Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nicknames vs. formal names, part 3

A few months ago I came up with a hypothesis that in the U.S. the preference for nicknames or short names as full names vs. longer names as the given name varies across the saeculum, with the former increasing during 4Ts and peaking during 1Ts, with the latter increasing during 2Ts and peaking during 3Ts. I found more evidence supporting this; if you look back to the earliest years covered by the SSA list you'll see that nicknames as official names as well as "shorter" official names were fairly big during the 1880s and 1890s, fell off during the 1900s and remained low during the 1910s and 1920s, went back up during the 1930s and remained up until the late 1970s, went back down again around 1980 or so and has stayed down until very recently. If you compare the SSA list of 2010 to that of 2007 (before the start of the Great Recession) you'll see that although the nicknamey and shorter names are still far less popular than they are in the U.K. they are overall on the rise (the four names I used for the comparison are Ellie, Finn, Lucy, and Max; all four increased during that time). To be fair, Finn does have a strong pop-culture influence right now (Glee); even so Finn is on its way up in comparison to some of its "longer" forms such as Finnegan (which remained nearly steady between 2009 and 2010). My prediction: Although I don't think the more extreme "nicknames as full names" that are currently popular in the U.K. (such as Alfie or Millie) will catch on in the U.S. I think the phobia of nicknames or short names as official names is on the wane with more "just Finns" or "just Lucys" rather than superflously going for a longer form on the birth certificate for the sake of formality.

Now for the question that many name enthusiasts have been wondering: Why has the U.K. loved the nickname trend in recent years while the U.S. has not, when it's the U.S. that is traditionally less formal in its lifestyle? Well, the Strauss and Howe saeculum may provide some insight here as well. During First Turning (High) eras (such as the 1950s or 1870s) community bonding is up while individualism is down; during Third Turning (Unraveling) eras (such as the 1990s-2000s or 1910s-1920s) community bonding is down while individualism is up. At the present point in history (though it's not always been the case) the U.S. and U.K. are closely aligned in their saeculae (in other words approximately in the same Turning era). During High eras, desire to bond in with the prevailing culture persists; at these times we have less formal names ruling in the U.S. and more formal names ruling in the U.K. During Unraveling eras, desire to have a name that marks one as an individual persists. In the U.K. this means scaling down from the formal prevailing culture and using informal names, while in the U.S. this means scaling up from the prevailing informal culture and using more formal names (notice how during this era Americans were obsessed with "becoming and looking rich" with McMansions, SUVs, etc., and likewise tended to use baby names that present such an image; in addition this was one of the few times in recent history that American schools were seriously considering school uniforms [which are common in the U.K. all along] but the talk has since largely subsided). I do not have any official statistics on U.K. names available other than those from recent years, but from what others have said I've been able to extrapolate that Britain follows a cycle on name formailty that is about equal in length (~80 years or so) but runs opposite to that of America's.

Once again, remember that this post is a generalization of trends.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The changing baby name trends from 2010

Last Thursday, as they usually do right before Mother's Day, the U.S. SSA released their baby name data for 2010. One pattern that many are noticing is that the pattern of girls tending to get more trendy/unusual names than boys is diminishing or in some cases reversing. If you do the math from the percentages given on the SSA lists (don't use the actual numbers when comparing between years since that enters the birthrate into question), you will see that the percentages of girls being given a Top 10 name is going back up after an overall downward trend over the past several decades while the percentages of boys with a Top 10 name continues to go down. Also, if you take a look at Laura Wattenberg's NameVoyager and select to see either all of the girl or boy name data (but not both together) you'll see that the percentage of boys given a name that is less common than #1,000 continues to go up while it's basically flat (between 2009 and 2010) for girls.

What's the force behind the changing trends? Well, much of it falls on the rising generation of under-30 new parents: the Millennials (or Generation Y if you prefer). Although sexism in naming and other gender issues is certainly still there, for this new generation it is less so. From my experience, we're (I'm a member of this generation) less uptight about our boys standing up to traditional expectations. This leads to the continuing diversification of the boy name pool, as well as a slowing down of the "unisex name plight" to the girls in spite of the co-opting of such names continuing (the latter I've discussed before on my blog).

Although the Millennials may be more diversified in their name choices, from my predictions they will overall also be more "traditional" than Boomers or Xers were. This does not necessarily mean that they will go back to the stalwarts of their parents' day, but rather than going more "tryndee" they will likely go on routes like the "Exotic Traditionals" and the "Antique Revivals" (using terms from Wattenberg's book) that are becoming fashionable and go for those names that have a history but aren't saturated in usage to their ears. In cases like the Irish/Celtic trend, it will likely continue but we'll probably see more "authentic" Irish names rather than the "faux-Irish" names like Colleen and Erin (i.e. ones that aren't traditionally used as names in Ireland) that were common in the past.

Remember that with much I've posted this is a generalization. (If you have your own thoughts on the general trends they're certainly welcome though.)