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).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Riley: Will it stay unisex or not?

Cleveland Kent Evans, who has written numerous name-related articles* claims that any name ending in the "-ley" sound is doomed to become feminine in the United States. While it is true that such names (or any name ending in the long "e" sound for that matter) which are traditionally masculine are more likely to become unisex, Evans is ignoring an important trend: The rising generation of new adults (the Millennials) are more likely than recent previous generations to not let a name's usage on girls deter them from giving it to their sons (which I've posted about before). *I previously mentioned Evans being president of the American Name Society, but he informed me that he no longer holds the position so I edited it out.

What got me to post this is that Evans has been predicting for several years (by posts he's made on sites such as and that the name Riley will follow a similar path to other past surnames that end in -ley that became popular as first names (such as Ashley and Shirley) and become almost exclusively female in the U.S. However, I think that Riley is much more likely to stay unisex (albeit more popular for girls) than those other names because Riley peaked for boys at a much higher rank and hasn't experienced a fairly sudden drop compared the other examples (probably in part to my theory based on the generations). Evans's prediction may have had some muster 10 years or so ago when Riley was beginning to level off for boys and increase for girls, but since the name hasn't fallen much for boys it appears that his prediction is only semi-right (the name did become more popular for girls, but not to the extent he thought it would).

In addition, if Jennifer Moss from is right, "crossover" names for girls in general are starting to level off in use (probably from the same Millennials that want to keep names on their original gender). Therefore, I think that unlike what Evans predicted I think there will still be plenty of male Rileys being born (although plenty of girls will be given that name too). Note that in my blog post from last July that I linked to earlier in this post I mentioned that Moss originally tended to be against unisex names for boys, but now her opinion appears to be changing some with the times (at least by predicting that the trend for girls will be falling).