The 2008 Name Of The Year

Dec 7th 2008

As the year draws to a close we survey the naming landscape and assess what has changed, and what it means -- about names, and about our culture.  One message came through loud and clear in this year's reader nominations: 2008 was all about politics.  The presidential election dominated the nomination lineup, as it dominated headlines and emotions all year long.  (The name Barack would have been a no-brainer choice for Name of the Year, had it not been the 2007 selection.)  But there were still many naming stories, as you'll see in our honorees...

Second runner up: Cullen
Our token non-political name makes the grade with a double-hit on two of the year's biggest cultural events.  At the Beijing Olympics swimmer Cullen Jones was part of the record-setting U.S. 4x100 Freestyle Relay relay team, and made headlines as one of the first African-American swimming stars.  In movie theaters, Edward Cullen was an undead heartthrob.  As the teen-vampire sensation Twilight moved from book to screen, countless more adolescent girls added the name Cullen to their future-baby list.  In January, Cullen was barely on the radar as a baby name; from now on it's a player.

First runner up: Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig
When Sarah Palin became the Republican vice presidential nominee, her children's names became a sensation.  Much of the country was fascinated, puzzled, even horrified.  Yet in places like Alaska and Utah those names aren't so weird at all, and places like Alaska and Utah are often leading indicators of name trends to come.  The Palin kids performed a cultural service, making broad swaths of Americans take their first look at the naming revolution that is sweeping our country.  If you still think of Jill and Tracy as popular names, it's time for a wake up call.  Neither name ranks in the top 1000 for girls, while Essence, Karma, Shyann, Chasity and Armani all do.

And yet, the official 2008 Name of the Year is:

Joe.

That's Average Joe, Joe Blow, a good Joe, say it ain't so Joe...or rather "Amtrak Joe" Biden, Joe Six-Pack and Joe the Plumber.

The use of Joe to refer to the American everyman peaked in the 1920s-50s.  The idiomatic use had been dying out in recent years, and when it did pop up the connotation had shifted toward the derisive. The "good Joe" of the '40s, that responsible, hardworking fellow, had morphed into the soft, ineffectual Joe Schmo and Joe Six-Pack.  Instead of standing for an anybody, Joe had become a nobody.

Not any more.  After the 2008 presidential campaign, Joe has reclaimed its position as the proud baby-name symbol of the American masses.  Even Joe Six-Pack has been elevated from couch potato status to icon, as if we measure our national character in 12-ounce servings.

It wouldn't have worked with just any name.  Take the case of Joe the Plumber, who became the working-man mascot of the Republican campaign.  Imagine, if you will, "Braedyn the Plumber" or "Dakotah the Plumber."  Not quite the same punch, eh?  The name Joe struck a special chord in part because of its history of standing for the everyman, but also because it hearkened back to an earlier America: the America that actually named its sons Joe.

The popularity of the name Joseph peaked in 1911.  That year, America's top 10 boys' names were:

1. John
2. William
3. James
4. George
5. Robert
6. Joseph
7. Charles
8. Frank
9. Edward
10. Thomas

That's a veritable honor roll of "ordinary guy" names.  In 1911, they accounted for 21% of boys born. Last year?  4%.  Even as Joe returns to its throne as the esteemed everyman, that everyman (as measured by baby names) is getting harder and harder to find.

What's more, the supposed Average Joes themselves -- the small-town blue-collar and farming families celebrated in the campaign as "real America" -- are abandoning the ordinary names the fastest.  Check out the name Joseph in the NameMapper.  It's still a top-5 name in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, but it's out of the top 35 in rural Iowa, Montana and Vermont. 

The real political symbolism of the name Joe was not merely ordinariness, but commonality.  Joe represented a shared vision of normality, of a wholesome, small-town America as the nation's cultural baseline.  A nation of Joes is easier to wrap your mind around than a nation of Braedyns, Dakotahs, Shyanns, Armanis...and Baracks.  But if baby names speak truth, that common Joe is largely a romantic illusion.  It's worth contemplating that the self-styled "small-town hockey mom" candidate who celebrated Joe Six-Pack and Joe the Plumber gave her own kids names like Track and Bristol. 

So whither Joe the Baby Name?  Ironically, the repeated celebration of Joe's ordinariness makes it seem a little more special.  It's no longer just one of the crowd of Bobs and Bills, but more of a tough, fun-loving everybloke.  That could give Joe a boost among the neo-traditionalists who go for names like Jack and Max (and who may be inclined toward Joes like Biden and Lieberman more than Six-Pack).  But in much of the country, Joe is now stronger as a symbol than a name.  Braedyn the Plumber's day is nigh.

With best wishes for the naming year to come,

Laura

Comments

1
By Heather RC (not verified)
December 7, 2008 4:09 PM

This post mentions the name Chasity. What's its history? Is it really just a variation of Chastity? I know a teenage girl named Chasity and have wondered about it before. Care to enlighten me? Thanks!

2
By Angela (not verified)
December 7, 2008 4:58 PM

I was hoping Joe would win. :)

3
By JN (not verified)
December 7, 2008 5:47 PM

In a year during which race was a central issue, I wonder to what extent Joe crosses racial/cultural/ethnic boundaries... How genuine is Joe as a political symbol of commonality?

I was hoping Joe wouldn't win because I got so tired of hearing about Joe the Plumber and all the jokes related to him & Average Joes. But I guess that being overrated & overly represented is part of what qualified Joe for name of the year.

4
By Eo (not verified)
December 7, 2008 6:32 PM

This whole last year of political "seepage" into name talk has not been my favorite...

Last week in church, a woman made a prayer request for her daughter, who was about to deliver twins. My ears perked up, as I was sure she would be reporting the names when they came.

Today she announced them: "Immanuel" (or "Emanuel"-- not sure which spelling) and, get ready:

"JOSEPH"

Ha. Just in time for Laura's musings. Babies Immanuel and Joseph-- perfect little Advent season twins!

She said Immanuel was nicknamed "Manny" and no doubt Joseph will be "Joe".

Personally, I love Joseph/Joe, and find it to be a very versatile name for a lifetime. Although, I'm more partial to "Josiah", a family name that I actually considered using. It affords more nicknames too.

But both have lovely meanings in Hebrew:

Joseph-- "Jehovah adds"
Josiah-- "Jehovah supports"

5
December 7, 2008 7:10 PM

Laura, I love your description of Joe as the sort of American pastoral of names! How fascinating that our sense of national identity in naming is in actuality receding away from us (that is, in terms of the number of children bearing those names). Thanks for another perceptive post.

6
By Bellah (not verified)
December 7, 2008 8:16 PM

So every single one of Sarah Palin's kids names got more votes than Juno? Hmmm...

7
By JB
December 7, 2008 9:23 PM

Eo -- Love your comment! My nephew is named Josef (he lives in Eastern Europe) and he goes by Josey, which I think is an adorable nickname and harkens back to the Wild West (The Outlaw Josey Wales)

8
December 7, 2008 9:40 PM

Bellah: I don't think it is votes that decide it. I think that's part of it but it's also the different kinds of reasonings. Basically, this is Laura's opinion, informed in part by what we all posted.

9
December 7, 2008 11:30 PM

Yeah, I would've picked Juno instead of Cullen for second runner up, but I think Joe is it. And Palin's kids as a unit capture the essence of American baby names.
I posted on the last thread (before I saw the NOTY had been announced) that I met an interesting sib set today. Early twenties brother and sister named Amanda and Justice. I wanted to pry, but didn't.

10
By Missy (not verified)
December 8, 2008 12:03 AM

IMHO, there are certain names that are more popular for males in NY, NJ, and CT because we have so many parents who follow a traditional Italian naming scheme for male children. Since there were so many Josephs in the past (see namemapper) we're still in a cycle of Joseph juniors and thirds.

11
December 8, 2008 12:06 AM

In reply to the last thread about Meridian. I have a friend whose daughter is Meridian (will be 2 in March). She dreamed several years before that she had triplets and named them Meridian, Light and Elixir. I guess Meridian stuck.

12
By Mojo Jojo (BDL) (not verified)
December 8, 2008 12:21 AM

So I wonder how this iconic status for Joe might affect the related names like Josephine and Jose and Yusuf. (I know elementary-school kids with all three names, and some Joes and Josephs too, of course.)

14
By AK (not verified)
December 8, 2008 2:38 AM

Ha! Mojo Jojo! Very clever! I haven't seen Powerpuff Girls in forever. (Is that not cool to say on here? I'll just go pick up my copy of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides or maybe Aeschylus's Oresteia.)

15
December 8, 2008 4:06 AM

Manny and Joe? Where's Jack? Manny and Joe reminds me of the Pep Boys jingle "Manny, Moe & Jack."

Joe still feels saturated to me. There are six lawyers named Joe in our office. Of course, there are 13 Johns, so it could be worse.

16
By Coll
December 8, 2008 11:01 AM

I'm in my late 20s and I know almost no one my own age named Joe. I've maybe met one guy my own age with that name in my life. I know many men with the middle name Joseph (including my father). They're almost all Catholic and usually have a slightly more with-the-times first name. James Joseph, Patrick Joseph, Christopher Joseph.

(And my dad, John Joseph, was as the third son named according to tradition after his paternal grandfather, John Joseph)

17
By Melissa C (not verified)
December 8, 2008 11:45 AM

I am in my twenties.. and I know several possible "Joe" s but none of which good by Joe...

that being said I know many Josephs' but none have chosen the name Joe to go by... instead they are Jay-Jay, or just Joseph, or Joey.

18
By Jennifer (not verified)
December 8, 2008 11:53 AM

Uggh ... I couldn't be any more tired of the name Joe after all the "Joe The Plumber" talk. I could do without EVER hearing about that guy again. Oh, and PS - his name isn't even Joe LOL

19
By Joni
December 8, 2008 12:33 PM

So, can I count myself as a winner if I nominated EDWARD as the BNotY, since I did so on the basis of Twilight? If Cullen wins partly for it's role there... ;)

I think that Joe was the logical obvious choice, and yet you pull together so many different ideas and reasons - as always I am impressed.

Would love to hear your thoughts on Juno some day though...

21
December 8, 2008 1:18 PM

My baby boy is due in 8 weeks and we still have no name. My daughter is Natalie Joy. Husband likes the name Jacob, but I hate the meaning (supplanter or trickster). I am really stressing about this. My husband says we will just wait till we see him and then name him, but I know someone who did this and now hates the name they chose!

His middle name will be Christopher. Our last name starts with a U, so no "F" names, and I don't like using nicknames. Please help me!

22
By Joni
December 8, 2008 1:26 PM

Lovetorun, have you tried using the Namipedia on this site? If you use the advanced settings you can input different kinds of information and it will give you a list of suggested names. Also, you might try the Nymbler (www.nymbler.com) for some suggestions. :)

23
By Aybee (not verified)
December 8, 2008 1:47 PM

Lovetorun--
I don't know much about your style, beyond that you like Jacob and Natalie-- but here are some boys names you might like that I've heard often without nicknames--
Caleb (I know it begins with the same letter as Christopher, but I still like it)
Julian
Jeremy
Joshua
Darren
Ethan
Miles

Good luck

24
By hyz
December 8, 2008 2:10 PM

Great post--I really like Laura's description of the name Joe, and I'm partial to the name itself. Having had one grandfather, two uncles, a cousin, and a pony named Joe, it does seem like a wholesome, traditional, everyman name to me--very solid, and more popular in past generations than today. I agree it may be due for a rise among the Jack and Max set, too, for that very reason. Josephine seems popular among the same set--maybe Joseph will follow. Like Eo, I prefer Josiah stylistically, but because of fond family connections, Joseph is a name I'd consider for a boy.

lovetorun--how about Joseph!? :) We might be more helpful if you gave us a few more hints about what you're looking for in a name. too.

25
By Melissa C (not verified)
December 8, 2008 2:15 PM

lovetorun:

Nathan- means Given
Adam- Son of the Red Earth
Aaron- exalted, on high
Zachary- Lord has Remembered
Ian- variation of John- God is Gracious
Dylan- Son of the sea
Evan- var. of John- God is Gracious
Matthew- gift
Ryan- King
Benjamin- son of the right hand
Jared- he descends
Seth- appointed
Devin- poet
Simon- listening intently

My favorites are Nathan Christopher and Ian Christopher.

26
By Mirnada (not verified)
December 8, 2008 2:15 PM

What about Jonah or Justin? Not a stretch from Jacob and not prone to being shortened.

27
By Mirnada (not verified)
December 8, 2008 2:15 PM

Sorry, I was responding to Lovetorun with the Justin and Jonah suggestions.

28
By Mirnada (not verified)
December 8, 2008 2:52 PM

(just posted this on the previous posting, but thought I'd move it here in case people aren't going to the last one anymore)

I'm looking for a middle name for a yet-to-be-conceived possible baby boy. I have a girl name I really like (and posted questions here about it earlier...thanks for the helpful comments) -- ANYA PASCALE. The boy first name I really love is SIMON. So far, I'm weighing in heavily on the names, so would like to include my husband a little more (I'm sure that when there's a real impending baby he'll have higher tolerance for these name conversations).

I picked Pascale as the girl's middle name because it's my husband's favorite girl name, and I thought it was a little too snooty for a first name. I'm having a hard time finding something meaningful for a boy's middle name, though. The meanings of names are pretty important to me, so I didn't want to pick something random.

My husband is kind of into using family names, but the ones we have to choose from aren't so great, in my opinion:

Howard
Audley (makes me think of Oddly, which is not ok in my book)
James recurs often in both of our families, but it's soooo mainstream

I suppose Simon Howard isn't awful, but as you can tell from the girl's name, it's not exactly our style (and the last name, as mentioned before, is a kind of flowery french name). Simon James is serviceable, and I guess honors a bunch of people...but it sounds so staid to my ear.

My husband loves the name Camille for a boy (he posted on here earlier about that, too...we needed some impartial opinions). I frankly think it would be a trial for a boy in America to be carrying that name. I'd be more likely to consider it as a middle name, but Simon Camille sounds a little too milktoast to me. Am I nuts? Does it sound better than I think? It would honor a relative my husband is very proud of. It seems like Simon needs a stronger, gruffer middle name to balance out its sweetness. What do you think? Any suggestions?

29
December 8, 2008 3:04 PM

You all are very helpful! And so is www.nymbler.com! So far I am really liking Caleb Christopher and Ian Christopher. I really like Nathan, but I feel like it is too similar to my daughter's name, Natalie. I also like Josiah and Micah. I guess I am leaning toward a biblical name, or at least a traditional name with a good meaning. The name meaning is very important to me.

Joseph isn't bad, if only it wouldn't be shortened to "Joe"! :)

30
By Mojo Jojo (BDL) (not verified)
December 8, 2008 3:16 PM

Howard isn't your style, but maybe Ward, Howe, Howell, Waring, etc., would be ways to use some element of the name without going for "the full Howie." Simon Howell or Simon Ward might be very liveable (probably less of a trial than Audley or Camille).

31
December 8, 2008 3:34 PM

lovetorun- I'm going to second Ian Christopher (although that gets him initials ICU, hm), Matthew Christopher, and Evan Christopher. I think all combinations work really well.

Mirnada- I really like Mojo Jojo's suggestion of Simon Ward. Simon Howell, while it sounds nice, brings to my mind either Simon Cowell or, for some odd reason, Thurston Howell IIIrd (from Gilligan's Island). Ah, how our minds work.

As for Joseph/Joe, it's a family name on dh's side, and quite popular amongst friends my age. I like it, and we likely would have used it as a middle name had dh's older brother not laid claim to it first (it's my FIL's name) (but that was ok, we wanted another family name, Eric, more).

32
By Anne with an E (not verified)
December 8, 2008 4:19 PM

(I decided to switch my name from "Guest Anne".)

Mirnada--your post made me laugh because recently I posted about how much I love the name Simon, and my last name is Howard. James was our probable middle name choice too, which also fits into your list. So I think Simon works quite well with James or Howard, but I also liked Mojo Jojo's suggestions of using an element of the name.

33
By Mojo Jojo (BDL) (not verified)
December 8, 2008 4:21 PM

Oh yeah, Simon Cowell--didn't think of that. Okay, I'm suggesting Simon Howe or Simon Ward then.

34
December 8, 2008 5:18 PM

I told my dad about the NOTY and he said that a friend of his was named Jo (female) because her parents liked the idea of naming a child after GI Joe! She is probably in her upper 50s.

35
By Aybee (not verified)
December 8, 2008 5:57 PM

Mirnada- I agree that Camille might be a rough middle name for an American boy to carry, regardless of his first name.
I'd second Simon Howe-- I'd like Simon Howell, but can't for the reasons listed above.
Some more choices--
for Audley--there's Auden or Claude/Claudio/Claudius.
For Howard-- there is also Hayward, although it may be a little too much like 'wayward' to some ears.
James is tougher-- I like it, but if you find it too plain, I can't think of much in the way of alternatives-- besides Jameson.

36
By Erin-not-Aaron (not verified)
December 8, 2008 6:08 PM

Mirnada, I just wanted to say that your girl name - Anya Pascale - made me think of Ana Pascal from the movie Stranger than Fiction.

37
December 8, 2008 7:28 PM

Well, I think I'll stay comfortably in denial about the whole Twilight phenom.

The balance of Joe and the Palin Clan as the ideal and the reality of the American mainstream is excellent, very much pleases the logical part of my brain.

Have we discussed whether the economic turmoil might affect the names people give their children? It sort of makes sense that people might give their children "safer" names in more stressful times, but I can't really articulate why that makes sense (and hence makes me suspicious of my own logic).

38
By C & C's Mom - and now B! (not verified)
December 8, 2008 9:51 PM

I know one young Joe (3 yrs old) and he has an older brother named Jack so I can totally see the popularity of Joe with people who like names like Jack, Max, Sam, etc.

39
By Coll
December 8, 2008 10:12 PM

Wow, Simon really has its advocates on this board, doesn't it (including me, of course)? I only hope we don't all live in the same neighborhoods when we all (eventually) spawn.

40
By lu (not verified)
December 8, 2008 10:45 PM

My fathers name is joe
my nephews name is joe
have a cousin joe
my sons middle name is joe

41
By lu (not verified)
December 8, 2008 10:46 PM

And one of my favorite movies....

The old and new version....

MIGHT JOE YOUNG

42
By JB
December 8, 2008 11:00 PM

...and whose favorite Snoopy character wasn't Joe Cool?

43
By Mojo Jojo (BDL) (not verified)
December 8, 2008 11:16 PM

Trader Joe's. That connection alone would make me love the name.

44
December 9, 2008 1:07 AM

lovetorun-You've gotten some great ideas from others already. May I throw my own family into the ring-I have a Natalie Ren33 and an Eric Matth3w. I love his name. It means strong ruler or something like that and does not shorten to a nn. He was almost a Zachary Alexander but it was too long and ultimately didn't match as well with our LN which starts with A.

Mirnada-Reposting from other thread:
To me Pascale sounds MALE and Camille sounds FEMALE. So my thoughts would be to switch them around. I think it is a heavy burden to give a girl a boy name and vice versa. It's less so if it's a family name but I still personally wouldn't do it. Why does your dh think Camille is a male name? Can anyone refer me to examples where either of these names is used for the opposite sex? I vote for Anya Camille and Simon Pascale.

45
December 9, 2008 2:49 AM

First, Pascale for a boy would be Pascal.

Second, I also would never have thought of Camille as being a male name, so I went to the Quebec website on name statistics and found that 6 boys (and 304 girls) were given that name in 2007. For reference's sake, that's the same number of boys as were named, for example, Carter, Cody, Jonas, Jude, Kingston, and Levi, to name a few. And that's more than were named Scott, Solomon, Brady, Stephane, and Micah.

(You can see the name trends in Quebec here.)

46
December 9, 2008 1:55 AM

"Why does your dh think Camille is a male name? Can anyone refer me to examples where either of these names is used for the opposite sex?"

The composer (Charles) Camille Saint-Saens....
The painters Camille Pissaro and (Jean-Baptiste) Camille Corot (among many other notable Francophone males with the name Camille)

Like Dominique and Patrice, Camille is used for both males and females

47
By Baby Names (not verified)
December 9, 2008 2:14 AM

Joe is really a popular name for Americans.

48
By Penny in Australia (not verified)
December 9, 2008 8:30 AM

I've read on here about Cullen, and how people thought it might become the new 'in' name. I just can't get culling or cullin' out of my head when I hear it - as in the selective killing of animals... yuk!

49
By Eo (not verified)
December 9, 2008 9:38 AM

JB, thanks for jogging my memory! I never saw Clint Eastwood's revisionist Western, "The Outlaw Josey Wales", but always thought it had such a good title. "Josey" is extremely cute.

Playing around with other possible nicknames in my head, thought of "Joph/Joff" for "Joseph". But I suppose some people would see it as a mispronunciation of "Geoff/Jeff".

Along the lines of Josey, we know a couple who nicknamed their little James, "Jamesey". I like that since it prevents confusion with the many female "Jamie"s.

Besides the very fascinating and important Biblical Josephs, I always think of the men's haberdasher, "Joseph A. Bank"-- hubby likes their clothes, and wears them right down to the last thread!

Their logo shortens the Joseph to "Jos" (As in "Jos.A.Bank"-- a shortening that I imagine goes back to at least Puritan times, as in "Benj." for Benjamin and "Thos." for Thomas) and I have heard people say it that way when referring to the company-- "Jose" or Joze". Another possible nickname...

Off topic-- Heard a surname-name on an adult that I immediately liked. It was a guy from the Media Research Center on the news, and his name was "Seton Motley". It has a slightly gnarled and eccentric Dickens quality, doesn't it? And this was a young guy!

That's what I love about unusual surname-names. They can be so evocative. But once they go mega-popular, they lose some of their lustre. Luckily, there is an inexhaustible supply of ones that will never be trendy!

50
By Eo (not verified)
December 9, 2008 9:50 AM

Oh, how could I forget one of the best Joseph's of all-- Joseph Cotten. Orson Welles loved him and made him part of his "repertory company". Like Agnes Moorhead, he used him again and again, notably in "Citizen Kane" and "The Magnificent Ambersons".

Slender, patrician, Southern, cerebral. He was wonderfully cast against type in a number of film noirs, as in Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" and Carol Reed's "The Third Man".

I too think of "Joseph" as sturdy every-man material, and very admirable as such. But fabulous Joseph Cotten reveals a sophisticated gloss to the name. And yes, he was universally referred to in Hollywood as "Joe"!