Friday, February 26, 2010

Name-taboo releases: Irish, then OT, what's next?

Laura Wattenberg at The Baby Name Wizard site recently did a post about how Old Testament names are becoming quite popular in the U.S. The post primarily focused on why they are more popular (in general, note the last paragraph in the post) in the U.S. than Europe. I thought of something else related to that, and it ties into the changing generations. Before I talk about the OT names, I'm going to first talk about another group of names that is quite popular in the U.S. right now: Irish names.

A century ago, being Irish in the U.S. was less than desirable. However, around the time of the last Fourth/First Turnings (1920s-1960s) the Irish became accepted (and as time went on it became "cool" to be "Irish" even if you weren't). This explains the rise in names of Irish origin since then, and before the Silent Generation or so it was much less common for a baby to be given an Irish name.

Fast forward half a saeculum to the last Second/Third Turnings (1960s-2000s decades), and another name taboo is released (and has likewise subsequently became more popular): Old Testament names. For the past several generations before that such names tended to have too strong of a Jewish connotation for a lot of people (even though as Wattenberg mentioned in her post there had been a strong history of their use prior to that era in the U.S.). However the taboo of being Jewish was lifted around the last 2T or so, and thus since Generation X or so OT names have been on the rise. Now there were a few exceptions here and there that were popular during the Jew-taboo era (such as Ruth in the early part of the 20th century and Deborah in the middle part of that century), but what I'm saying is of course a generalization.

If you're familiar with the S&H theory, you know that Fourth Turnings center around reshaping the secular world, and Second Turnings around reshaping the spiritual world. This may explain the half-saeculum difference in the release of the Irish and Jewish taboos: The former centers around an ethnic (i.e. secular) group while the latter centers around a religious (i.e. spiritual) group.

So, what can we expect to change in this regard in this 4T (and the next 1T)? According to my theory in the last paragraph, it will be something secular (and not religious). I have a hypothesis on what it will be (and I did some blog posts about it a few months ago): The taboo on "softer males" (and thus "softer" or unisex names on boys will not be as avoided as they were in recent decades).


  1. This is particularly interesting, given that you are a male having grown up (assuming you are a Millennial, by your ID) with a name that is currently most frequently thought of as a girl's name, although in the past it was definitely masculine (and Irish).

    We already have a wild popularity for "unisex" names for both boys and girls, but they tend to be more "boyish" (Taylor, Tyler, Riley, Alex, Dakota) as well as most often based upon surnames or place names. Do you care to specify what "softer" kinds of names you predict will become more popular? Are we talking Francis, Marion, Leslie? Dana, Carol, Shannon? Ashley, Shirley, Beverly, Kimberley? Hmm. . . I just don't know.

  2. Yes, I am a Millennial (birth year 1985). As for what kind of "softer" names I predict will become more popular for boys, here's some signs of change and what I think will happen over the next 10-20 years:

    There has been a rise in the usage of male names with a long history, but might not have been used as much in the recent past due to sounding "softer" or "feminine" to many Americans. Examples: Adrian, Gabriel, Noah, Sebastian.

    There are quite a few names that (unlike for example Ashley and Dana in the past which fell in popularity for boys when they became popular for girls) are maintaining usage for both genders. Examples: Avery, Jordan, Riley, Rowan.

    On some name sites that I've been to there seems to be a growing interest in "reclaiming" names that were turned feminine in the past. For example last September at there was a post about the name Kelly and a lot of people who replied seem to like it for a boy.

    From my experience there seems to be quite a few teenagers at the name sites I frequent, which may be signs of what will be upcoming in the next decade or so when they start having babies.

  3. I just thought I should comment that I disagree with Laura's reasoning on why Old Testament names are unusual in Britain (as a Brit). Being Jewish isn't a big deal here, and I wouldn't identify Isaiah as Jewish, I would identify Herschel as Jewish.

    I believe there are two reasons why many Biblical names fail to chart here :
    1) Americans like that nasally sound much more than we do. The ending of Isaiah, Jeremiah et cetera just aren't appealing to most Brits. Presumably, it's to do with the accent differences and how accustomed we are to such sounds.
    2) That idea that the British are more reserved? It's true, so, so true. Many times have I been left uncomfortable by the level of emotion or sentimentality displayed in a Hollywood film; squirming-in-your-seat, I'm-going-to-leave-the-cinema-for-a-minute uncomfortable. The same applies to names - disregarding ethnic groups, names generally aren't picked which a parent feels reveal too much about oneself, meaning strongly Biblical names are out. Matthew and other NT names have been in consistent use for as long as anyone can remember, which is why this doesn't extend to them. For us Brits, it is seen as odd to display your faith so openly by choosing Noah or Elijah.

    Another factor which may or may not have a large affect is the greater extent to which many Americans seem to be defined by their religion, and the larger amounts of conservative Christian movements. I could go on and on about the different approaches to religion on the two sides of the Atlantic, but I'll refrain.