The 2007 Name Of The Year

Dec 18th 2007

Thank you to the readers who submitted hundreds of thought-provoking suggestions for the 2007 Baby Name Wizard Name of the Year. (Read about the NOTY requirements here.) Before I unveil the ultimate selection, a quick note on a name that didn't make the cut. Despite many nominations, Miley was out of the running for 2007...because it was already named a runner up for the 2006 Name of the Year! And now, the honorees.


Second runner up: Delilah
In terms of sheer baby-name viability, Delilah is the year's big story. Back in January I featured it as an example of a name that was rising despite biblical infamy. After a year drenched in the Plain White T's song "Hey There Delilah," this name has officially crossed over from "out there" to just "there." The name Lilah-with-an-h is benefiting equally and should be one of the fastest risers of 2007.

First runner up: Chuck
For name geeks, this name is a fascinating study in the machinations of style. In 2007 all of Hollywood seemed to converge on Chuck as the anti-style name. Producers loved the way Chuck conveys the message that "this character isn't about image." The name tickled them so much, in fact, that they led with it in titles like the tv series "Chuck" and the movies I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and Good Luck Chuck.

It's not so much that Chuck is chosen to sound out of style, like Floyd or Wilfred. It sounds immune to style, a steady island of everyman in a river of sophisticates and metrosexuals. It's such a perfect choice than you can take the inverse of Chuck and find the fashion of the moment. Chuck's a nickname, therefore formality must be trendy. Chuck's all hard consonants, so smooth vowel-laden names are all the rage. But the Hollywood scriptwriters who play off of fashions also help create them. Already, their embrace of good old Chuck is taking the edge off the name. Like chunky plastic glasses a decade ago, Chuck is now ready to flip from fashion holdout to geek chic.


And the official 2007 Name of the Year:

Barack.

This is no political statement, just a statement on names in culture. Senator Barack Hussein Obama is leading American political names into uncharted territory. If he should win the Democratic presidential nomination, his name would be a landmark for a major-party nominee. Already it's starting to create the unprecedented spectacle of first name as campaign issue.


While the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, it's fair to call Barack a "foreign" name. Senator Obama is named for his father Barack Sr., a Kenyan who came to this country to study as a foreign student. The name has almost no usage history in the United States. In 215 years of American electoral history encompassing 105 major nominees, the overwhelming majority of candidates have had traditional English names. In fact, the names George, James, John and William alone account for more than a third of all nominees. Among rarer names, most are based on English surnames such as Rutherford and Winfield. Many of these are taken from the nominee's mother's maiden name, and many were actually given as middle names: Thomas Woodrow Wilson, James Strom Thurmond, Stephen Grover Cleveland.

A few candidate names have had more creative flair, like those of Horatio Seymour and the man who defeated him, Ulysses S. Grant (born Hiram Ulysses). Both names harken back to a 19th-century vogue for classical names which also yielded hits like Rufus and Augustus. They were uncommon but not foreign, and in step with American fashions. The most unconventional name on the list is probably Adlai Stevenson, but even Adlai is a biblical name. It had been used in Stevenson's family for generations, including by a grandfather who served as U.S. Vice President.

No notably foreign names. Nothing remotely like Barack. Because Barack isn't just "un-English," it's very much something else.

Barack Hussein Obama Sr., the senator's father, was by all accounts a non-religious man of Muslim background. The names Hussein and Obama dramatically echo two of the biggest U.S. enemies of recent years, both Muslims: Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. A few political commentators opposed to Senator Obama have already tried to use these facts to plant doubts about the candidate. In particular, they are trying to persuade faith-focused Christian voters that Senator Obama (a member of the United Church of Christ) is actually, secretly, a Muslim...and by extension, a little too close to the likes of Bin Laden. And it all starts with his name.

Many of the comments have focused on the middle name Hussein and the Obama/Osama similarity (see this December '06 column). More recently, the first name Barack has become a focus because it comes from the Arabic root Baraka, "blessing." (Side note: this corresponds to the Hebrew Beracha, "blessing," rather than the Hebrew Barak, "lightning.") One commentator seemed to question Obama's honesty regarding his name, asking "Why has he sometimes said his first name is Arabic, and other times Swahili?" To answer to this question from a pure baby-name perspective, it's much like arguing over whether the name Eduardo comes from Spanish or English. Its a name of Old English origin used in Spanish, so both "origins" are accurate. Swahili incorporates a great deal of Arabic, so Barack is from Swahili with an Arabic root.

As far as I know, it's completely unprecedented to ask a politician to defend the etymology of his first name, or of anything else for that matter. Since etymology isn't a political issue, it's reasonable to assume that the commentators are using it as a proxy for something bigger: that Barack Obama doesn't sound like a guy you should vote for.

On the flip side, Obama himself wears his name proudly as a symbol of his candidacy. It's an instant shorthand for the "freshness" of his multicultural, multiracial heritage...and it's extremely memorable. (Compare to, say, John Edwards. Or to Hillary Clinton, who has to go by her first name to stake out her own territory.)

Whether you take it as a proud point of strength or a weak point to attack, Barack marks a watershed for baby-name diversity in American politics. And with George, James, John and William on the wane, it's surely a harbinger of public name debates to come -- and of a wave of new little Baracks. That makes it your Name of the Year.

Comments

1
By Mary Beth (not verified)
December 18, 2007 2:45 PM

Hi Laura. I have linked to you in this post. My blog's about the Enneagram, so pretty unrelated, but it just worked out that today's posts were tangentially related. I have long been an admirer of your work. Here's the post -- if you don't follow the Enneagram, which most people of course don't, it might not make much sense, but for what it's worth: http://enneagramagency.blogspot.com/2007/12/obamas-character.html

2
By Jan (not verified)
December 18, 2007 2:49 PM

Yay, I (like many others) picked it! A vote for Barack Obama as president would be a vote for change in more ways than one!

3
By Dolley Madison (not verified)
December 18, 2007 2:53 PM

Here's a related presidential trivia question: who is the only president (so far) to have grown up speaking a language other than English? (His surname is a clue, but his first name doesn't stand out too much.)

4
By geek (not verified)
December 18, 2007 2:59 PM

In answer to Dolly Madison that would be Van Buren.

Barack isn't a name I would choose as name of the year. I really doubt in spite of the presidential nominee that many people are going to give their children Muslim names, what with the war and everything else.

5
By Judy M. (not verified)
December 18, 2007 3:12 PM

Many US Black parents (including non-Muslims) are already giving their children Muslim or Arabic-derived names, and have been doing so for a few decades. But in any case, I don't think the choice of Barack necessarily means that Laura thinks this name will become popular, but rather that she thinks it has inspired a lot of name-focused discourse.

6
By Lisa (not verified)
December 18, 2007 3:17 PM

People don't have to name their kids Barack for it to be Name of the Year--the name just has to change the way they look at it, or in this case, how they look at names at all. All these questions about Barack Obama's name has brought names into the same realm as religion, veiws on abortion, views on social security, and even "boxers vs. briefs." It puts me in mind of a novel I once read where the main character's name was Trust Andrew Williams. Said character commented that he "had a name like a political slogan."When elections become all about name recognition, where that name came from is going to come up.

7
By ss (not verified)
December 18, 2007 3:25 PM

I think it's a good choice for noty because whether he wins the nomination or not we will remember his bid for it - largely because of the name. Can't you just see Trivial Pursuit Future Editions asking us to recall the name of Barack Obama even if he fell into political obscurity?

8
By Dolley Madison (not verified)
December 18, 2007 3:33 PM

Agree with Lisa and Judy M.--the NOTY can be a name that's widely discussed, even if it never becomes a popular baby name.

And also agree with Lisa that there are plenty of kids in American schools right now named Aliyah, Aisha, Farah, Jamal, Kareem... Arabic-derived names aren't that unusual, even among non-Muslims. I was a teacher in the South fifteen years ago, and had students with all those names. (And don't forget all the great Persian names, too--Kira, Cyrus, Casper, Roxana, Soraya, Yasmin...)

It's interesting that some stories point out that Barack Obama toyed with using the name "Barry" as a young man... but found more distinction and gravity in his full name. He really doesn't strike me as a Barry!

9
By eustace (not really) (not verified)
December 18, 2007 3:51 PM

I already see it working. In my son's toddler music class, there's a little Barack. He and his parents are Asian-American. Their standard explanation of the name is "yes, like Obama." I don't know if Obama was related to their choice, but it certainly helps them navigate the name in the world. Only they emphasize the first syllable, not the second.

10
By Cleveland Kent Evans (not verified)
December 18, 2007 4:42 PM

Interesting. I think the full "Barack Hussein Obama" has a good chance of being the American Name Society Name of the Year when we vote on it the first week in January. But we will see. :)

11
By Kate (not verified)
December 18, 2007 5:15 PM

I have to admit, I was not too keen on Barack being Name of the Year until I read your articulate, well-reasoned post, Laura. I'm completely on board with this choice! And while Name of the Year does not necessarily have anything to do with whether or not the name will rise into baby-naming fashion, I do think that plenty of Americans would use this name, and a Barack would fit right in with children on the playground where I'm from -- in fact, Barack would have fit in fine in my elementary school 20 years ago! (I grew up in a heavily immigrant-populated area, with many children of Muslim background). The only hesitation I would have in using the name would be the obvious political nature of the name. If it does become a more common-place name, perhaps that association will fade, but to name a child Barack in 2007 would be to make a big political statement, in my opinion, which might be one factor that would deter some parents from using it. Anyway, great pick for Name of the Year!

12
By kristi (not verified)
December 18, 2007 5:29 PM

Congratulations, Barack! Good choice.

Perhaps the little Reagans and Carters of today's playgrounds will soon be replaced by little Barack, Giuli, Huck and Clint.

13
By Easternbetty (not verified)
December 18, 2007 6:02 PM

Wow, Laura, I will tell all my family back home that Barack is the Name of the Year! My parents who called me "Betty" in expectation that Westerners would respond negatively to an Arabic-derivative name will be surprised (and probably a bit dismissive--in their minds, Western names, even if four or five decades noticeably removed from what's au courant, are the right way for immigrants to trend.)

I dislike how Barack Obama (and presumably the "Asian-American" couple mentioned by Eustace) spells the name. There's not really a need for the "c" in terms of the sound of the name in Arabic and Swahili, so I guess it smacks to me of the dreaded kre8tyve syndrome. I prefer Barak.

14
By Easternbetty (not verified)
December 18, 2007 6:08 PM

Eustace: is the Asian-American couple from South or Central Asia or a Muslim-majority region/province of a country?

Also, BAR-ak (actually, more accurately, BUH-ruhk, w/ the first and second syllables closer to "butter," emphasis on the former) is the way native Arabic speakers pronounce it. It tends more towards an "a" in some Swahili dialects.

15
By AJ (not verified)
December 18, 2007 7:29 PM

Perfect choice. A name goes from unknown in N. America to one with a distinct meaning. That's NotY to me, just as Shiloh deserved it for going from Civil War site to celebrity status.
Glad Delilah and Chuck got honorable mentions.

Thanks to the people who already explained that a) Muslim/Arabic names are already quite common in some parts of the US and b) NotY is not a prediction for a future chart topper.

16
By Dolley Madison (not verified)
December 18, 2007 8:11 PM

Hey, Easternbetty, just curious, do you have another name, more tied to your family culture, officially or unofficially? You don't have to share it, but I have some bicultural nieces and nephs, and they have Chinese names (first/last) that they use with their Chinese grandparents and when they're living in the East, and a different set of Western names (first/last) for use in the US and UK (they've lived in London) and with their American relations. (Officially, their passports give both names: Westernfirst Chineselast Chinesefirst Westernlast.)

I'm a little jealous; it's like they each have a double identity!

17
By Keren (not verified)
December 18, 2007 8:23 PM

Very interesting post Laura, I learned a lot.

18
By Kelly (not verified)
December 18, 2007 8:38 PM

Great choices! I do think Barack is a name that will make us think of 2007/2008, whether or not he eventually gets the Democratic nomination. And I really liked Laura's explanation of how the name transforms the political landscape.

I have a little girl named Reagan in my class this year (yes, named after Ronald) and I've known/taught several kids named Carter. If I'm still teaching in a decade or so, it will be interesting to see if there are any Baracks on the roster.

19
By Easternbetty (not verified)
December 18, 2007 9:32 PM

DolleyMadison: Nope, no home-culture first name, neither official nor unofficial. My siblings (all born beginning in the late 70s through the 80s) all have similar 1950s-era English names, and I have cousins with vaguely Franco names like Jeannette, GiGi, and Mariette.

However, my surname IS officially (passport, etc) different in my parents' country, simply owing to the fact that we have no fixed surnames in our society; we use the first-name patronymic. SO, say my father was named Robert, his father was named Jeremy, and Jeremy's dad was named Colin--my official name would be/is Betty Robert Jeremy Colin. People refer to each other by all the names, and women do not gain their husband's names--they are forever considered part of their father's clan, family, etc.

The U.S. officials required a set last name, so my father chose "Robert Jeremy" (grandfather's given name as
"surname") and I am called Betty Jeremy by default.

20
By RobynT (not verified)
December 18, 2007 10:00 PM

Dolley Madison: Are your nieces' and nephews' mother Asian? I assume they are since you say the Western last name comes last--and also cuz that is more common. So the Asian last name is sort of like a middle name right--in the west? Sounds similar to a lot of kids who have their mother's maiden name as a middle name. I'm curious about their citizenship, where they spend the most time... I guess their mother is a Chinese citizen rather than Chinese American?

I think it is common too for Asian Americans to have Chinese (or Japanese, Korean, etc.) middle names. Most of my friends do, but since their parents and grandparents are American, I think they were mostly always called by their "American" names. The middle name was just... to show heritage I guess. Maybe in some cases to please the grandparents. And when I went to Japanese language school, a lot of kids went by their (Japanese) middle names.

21
By RobynT (not verified)
December 18, 2007 10:02 PM

Easternbetty: That is really interesting about having the names of your father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Now I understand why some of my students would have so many names!! And I guess it was maybe important to them to use all of them. also explains why many Muslim names work as both given or family names. Like I've known one person with the last name Khaled and two with that name as their given name.

22
By Dolley Madison (not verified)
December 18, 2007 10:12 PM

Their mother is Taiwanese by birth, but has US citizenship through marriage. The kids have lived in Tokyo (twice), London, Beijing, Taipei, and Hong Kong--but they're US citizens because when they were born, both parents were US citizens. They were all born overseas, and have always lived outside the US, but they visit here often.

So, yes, in the West, their Chinese name (last and first) functions like a double middle name. In Chinese-speaking places (where they've lived most of their lives), they use just the Chinese name, whenever it's easier to do that. And those are the names their relatives in Taiwan call them.

Cool thing: sister-in-law got all the boys in the family name "chops" (the little stone stamp used as a signature)--so now my son has a Chinese name, or at least a workable transliteration of his name, selected by his auntie. (So it's a real name, and it wouldn't be like calling himself Stinky Boxtop or something.)

23
By Valerie (not verified)
December 18, 2007 10:26 PM

At last a name that speaks to me... Can I call my next child Stinky Boxtop, PLEASE, Dolley??? I think that would truly be considered unique.

24
By Easternbetty (not verified)
December 18, 2007 11:12 PM

You're right, RobynT: a minimum of three generations of names is required to identify someone properly. (Although most people know at least seven generations back). The happy result is that you can usually pinpoint pretty well "who" a person is (a person's identity = their lineage of paternal ancestors). It's easier to gossip, identify potential marriage partners, etc. when a person's name sums up his/her recent family history: e.g. "Betty Robert Jeremy Colin was wearing a mini-skirt at so-and-so's funeral. Say, don't you remember hearing back in the day that Jeremy Colin Jeff skipped his own auntie's funeral?" etc.

Some countries have banned using more than three names officially, though, I think because it creates too much paperwork/beauraucratic trouble.

25
By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
December 18, 2007 11:20 PM

I am thrilled to have pegged Barack as name of the year! Great choice and well-written post, Laura. You always give me lots to think about. Regardless of what happens next spring with the primaries, the first (and last) names of the candidates are more interesting this time than they've ever been.

Dolley Madison, Easternbetty, and Robyn T., thanks for the education on naming in Asian and Asian-American cultures! I love how much I learn about history, geography, sociology, etc. from reading this site.

26
By Easternbetty (not verified)
December 18, 2007 11:31 PM

Oh, and I don't know where your students are from, but not all countries use the straight patronymic. Some Levantine countries have had fixed surnames for quite some time, I think owing to French and other Western influences. But some countries still use the Arab patronymic system inherited from either their Bedu-tribal ancestors (countries in the Arabian peninsula) or the 7th century Arab invaders ( some African countries).

In general, boys seem to get slightly more traditional names than girls. My guess is this is because of the expectation that their first names will one day become surnames, whereas girls are often named for whim, fancy, or aesthetics alone--hence, the families with daughters GiGi, Ruby, and Ghazal (gazelle), and sons Mohammad or Ahmed (trad. Muslim religious names) or George or Morq'os (trad. Christian saint names)or Deng or Mabior (indigenous tribal names).

But then, I'd say parents in many cultures name girls more creatively in greater numbers than they do their sons.

27
By Dolley Madison (not verified)
December 18, 2007 11:38 PM

Oh, Valerie, Stinky Boxtop is ALL YOURS. Easy to spell, guaranteed to be the only Boxtop at school, it's got that cool X in there, so snap it up now... before it's NOTY in 2012.

28
By Jessica (not verified)
December 18, 2007 11:42 PM

Laura, excellent post. Can you post a link to the finished media article aboutthe "naming anguish" you meantioned earlier today?

29
By RobynT (not verified)
December 19, 2007 12:23 AM

Easternbetty: The one that comes to mind is from Kuwait. I kept trying to shorten his name to what I saw as first and last, like I do for other students. You know, like the middle name(s) are usually on the official roster, but most kids don't use them... blah blah blah...

30
By Claire (not verified)
December 19, 2007 2:49 AM

I went to school with Obama when he was still "Barry". I didn't make the connection to the speaker at the Democratic National Convention until ("OMG! That was *Barry*!") days after his speech, when I read a bio of him.

I think the Obama-who-was-Barry probably was not that comfortable with his origins - going back to his birth name was an affirmation of himself and his heritage as he grew older.

31
By Eo (not verified)
December 19, 2007 12:33 PM

Speaking of Asian names, I've a question for RobynT,
Easternbetty, Tirzah, or anyone with familiarity with Japanese naming practices. I think I read somewhere that Yoko Ono had a daughter by a previous marriage named "Kyoko Cox". It was very interesting that the daughter's name incorporated the mother's "yoko" within hers.

Is that just a coincidence, or would it be deliberate? I loved it. Reminded me of other twinned names in which one incorporates the other-- "Gog and Magog" etc.

Anyone know what "Yoko" and "Kyoko" mean?

32
By njjm (not verified)
December 19, 2007 1:04 PM

Kyoko isn't actually derived from Yoko. Although she may have chosen it for the sound similarity, it's just a pretty common Japanese name. The ending "ko" means "child" and is an extremely popular name ending for girls. I don't know for sure what kanji they use, but Yoko is probably "sun child" and I think I heard the "kyo" in Kyoko has the kanji for "city."

33
By Cathie (not verified)
December 19, 2007 1:57 PM

Thanks for the education on Arabic names from some regions. That's why they have changed the US rules to say that you have to use every single one of your names on official documents and that your airline ticket must match your passport. I remember in the news they said that they were having trouble identifying Arab individuals who would use variations of their given names. Makes perfect sense to me now! Although the new rule is a pain for me, since I have two middle names.

34
By Lisa (not verified)
December 19, 2007 3:05 PM

You know, it's funny. I was just thinking yesterday about the sudden influx of Chucks (haha) in mid-Noughties ironic hipster culture. What shoes are cool to wear again? Chuck Taylors. What show are we watching just before "Heroes" comes on? "Chuck." And whose tears cure cancer (too bad he's never cried)? Chuck Norris. Chuck, Chuck, Chuck all over the place. I wonder if it's an extension of the ironically-white-trash fad that had everybody wearing trucker hats? After all, Chuck is a pretty blue collar-sounding name.

35
By ss (not verified)
December 19, 2007 4:38 PM

Is it that kids no longer sing the name song? Or is that part of Chuck's appeal? I like the juxtaposition of Barack and Chuck. Chuck is certainly a quintessentially American name, isn't it?

36
By nina (not verified)
December 19, 2007 4:58 PM

I knew a Chuck once. He was called "Upchuck" by many. Unfortunate.

37
By Angela (not verified)
December 19, 2007 5:22 PM

It is also worth noting that the female lead character on Pushing Daisies is named Chuck (short for Charlotte).

38
By Hannah (not verified)
December 19, 2007 5:35 PM

A friend remarked that Charles Schwab's "Talk to Chuck" ad campaign is another manifestation of the trend.

39
By Heather A. (not verified)
December 19, 2007 7:16 PM

I think a Japanese friend of mine told me once that Yoko means "ocean girl" or "ocean child". I know a little girl named Tatsuko (sp?), which I don't believe is a traditional Japanese name at all, except for the -ko ending. I think that she was so active, kicking a lot, etc..., while her mom was pregnant that she earned a name which translates as "dragon child". It actually suits her forceful and determined personality perfectly. And I think it sounds really pretty, too.

40
By Celia (not verified)
December 19, 2007 7:27 PM

I dont know if it is the same in the US, but in Australia "to chuck" is slang meaning to vomit. You can use it as in "he just had a chuck", "he just chucked" or "he just chucked up".
We dont really use Chuck as a name here...

41
By Cecelia (not verified)
December 19, 2007 7:30 PM

I dont know if it is the same in the US (I hope not), but in Australia to "chuck" is slang meaning to vomit. You can use it "he just had a chuck", "he just chucked" or "he just chucked up". Upchuck as above is probably less used, but still means essentially the same thing. We dont really use the name Chuck here....

42
By Beth G. (not verified)
December 19, 2007 8:07 PM

One of my kids went to school with a Chucky. At first, all I could think about were images of a psychopathic red-headed doll that comes to life. However, after getting to know him, and learning that he is a fourth generation "Chuck", I found myself thinking of a freckle faced, frog in the pocket of his overall kind of kid. Needless to say, I discovered the latter is Chucky to a tee.

43
By Beth G. (not verified)
December 19, 2007 8:09 PM

...and yes, "to chuck" means the same in the US.

44
By Anna (not verified)
December 19, 2007 9:38 PM

Eo - I think what Heather A. wrote is correct; as in one song John Lennon addresses Yoko Ono as "ocean child" ("Julia", The White Album, 1968).

45
By Harriet, who wishes she had more time to post and read (not verified)
December 19, 2007 9:45 PM

Could Brock rise soon under the widespread-ness of Barack and Chuck?

46
By Lee (not verified)
December 19, 2007 9:47 PM

I guess the Chucky Cheese franchise was NOT a hit in Australia...

47
By Rebekah (not verified)
December 19, 2007 10:19 PM

Lee-that is funny. :) lol

48
By Cecelia (not verified)
December 19, 2007 11:58 PM

No we dont have chucky cheese... somehow I dont think it would sell!

49
By Tirzah (not verified)
December 20, 2007 2:42 AM

Eastern Betty - I'm sorry if you already said this, but what Asian countries use the first-name patronymic? I know that the Chinese and Japanese do not. I'm pretty sure that the Koreans and Vietnamese do not either. I look forward to hearing your answer.

50
By RobynT (not verified)
December 20, 2007 3:49 AM

I think Easternbetty is talking more about the Middle East. She talks about her parents not wanting to give her an Arabic-derived name and talks about other Arab names...