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

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