Thursday, July 9, 2009

Follow up on gender role attitudes

In my last blog post (link below this paragraph) describing how Millennials are overall the ones who like the idea of unisex or softer names for boys the most, Boomers are the ones who most support the double standard of unisex names for girls but not for boys, Xers are somewhere in between the Boomers and the Millennials, Silents are the ones before the Millennials came along who were the closest to equality in unisex naming, and the G.I.s generally preferred gender-specific names both ways.

My observation is that those name trends are also closely linked to each generation's view on acceptable gender behavior. Going forward this time, the G.I.s tended to have sharply defined gender roles but there was not much of a double standard (boys/men were expected to be masculine and girls/women expected to be feminine). The Silents brought in a little more androgyny but except in the arena of names they tended to be in between the G.I.'s crisp roles and the Boomer's double standard. With the Boomers they expanded acceptable gender roles greatly for females but not so much so for males, hence the double standard in gender expectations that we've seen over the past few decades. The Xers pretty much followed along with the Boomers until the Millennials came along, and now they're often torn between the two different expectations. Finally, the group that makes up today's youngest adults - the Millennials - is finally starting to help widen the acceptable range of behavior for males (as I mentioned the metrosexual movement became noticeable in the public eye around the time the oldest Millennials were coming of age).

Once again these are all generalizations and may not apply to every individual in each group.

Generations and attitude towards unisex names

Linking my knowledge on baby name trends and the Strauss & Howe generational cycle, here's my theory on the unisex name issue and how people from different generations perceive it. This is written from the perspective of the parents who are/were naming their children, not the recepients of the names themselves. For the most part a particular generation of kids is fed by parents from the previous two generations (for example the current crop of children being born, what has tentatively been named the Homeland generation, mostly has parents from Generation X and the Millennial generation). Warning: Descriptions of people in the various generations are generalizations; you may or may not fit the general pattern.

If you've been on a baby name forum recently you have probably noticed a group of people who like the idea of using names that are traditionally masculine but have since been co-opted by the girls on the original gender again. From my observations, the ones who support this idea the most are the youngest of the crowd currently doing the baby naming - members of the Millennial generation (those born from about 1982 to sometime in the early to mid point of the 2000s decade). This is why these days when a name becomes hot for both genders it is becoming more likely that it will stay truly unisex (such as Hayden and Riley) rather than become a mostly girl name. Although there are also quite a few Millennials who don't like unisex names, when they don't it's more likely to be for both genders rather than only for boys (as was the case for many Boomers and early Xers).

The predecessors to the Millennials, Generation X (those born from about 1961 to 1981) seem to have a fairly "objective" view on the unisex name issue. For example, in Laura Wattenberg's book The Baby Name Wizard (she is an Xer) she tells about how unisex names tend to become more feminine over time and suggests a few names that may cross over, but doesn't actively promote the trend like Boomer authors Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz have (more on that below). From the boy's perspective, she neither recommends using "unisexed" names on boys nor dissuades their use. The early Gen-Xers (like founder Jennifer Moss) often have a similar attitude as the Boomers (on her Q&A page she seems to like names like Hayden and Madison for girls but recommends against names like Shiloh for boys), while the later ones have an attitude reminiscent of the Millennials' but aren't quite as gutsy about "taking back" names (e.g. they might say "I love [insert unisex name] for a boy but I wouldn't want to give a name like that to my own son").

The Boomers (using the S&H dates of 1943-1960 rather than the fertility bulge dates of 1946-1964) tend to be the strongest promoters of the "double standard" of using unisex or even outright masculine names for girls but dissuading the use of the same names for boys. For example, in some of Satran (who has a daughter named Rory) and Rosenkrantz's earlier books they have a whole list of traditionally masculine names that they think would be cool for girls but elsewhere in the book they have a section on why you shouldn't use a name that is likely to also be used for a girl on a boy. Recently they have become more balanced on the issue (probably so as to not scare off the Millennial audience), but even in their newest book Beyond Ava and Aiden there are still signs that they prefer the use of such names for girls (on their list of "Unisex Names" they include names like Connor and Elliot which have very rarely been used on girls but are still seen by the general public as male names) but not "older" unisex names like Kelly and Shannon (which if you asked a member of the general public if they're unisex or not you'd be more likely to get a "yes" response with those than the previously mentioned Connor and Elliot).

Before the Boomers was the Silent Generation (born from about 1925 to 1942). Unlike the Boomers this generation was more open to using unisex names both ways (for example Bruce Lansky, who has written several baby name books, is a Silent). Although they probably had a slight preference for using them on girls (e.g. Lansky's daughter Dana), they weren't as turned away from them on boys as what was the case for Boomers (for instance names like Jody and Kelly were more widely used both ways during the late '50s and '60s when the Silents still made up the lion's share of parents as opposed to later during the '70s when Boomer parents took over and those names became mostly used for girls).

Going back yet another generation to the G.I.s (born c. 1901-1924), they were not a fan of crossovers in general and preferred gender-specific names for both boys and girls. Although a few formerly masculine names like Beverly and Shirley were popular during their peak naming era, they actually crossovered from predominately masculine to predominately feminine during the prime naming period of the two generations that came before them (the Missionary and Lost generations).

In essence the Millennials have formed a "generation gap" in naming attitudes (and attitudes towards acceptable masculine behavior in general, which I'll get to in a later blog post) between them and the Boomers, much like the generation gap with society in general between the G.I.s and the Boomers in the 1960s. Like the Boomers back then who didn't like the way things were in general, today Millennials don't like how females have a wider range of acceptable names (or behavior) than males and are "rebelling" against their elder Boomers in that respect (note that the term "metrosexual" came into the vocabulary of the general public at about the time that the oldest Millennials were coming of age). For the generation in between (in this case of gender issues the Xers, in the case 40 years ago the Silents) they tend to follow their elders at first (albeit sometimes unenthusiastically) but some may "switch positions" when their different-thinking juniors come along. Like a G.I. politician 40 or so years ago who had to adjust how he/she voted in order to not be defeated by young Boomer voters, Boomer authors of baby-name books (like Satran and Rosenkrantz) have to adjust their ideas on name ideas for boys in order to not scare off the young Millennial audience. In both cases the older person might not be enthusiastic about adjusting, but realizes that he/she must in order to win at least some approval from the younger ones.

Here's the post on Satran & Rosenkrantz's Nameberry blog about this subject that inspired me to go ahead and make this post:

For more links on these subjects, look at the bottom of my previous blog post:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Names and generations

If you've familiarized yourself with the Strauss & Howe cycle, you know that there are four different archetypes of generations that repeat every 80 years or so (with an exception around the time of the Civil War in which there was no Civic/Hero generation). For those who study trends in baby names you probably notice that when a name gets really popular and is not a classic (this applies more often to girl's names than boy's names since boys are more likely to be named after their fathers than girls after their mothers but can still apply with some of the more trendy boy's names), it usually does not come back in popularity for at least 100 years or so. Both are "four-generation" cycles, but the reason that the archetype cycle is shorter than the name cycle is probably because of a number of factors.

One is what governs the length of generations in each cycle. With the archetype cycle the length is determined by the approximate length of each phase of life (i.e. Childhood, Early Adulthood, Mid-life, Elderhood, Late Elderhood) which in modern times is roughly 20 years. The name cycle is likely based on the average age of reproduction, which in the current times is a little over 25 years. The name cycle thus runs at 100 years (or a little more than that) compared to the S&H cycle (which a person's parents [in most cases] can come from either the preceding generation to the child's or the one before that).

Another factor is that the S&H cycle is largely dependent on how much power a person has on society; his/her influence is smaller during childhood and once one gets so old that he/she must be dependent on others as compared to the other three phases of life. Whereas a name is (usually) with a person from birth until death (and thus 80 years may be long enough for a fresh start on generational attitudes, but a name will still have an "old person" feel to it).

There are a few exceptions to names coming back early, like Audrey (which has recently become more popular but last peaked in the 1920s) and Laura (which ranked high in the 1880s but was up high again by the 1960s, mentioned in a past blog post on The Baby Name Wizard [links are at the bottom of this blog post]); on the other hand these names never became exceptionally dated which might have helped them return sooner. At the other extreme sometimes names do not come back for even longer than this cycle predicts, such as Mabel (which was most popular in the 1880s and 1890s but has yet to return to even the top 1,000).

Links about Strauss and Howe's information:

The Social Security Administration's name popularity site (has the top 1,000 names for each year and decade back to 1880):

Laura Wattenberg's The Baby Name Wizard site (her NameVoyager program is especially useful for visualizing the popularity of names over time and is based on the SSA stats):

Nameberry (the site run by Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz, co-authors of numerous baby naming books):

Behind the Name (great side for finding out the etymologies on names):