Occupations and Aspirations
What job titles convey power, status, and stature? How about this list:
Judge, Bishop, General, King, Boss.
Every one of those top dogs was a top-1000 name for American boys back in the late 1800s. Could there be any clearer statement of a country's dreams? In short, ambition was in.
It was the Gilded Age, when great fortunes were born. New parents of the time had grown up with Horatio Alger books...or, just as likely, had grown up across the ocean and come to America in search of opportunity. Why not pass on those big dreams to your kids in the most direct possible way? Thousands of boys were named with titles of leadership. Military officers, nobility, exalted professions -- any name that suggested that this boy can be something BIG. Take a look at the popularity history of military-rank names:
That's Admiral, General, Marshal, Commodore, Colonel, Major. Not Ensign or Corporal.
Perhaps you prefer the civil professions? In the contemporary comic strip Jump Start, there's a running gag about a boy who was named Doctor by a mom who dreamed big. It wasn't always a joke:
The nobility and aristocracy, meanwhile, were represented by King, Prince, Duke, Earl, and Squire -- Earl reaching its all-time peak at #21 in the 1890s.
There's a new wave of exalted names today. Heaven, Angel, Diamond and Destiny are all hits. Most of today's lofty names, though, envision the child reaching spiritual rather than professional heights. (Perhaps a sign of a shift away from material values, or perhaps just a loftier level of hubris.) It's al sonotable that the contemporary hits are girls' names. While we're naming more girls Princess and Miracle, "meaning" names for boys have taken a very different turn, which I'll talk about next time.