What, no Bertha?

According to the Brisbane Times, the top ten girls’ names of 2007 are:

1: Ella (419 born)
2: Charlotte (340)
3: Mia (321)
4: Emily (312)
5: Isabella (307)
6: Chloe (301)
7: Sophie (254)
8: Ava (253)
9: Lily (239)
10: Olivia (232)

We almost called our daughter Ella, but I’m glad that we didn’t in light of this list. There was a girl with the same first name and surname as me at one of my schools, and it caused no end of confusion.

Here are the boy’s names:

1: Jack (503 born)
2: Lachlan (418)
3: Riley (380)
4: Cooper (372)
5: William (358)
6: Joshua (343)
7: Thomas (325)
8: Samuel (278)
9: Ethan (273)
10: Ryan (268)

I know a few boys with those names too. 

When I first fell pregnant, for some reason, my husband decided it was a boy, and he wanted to call it “Liam” in honour of a Valentine’s Day prank which he played on me. He sent me spoof e-mails from a secret admirer called Liam, causing me to get rather freaked out and ring him at work, whereupon he had to confess.  But we then found out our baby was a girl and called her “Bertha” until she was born. Thank goodness that didn’t stick (apologies to any Berthas or persons related to Berthas out there). 

At my English school, there was a definite class divide in names. This meant that there was a rather boring pool of names to choose from. There were no less than 6 girls (out of 60 in our year) with variations on “Clare/Claire”. Some names which are regarded as normal in Australia were regarded as “townie” names at my school. My sister and I were lucky not to stand out in that regard.

Has anyone read Freakonomics on the science of names? It’s an interesting read. Some names stay popular, others become passe. It confirms my thoughts on the trends of names of upper middle class English school girls. Some of it seems to be class oriented – parents give their children “aspirational” names – but then for the more educated or more upper class, those names become “tainted”. And I guess some names become dated. I had a great aunt Gladys, but I don’t know of any baby Gladyses. Who knows why some names do date and some don’t?

Sometimes I think English naming traditions are a bit boring. Apparently in Communist Russia, new revolutionary names were invented, so a child might be called Dazdrapertrak (meaning “Long Live the First Tractor“) or Barikada (meaning “Barricades”). I’m sure my Russian friend told me of a girl called “Nuclear power” or something like that. I’ll have to get the story off her. In Mongolia, if parents lose their first child, they give the second child a terrible name to scare off the spirits: eg, Muunokhoi (meaning “Vicious Dog”). Nonetheless, I don’t think I’ll be borrowing any of those names any time soon for any future children…

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12 Comments

Filed under children, crazy stuff, parenthood, society

12 responses to “What, no Bertha?

  1. I found that Freakonomics chapter fascinating. Here’s an example for you that bears the class differential aspect out. A friend of mine has a daughter Zoe – around 15th in the NSW list, but in her circle (childcare, friends etc) it feels like it’s about number 2.

    I”ve always been fascinated by name popularity and how it changes, as my name is Jennifer, which is (anecdotally) the most popular name in Australia my year of birth and (certainly) the most popular name in the US in the whole of the 70s.

    It’s interesting that some names (more often girls) date you clearly down to within a narrow range of years, whereas others stay moderately popular for many years.

  2. Aimee

    I also loved that part of Freakonomics and have, somewhat geekily, bookmarked the page where you can search the Victorian births register by top 100 (it used to be via Dept of Justice, but I think the site has been split off somehow) just to ensure any potential progeny do not have a name too high on the list. At school I was one of four Amys (although they were all spelt differently), but I felt sorrier for the 8 Katherines (of various spellings).

    Regarding the Russian names, I think it’s always been a popular trend during revolutionary times when the old has become politically outre because the Puritans during the Cromwell’s Commonwealth also had a habit of giving or assuming some extremely odd and detailled names. Just started reading a biography of John Cooke (the barrister who prosecuted Charles I) and apparently his daughter was called Freelove. Guess it used to mean something different…

  3. What does it say about us that our 2 daughters have names from that top 10 list?? We always tried to chose something not TOO popular but also not too radical as to cause the kids problems when they’re older. Looks like we erred on the side of popular without realising it. My name is one of those that can be used for males and females and its always annoyed me when people assume I am a man by my name, so I was always going to choose something obviously female (or male if we’d had boys).
    In Mexico the tradition with boys is to name the first son after the father, which I always thought would be very confusing, but its so normal for them, its no problem. I guess its another way of carrying on the family name – we know a family where there are generations of males with the same name. One lady I know “broke the rule”, though because she didn’t want to name her son the same as her husband, since his name is Fidel. Bad connotations I guess (depending on your p.o.v.)! Another v. common boys name here is Jesus – a little boy born at 12.05am on Christmas Day here was given that name.

  4. My given name is also a moderately popular one, and has remained so.

    I have a lot of friends called Jennifer (born in the 1970s), and it was somewhat problematic for mobile phone programming, as I discovered I had 3 “Jen mobiles”.

    I also read that biography of John Cooke, and was fascinated to see that his daughter was called Freelove. You’re right – it’s the 17th C equivalent of a revolutionary name. It’s a very good read.

    I guess the modern equivalent of revolutionary names are hippy names like “Leaf” and “Rainbow”. Think of River Phoenix. Actually, lots of celebrities choose unusual names for their children, like Moonunit Zappa, Zowie Bowie, Apple Paltrow or Lourdes Ciccone.

  5. I’ve always wondered why Jesus wasn’t more popular as a given name in English speaking countries…after all, Mary or Marie used to be very popular…I know a few Catholic girls (daughter No. 1) who have that name. And the angels get a bit of a showing too: Michael and Gabriel…but why not Uriel? I like biblical names…mostly…let’s ignore ones like Hepzibah.

  6. I’m happy to observe that “Bear” isn’t in the top ten- I’d hate to think we’d gone populist on her!

  7. I’d say in western countries calling your kid “Jesus” borders on blasphemy in many people’s eyes – sort like, “there was only one Jesus” (if you’re Christian, which I’m not). Maybe a reflection of Anglicanism/Protestantism versus the more prevalent Catholicism in non-English speaking countries?

    Do you think people realise that “Jack” is traditionally a nickname for someone whose name is John?

    On the ‘aspirational naming’ thing, how do you explain the myriad bogan names which seem to flow forth? (I haven’t read Freakonomics although I really should get around to it). The lists about are impressively bogan-free, but there are a lot of Kaylas and Shauwnes and Tais and Lafawndahs out there, presumably those names are not an attempt to aspire to anything. To me they sound like attempts to uniquely ‘brand’ the child like a new softdrink.

  8. Yeah, the terrible names are the non-aspirational ones – the parents don’t aspire to anything, except to invent an interesting name, I suspect. You should read the Freakonomics chapter. It provides explanations for names like Tawnee and Tai.

    It also features a case study where a father called his last two sons “Winner” and “Loser” (seriously). Winner was a crack cocaine addict who was in and out of jail all the time. Loser (known to his friends as Lou) was a policeman with awards for bravery. Just proves that a name isn’t everything. Or maybe it proves people are contrasuggestible?

    George Foreman apparently called his five sons “George”. Wouldn’t that be confusing? I can just hear the mother shouting in the supermarket: “George #4, don’t touch that glass over there, come here now! George #2, don’t you smirk at me!” Presuming that they all had the same mother…which is not necessarily the case…

  9. The boys’ names are very biblical and the girls’ seem to have resurrected the 19th century.

    I sometimes think names are like tattoos: you can tell when someone acquired it from its type. Think Chinese characters, Celtic knots, snakes and crucifixes. Then think of Kylie, Wayne et al.

    Perhaps the Chinese have it right. Son #1, #2, etc. Simple, effective, and easy to remember.

  10. Our three sons have names that are neither too common nor too rare and rendered with standard spelling. Non-standard spelling of common names just means your kids will always have some explaining to do. They also fit our ethnic-cultural profile in a way that something like say, Spiros Kelly would not. The boys have nothing to blame us for later on!

  11. John Flood said : Perhaps the Chinese have it right. Son #1, #2, etc
    The Romans started at #5 (Quintus, Sextus, ….)

    Of course, you also knew that anyone named “Postumus” was the last child by that father!

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