Sunday, July 1, 2012

The archetypes of American naming

With name data for the various states available, I've observed some different regional patterns when it comes to baby naming. There are five general groups, four of which produce the different milieu of Anglo-American naming. Here they are:

Hispanic Archetype - I'll go ahead and get this one out of the way since it's from a cultural group distinct from the other four, but with the rising Hispanic population in the U.S. names we have this group which consists of names common in the Spanish-speaking world but not the English-speaking one. Here we have names like Jose and Angel (for boys) that are not common among anglophones.

Yankee Archetype - Here we have the group represented by the most densely populated area of the country: the Northeast (this is why within the U.S. the term "Yankee" refers to someone from that region, while outside it is often applied to Americans in general). Namers here tend to be more conformist than under the other types, with babies being more likely to get a top name than elsewhere in America. The double standard between the genders is also more pronounced with this archetype, with the differences in the number of boys vs. girls given a top name often being greater (often the first several boy's names each boast a larger number than the #1 girl's name) and a greater reluctance to using unisex names for boys (the Northeast tends to have gender ratios more tilted toward the girls than elsewhere for a particular name). Yankee-namers tend to draw from names etched in cultural traditions (and this region has more Catholics and Jews than the others) with names like Anthony and Joseph being more common than in other regions.

Dixie Archetype - This is the archetype that represents the names common in the "Southern" states. As with the Yankee archetype a bit of conformity floats in the air, but here it's family rather than cultural traditions (and is more evenly shared between the genders than up north). Juniors and the like are more common here than elsewhere, and we see quite a few English classics that are less common in other regions of the country (for example William is #1 in some Southern states). On the other hand family is honored in other ways sometimes, one of which is the use of family surnames (leading to the general American trend of surname-names). This adherence also results in families being more likely to use a name independent of gender associations, resulting in both boys and girls with unisex names (and also means more nickname-names being used to differentiate and people going by their middle name). As compared to the Yankee archetype the Dixies are more insular, with international names (i.e. those without American or British Isle origins) not boating as well.

Frontier Archetype - This is the naming style common in the more sparsely populated "frontier" regions of the country. Unlike the Yankee and Dixie archetypes Frontier-namers think more out of the box, and this region has a lower percentage of babies with a top name than the others (and the gender differences are smaller or even reversed; in some of these states it's the girls who are more likely to get a more common name), making this archetype in many ways the polar opposite to the Yankee one. As in the Dixie region we see more non-traditional names like surnames and gender-bending names, but the story behind there use is different (personal rather than family reasons), and is also more recessive with internationally-flavored names.

Left Coast Archetype - The last of the American archetypes I'm touching on is the one dominated by the areas near the west coast. Since this is the most socially liberal area of the country, this archetype might be considered the polar opposite to the Dixie one. Like the Frontier-namers Left Coasters tend to be more out-of-the-box thinkers, but like the Yankees they have a more international outlook (and some of the "Continental European" style names now popular like Isabella and Sophia showed their first American revival popularity in the western states).

What do you think? Which archetype most closely resembles your style?

1 comment:

  1. That was fascinating, and does confirm a lot of what I see online eg from birth notices on For Real Baby Names taken from different states.

    It does actually generally conform to different regions in Australia as well.

    Our naming style is probably pretty boring and Yankee-like, but then we've only named girls. If we'd had boys instead, I think we may have gone more Frontier-like. We have the typical Australian trend of "normal names for girls, daring names for boys". It seems to be the other way around in the US.

    On other people, I enjoy the BAs from the Frontier states the most, especially the west. Always much more surprising.