Date stamps

Oct 28th 2005

The 1982 movie Blade Runner featured a dark view of the future, with an urban landscape overwhelmed by advertising. The hallmark of the year 2019 was to be vast, omniprescent plugs for the likes of Pan Am airlines and the Bell telephone system. As it turned out, of course, neither company survived the 20th century.

Of all the cultural attitudes that define an era, one of the quickest to fall out of date is its vision of the future. Commonplace things we take for granted can disappear, while fantastical ideas become commonplace. (Right now I'm sitting in a cafe, typing on the powerful little computer I carry in my shoulder bag, beaming this message through the air so that it can be published instantly to the computers of people around the world as I sip my coffee. Not as cool as replicants, maybe, but pretty close.)

Selecting a new, contemporary-sounding name is stating your vision of the fashion future. It's a risky business, staying ahead of the curve. What sounds most new today can end up sounding most old in a few generations time. Take the young boys named Google and ESPN...will they sound like Pan Am a decade from now?

Rapid obsolesence most often hits names that pop up overnight in response to a cultural moment. Consider Farrah:

Farrah was a pure creation of the 1976-77 television season, when Farrah Fawcett made a splash on "Charlie's Angels." As soon as she left the show, the name plummeted. A modest rebound hit in the late '80s following Fawcett's comeback in more "serious" fare like Extremities...and the coming of age of all the young girls who idolized her a decade before. Yet overall, the impression this name gives is of a date stamp reading "Best if Born Before 1/1/78."

An example from another era, Hoover:

Hoover vacuum cleaners were already a household name when Herbert Hoover ran for president in 1928, but that didn't stop American parents from bestowing the name on their newborn sons. (Herbert had nothing to do with vacuums himself, that company was the work of one W.H. Hoover.)

The cultural associations of names like Hoover and Farrah help freeze them in time. While Farrah is a snapshot image of feathered hair and polyester, Hoover brings up a more poignant picture of the start of the Great Depression. That image is reiforced by another icon of the era, Herbert's namesake Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. The dam was built between 1931 and 1935. By 1933 Roosevelt was in office and tried to erase Hoover's name from the project, just as political change erased the name from America's nurseries.

There's something quite touching about these date-stamped names. They're living memorials to the time when a baby entered the world. In fact, many parents surely intend them as such -- the Neils born after Neil Armstrong's moon walk, the Dougs and McArthurs of the World War II years. So a date stamp isn't necessarily a cause for alarm...just don't expect to be able to lie about your age.

Comments

1
By Claire (not verified)
October 28, 2005 10:53 PM

When we named our daughter Emma, it was still a name for grandmas, and not for the youngest set. Now that it's been in the top 10 baby girls' names for a while, I joke with my daughter that when she's middle-aged, everyone will think she's at least 10 or 15 years younger, just based on her name.

2
By Anonymous (not verified)
October 29, 2005 10:20 PM

On Halloween I will be attending the first birthday party of a girl named Farrah. I think her parents chose it because it sounded pretty and was obscure. They didn't think any of her peers would remember Farrah Fawcette.

3
By Anonymous (not verified)
October 29, 2005 11:19 PM

i feel sorry for those kids - and those that share names with TV characters coincidentially

4
By Jennie (not verified)
October 30, 2005 11:24 PM

When I named my daughter India ten years ago my grandmother HATED it. She said, "why did you pick that old lady name?" She lived down South where that name was popular in the mid-1800's. The only India's she knew were much older than she was. To her that name was so old-fashioned. That just cracked me up since I thought of India as such a fresh, exotic choice. I guess name trends are all a matter of perspective.

5
By Abby (not verified)
October 31, 2005 2:01 AM

My name is Abby, and I'm almost 30. I never went to school with another one.But I have a feeling my children will one day go to school with Abby S., Abby L. and Abby W.I work as a newspaper copy editor so I edit obits everyday. Some of the names astound me - but you can always guess a person's age when they're named after a president - before you see it.I had no idea so many Woodrow Wilson's existed - especially in one town this size!

6
By Leslie (not verified)
November 1, 2005 6:24 AM

As a child of the 80s, the one timestamp name that sticks out in my mind is Tiffany. I don't think I've ever met a Tiffany that was older than 30 or younger than 25.

7
By Anonymous (not verified)
November 1, 2005 9:33 PM

Some names I think will be seen as timestamp names:Chelsea- I hear this name a lot in the elementary school, and hardly ever see it on new babies. It will be associated with the 90's and the Clinton administration.Brittany- This name was so popular a few years back, before Britney Spears became well-known, now it has fallen from the top 50.About the name Farrah, I met a 6-year-old girl with this name. It sounds new and fresh again to me, since I barely remember Farrah Fawcett!

8
By Anonymous (not verified)
November 4, 2005 9:12 PM

I've noticed that only certain presidents tend to get lots of babies named after them, and it seems to have more to do with the sound of the president's name than the president's populatity. FDR was way more liked than Herbert Hoover ever was but I've never heard of a baby named Roosevelet (I have heard of a few Franklin Delanos but not much). And Kennedy is a very popular name right now among parents who had not even been born yet when Kennedy was assassinated. I'm kind of surprised there aren't more Lincolns around -- it has a nice sound and Lincoln is almost universally admired. Shrug.

9
By Anonymous (not verified)
January 11, 2006 8:36 AM

I just wanted to point out that the name Farrah is not an invention, but an actual name. It is a Persian name meaning "happy". Just wanted to clear that up.

10
By Christina (not verified)
February 28, 2006 7:25 PM

I agree the anonymous poster above that the names Brittany and Chelsea are definitely 90's date stamps. Just hearing one of them hearkens me back to the day when I was watching "Full House," sipping on a Squeeze-It, and listening to my sister talk about what beautiful names her friends Tori and Chelsea had.

11
By Blair (not verified)
July 31, 2006 2:20 PM

I'm named Blair (I'm 13). I wasn't actually named after the character, but lately people have been connecting the name with Lisa Whelchel's character on the Facts of Life.

12
By Alexandra (not verified)
November 11, 2006 12:55 AM

Someday,I will name my first baby girl Chelsea. It's a beautiful name,and I've never heard of a person with it here in Toronto. Only a My Scene doll, does that count? Anyway,it's a beautiful name,and if I change my mind about it or my husband and I don't agree,it will still be a middle name. Though I'm hoping Chelsea will be my firstborn daughter's first name.

13
By Alexandra (not verified)
November 11, 2006 12:55 AM

Someday,I will name my first baby girl Chelsea. It's a beautiful name,and I've never heard of a person with it here in Toronto. Only a My Scene doll, does that count? Anyway,it's a beautiful name,and if I change my mind about it or my husband and I don't agree,it will still be a middle name. Though I'm hoping Chelsea will be my firstborn daughter's first name.

14
By Lesley (not verified)
May 26, 2007 4:30 PM

I was born in 1982 and think my name is not very common for the time period. People have often made the mistake of calling me "Lindsey", I'm told b/c it was much more popular at the time I was born. Anyway, ask me about an Ashley, good chance she was born around 1985.
My favorite names are John or Jackson Edward(for a boy)
and Grace or Gracelyn (for a girl).

15
By Lesley (not verified)
May 26, 2007 4:30 PM

I was born in 1982 and think my name is not very common for the time period. People have often made the mistake of calling me "Lindsey", I'm told b/c it was much more popular at the time I was born. Anyway, ask me about an Ashley, good chance she was born around 1985.
My favorite names are John or Jackson Edward(for a boy)
and Grace or Gracelyn (for a girl).

16
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