Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Multicult namingways

Ed Tom Kowalsky previously commented as follows:
Perhaps we could track the frequency of first names with the prefixes La, Sha, Ja, and Ty. My guess is these began appearing roughly the same time multi-culti struck.
The Baby Name Wizard is a great resource for tracking the popularity of American names extending back into the late 19th Century. Name popularity is amalgamated by decade up until 2003, at which point statistics for individual years are available.

Keep in mind that names are tracked by newborns receiving them, not the number of people in the US who shared the name at the time. There are hordes of toddlers named Mia and Brayden toddling around right now, but if you don't have small children of your own or have friends who do, you're probably unaware that these are the Susies and Johnnys of today.

Onomastics is a fun topic (and an overwhelming one--name lists seem to stretch out to infinity!) that I've previously dabbled around in, though my knowledge of the subject even in the US is certainly not academic or comprehensive. So the names included in the proceeding table are arbitrarily selected (with the aid of personal experience and online name lists).

The following table shows (a non-exhaustive list of) names that have one of Ed's prefixes and that have also been among the 1,000 most popular in the US at some point in the last 130 years, along with a brief description of their histories. For names with identical pronunciations but varied spellings, the most common variant is used. Asterisks indicate exceptions to Ed's observation, which appears to be the rule. For clarity and consistency, eloquent variation is not attempted:

Name
History
Jacob
Old as naming records (it's biblical, after all!), resurging in the 60s, reaching an all-time high in the 90s as the 5th most popular boy's name of that decade
Jada
On the map in the 70s, exploded in the 80s, peaked in 2004
Jaden
Exploded in the 90s, peaked in 2007
Jamie
Present in the 1890s and extant since then, but exploded in the 60s and peaked in the 70s
Jamison
On the map in the 70s and up from there, with a lull in the 80s and 90s before exploding in the oughts, with its peak still in the future
Janae
Exploded onto the scene in the 70s, peaked in the 90s
Janelle
Traces back to the 20s, but exploded in the 60s and peaked in the 80s
Janessa^
On the map in the 80s, gaining steadily in popularity for two decades, finally peaking in 2009
Janine*
On the map in the 40s, topping out in the 60s, dead now for over a decade
Jaquan
Exploded onto the scene in the 90s, topped out in 2004
Jaron
Exploded onto the scene in the 80s, topped out in the 90s
Jasmine
On the map in the 70s, exploded in the 80s, topped out in the 90s
Jason
As old as the Argonaut leader, but uncommon until the 50s, before a tremendous explosion in the 70s (becoming the 3rd most common male name of that decade), dropped off since then, down to the 69th male spot today
Jayla
On the map in the 90s, exploding in the oughts and topping out in 2003
Lakeisha
Exploded onto the scene in the 70s, topped out in the 80s
Lamar
Old as naming records, reversed its decades-long decline in the 60s, peaked in the 80s
Larissa
Exploded onto the scene in the 60s, hit a high in the 80s, declined a bit in the 90s, peaked in 2003
Lashawn
On the map in the 60s, peaked in the 70s
Latisha
Exploded onto the scene in the 60s, peaked in the 80s
Laura
Around forever (ask Petrarch!), peaked in the 60s, having previously peaked in the 1880s
Lauren
Barely existent in the 40s, picked up steam in the 60s, peaked in the 80s, and has dropped back to 70s-level popularity today
Layla
On the map in the 70s (thanks Eric!), exploded in the 90s with its peak still in the future
Shanice
Exploded onto the scene in the 70s, peaked in the 80s
Shaniqua
Exploded onto the scene in the 80s, peaked in the 90s
Shanna
Exploded onto the scene in the 60s, peaked in the 70s
Shannon
On the map in the 40s, exploded in the 60s and peaked in the 70s
Shaquille
Exploded onto the scene in the 80s, peaked in the 90s (just like Shaq!)
Sharla*
On the map in the 40s, peaked in the 70s
Sharlene*
Exploded onto the scene in the 20s, peaked in the 50s
Shawn
On the map in the 50s, exploded to a peak in the 70s, dropped precipitously since then
Shayla
Exploded onto the scene in the 70s, finally peaking in then early oughts
Tyesha
In the top 1000 exclusively in the 90s, the 981st most popular girl's name of that decade
Tyler
Barely on the map in the 50s, gained some prominence in the 60s, exploded in the 80s to peak as the 9th most popular boy's name of the 90s
Tyrell
Exploded onto the scene in the 80s, peaked in the 90s
Tyrone
On the map as far back as the 30s, steadily increasing from there until peaking in the 70s
Tyson
Exploded onto the scene in the 70s, lulled a bit in the 80s before climbing again, with its peak still in the future

^ In my opinion the sexiest female name in existence

8 comments:

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

Thanks for doing this, AE.

I'm not the least surprised Janine, Sharla and Sharlene are exceptions to the multi-culti rule. Despite having the requisite first three letters, all three are old-fashioned names. And you never see them rendered JaNine, ShaRla and ShaRlene.

Another interesting exercise would be to find names that first appeared in the sixties, and to track the proliferation of completely new names diachronically. I strongly suspect that name-inventing is a practice that didn't become common until the 60s. What's more, I don't think it's confined to blacks anymore. Within the last 20 years I've noticed white children with names that seem to have been conjured ex nihilo, without, alas, the French or Arabic prefixes and the harking back to naming practices of the ancient Romans.

silly girl said...

The thing is names mean something. I chose family names but looked up what they meant because I am curious and wanted my kids to have names with appropriate meanings.

So even If I hypothetically had a Henry in the family that I wanted to name my son after, I would first look up what Henry means. If I didn't feel it would be appropriate, I would keep looking.

Inventing names seems crass and disrespectful to the dignity of the child. I don't understand it.

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

Invented names mean nothing, but for many parents I think they symbolize something.

In some cases, they are intended to highlight the alleged creativity of the parents. In others, they symbolize a break from "staid and fusty" tradition. In others still, they are intended to betoken cultural pride and the rejection of any broader, mainstream culture that may exist. (This, I think, is where multi-culti comes into play.) And doubtless, many of these invented names are bestowed simply because the parents think they sound cool.

Anonymous said...

Lanfear. Don't think I'm going to get a grand daughter with that name, Mierin, or Cyndane.

Kent Gatewood

Audacious Epigone said...

Ed,

I suspect you're correct, but the legwork behind that is daunting. I'm trying to think of a reasonable way to get at it, but I'm not sure of how to do so without scouring 1000+ names and each of their individual histories. Any suggestions?

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

AE,

Unfortunately, I'm nobody's statistician, and I'm more or less a quantitative imbecile. Unless there is a site or database that actually provides the first recorded appearance of individual names, I don't know how you'd go about tracking new names without engaging in dissertation-scope work.

FuturePundit said...

Janessa sexy? I fear you are serious. I think all the essa variations are unsexy.

The names that have sexy auras are mostly French or other European names not much used in the US. Then there are names from classical mythology that are seen as sexy.

FuturePundit said...

silly girl, Agreed about inventing names as disrespectful to children. It makes them fit in less. They need to be accepted in social situations and work situations. Common names indicate one is willing to get along with the rest of society.