Picks and Pans Main: Etc.
Perhaps the most surprising trend in the choices of names new parents give their babies is that there isn't much of a trend. For more than 10 years the most popular names for American babies have been Michael for boys and Jennifer for girls.
Leslie Dunkling, founder of the Names Society, based in London, and author (with William Gosling) of The Facts on File Dictionary of First Names (Facts on File, $17.95), maintains most changes in name usage still happen slowly. "The last time there was a meteoric rise in the popularity of a first name in America," he says, "was in 1934 when Shirley Temple arrived on the scene and the name came from absolutely nowhere."
But Cleveland Kent Evans, a University of Michigan psychology doctoral candidate and perhaps this country's preeminent onomatologist (name expert), disagrees. He says we are in an era of change, thanks to what he sees as a tendency to choose unusual names. Among the up-and-coming names that are of uncertain inspiration, he suggests, are Lacey, Brittany and Jordan. Luke (perhaps because of Star Wars' Luke Skywalker) is still increasing in popularity. And Evans points to TV as the source for the rise in usage of Chase (Falcon Crest), Fallon (Dynasty) and Alexis (Dynasty).
Yuppies are now the trendsetters, he adds. "Educated classes often start name fads that filter down. Sarah, now No. 2 on the national list for girls, was a top Yuppie name 10 years ago." (Current Yuppie favorites include Emily, Caitlin, Adam, Molly and Benjamin, he notes.)
Evans has also found a subtrend. Nonwhite families, he says, use more exotic names, so much so that he has compiled a separate list of the most popular names for nonwhites (see box).
Michael is still the most popular name for nonwhite as well as white boys (and the most recent figures for 1983 babies predate the heaviest onslaught of Michael Jacksonmania). Indeed, most of the popular nonwhite boys' names are the same as those for whites. The most frequently used nonwhite girls' names, however, are strikingly different, with Tiffany ranking first.
Evans, who is white, says he is reluctant to theorize on blacks' use of uncommon names. He says, though, that one black student suggested that black working-class families consciously chose names with a black identity. And, the student said, "Some names are so white you just wouldn't name your child that." There are, Evans also notes, "few black women named Ann, because black slang for an unliked white woman is 'Miss Ann.' And there are not many black boys named Tom, for obvious reasons."
One historically common practice now less fashionable for both blacks and whites is using place names as given names. Shakespeare's Romeo was named after Rome, for instance, and Florence Nightingale after Florence, Italy. These days there are few Schenectadys or Peorias. Evans' first name was not the result of his birthplace (actually Charlottesville, Va.); it comes from his maternal grandfather's name. Dunkling's "Leslie" came from actor Leslie Howard, and he is most grateful geographical names aren't the rule anymore.
Explains Dunkling: "I was born in Middlesex."