic of denying others the right to be heard. Alas, no one ever said irony was fair.

At a selectmen’s meeting last week, many sought to speak and express their opposition to a resort casino suggested for near Gillette Stadium. They wished to publicly state their opposition to allowing any such proposal to be put on the ballot for all Foxboro voters to decide. They urged selectmen to not allow or engage in any discussion with the proposers on the topic.

Selectmen initially allowed ten minutes for public comments, but expanded that to almost an hour when many wished to speak. One woman opposed to the casino was told time had expired and the meeting was moving on. She angrily demanded the right to be heard. Many in the crowd chanted “Let her speak!” She went on to urge the casino proponents be given no consideration, and received a loud ovation.

Perhaps the irony of people invoking their right to speak in an effort to prevent others from being heard was lost on some there. Hopefully it will become clearer as the heat of that moment slowly dissipates. But that might be unlikely, given the recent penchant for explaining away bad behavior in Foxboro.

The casino issue has been blamed for bringing out the worst in some citizens on both sides. Many have stated the very concept is tearing the community apart and pitting friends and neighbors against each other. There have been accusations of sign stealing and vandalism. Town meetings have been interrupted by shouting citizens seeking to influence town officials and others. All this in peaceful Foxboro, described almost universally as a warm, friendly community.

Foxboro is indeed a great town, full of good people. Those residents are too good to use this issue or any other as an excuse for intolerance and ignorance. Issues don’t behave poorly – people do. It is time everyone in Foxboro – on all sides - started assuming responsibility for their own actions rather than passing them off as the inevitable result of a complicated and emotional debate.

Most residents of Foxboro are doing just that. They are allowing the system to work as intended, supplying their input and opinions when and where they deem it necessary and proper, and respecting their fellow citizens. It is a shame the actions of a vocal few are unfairly casting the community in a bad light.

Those proposing the casino (and it does no good to call it a “resort destination”, it is still a casino) must be sensitive to the feelings of the Foxboro residents. This matter strikes right to the heart and character of a community, or at least people’s perception of those things. It is difficult to walk into town and propose something along the scale of this project without raising great fear and trepidation.

When you do polling, or lobby officials, or put a video on local cable access television – all perfectly legitimate and proper things to do – you have to know some will treat it as though you are dictating rather than appealing. You are going to be the bad guys in this little morality play, and there is little you can do to change that perception.

But having a difficult decision placed before them is not an excuse for the behavior some in Foxboro have exhibited. Granted, the casino is a political topic and will eventually need a political solution. But attacking the integrity of those who present the concept and town officials who support listening to them, intimidating officials with none-too-subtle threats of political retribution, and acting like spoiled three-year-olds at public meetings is not the way to go. Although in truth, it does seem to have been politically effective thus far. Is that really what matters most?.

Communities sometimes have to make tough decisions. Those decisions should be informed ones, made after full and careful consideration. If individuals on either side of this contentious debate continue to cross the line with their behavior, the blame is on them – not the issue at hand. A little less irony, a little more reason…

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a longtime area town official. He can be reached at