Of Names and Politics: The Palin Story

Sep 3rd 2008

It's an unprecedented event in American political history.  Never before has a vice-presidential selection caused such a stir, such a surprise...with her children's names.

In fact, no naming event has ever filled my inbox with as many reader queries as the unveiling of Sarah Palin--mom to Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig--as John McCain's running mate.  "Any comment?"  "I've never heard Trig as a name for anything but a math class."  "Is this 'an Alaska thing'?'"

In a way, yes, it is "an Alaska thing."  If you had nothing to go on but the baby names and had to guess about who the parents were, you'd guess that that they lived in an idiosyncratic, sparsely populated region of the country...and that they were conservative Republicans.

When I divided the U.S. map into name style regions, Alaska was a mix of two styles: Frontier and Creative Fringe.  Frontier naming regions include the Mountain West and the Appalachians.  The typical Creative Fringe state is a world unto itself in history and culture, like Hawaii or Utah.  Alaska is a natural blend of the two.

Frontier names, especially for girls, lean toward nature names and androgynous surnames/place names.  That would cover Bristol, Willow and Piper.  Creative Fringe names include new word-based names, elaborate, romantic names, and well, the creative fringe.  Neologisms are rampant, from Nevaeh to Track.

But there's more.  One reader noted, "Palin is an evangelical Christian, yet there is not a biblical name in the bunch."  It's a telling observation.

For the past two decades, a core set of "cultural conservative" opinions has served as a theoretical dividing line between "red" (Republican/conservative) and "blue" (Democratic/liberal) America.  These incude attitudes toward sex roles, the centrality of Christianity in culture, and a social traditionalism focused on patriotism and the family.  If you were to translate that divide into baby names it might place a name like Peter—classic, Christian, masculine—on one side, staring down an androgynous pagan newcomer like Dakota on the other.  In fact, that does describe the political baby name divide quite accurately.  But it describes it backwards.

Characteristic blue state names: Angela, Catherine, Henry, Margaret, Mark, Patrick, Peter and Sophie.

Characteristic red state names: Addison, Ashlyn, Dakota, Gage, Peyton, Reagan, Rylee and Tanner.

Even when biblical names are trendy in conservative, Christian-focused communities, they're typically not the classic names of Christian tradition.  They're Old Testament names that summon up a pioneer style with an exotic flair, often with a modern spelling twist.  Names like Malachi, Levi and Kaleb are hot in Alaska, while names like John and Elizabeth rule in liberal Washington D.C.

Why is it the blue parents who name with red values?  Because in baby naming as in so many parts of life, style, not values, is the guiding light.  The most liberal and conservative parts of the country differ on key style-shaping variables, like income, education level, and the age when women marry and have children.  A community where the typical first-time mother is a 22-year-old high-school grad is going to have a very different style climate from the community where the typical new mom is a 28-year-old with a college degree.  When you factor in the creative-naming effect that comes with remote and ideosyncratic regions, you get a neo-naming explosion.


p.s. If you're interested in regional naming differences, look for much more here soon!

Comments

1
By silverbelle (not verified)
September 3, 2008 2:24 PM

I certainly have been waiting for you to address this Laura!

2
By Yolanda (not verified)
September 3, 2008 2:41 PM

This is rich. As one of those who flooded your inbox, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your perspective here. Thank you for reintroducing the name style region map and for touching on the idea of style climates when it comes to naming choice.

A community that supports young marriage and reproduction will in turn be more open to more fringe naming choices, than one filled with older adults whose references may be shaped by years of college literature and history texts (with their Richards, Catherines, and Josephs galore). This doesn't make one superior to the other (though there are certainly social class issues at work, both in the choosing and the value one passes on "eccentric" names such as Track and Bristol).

What I find most fascinating is that these names tacitly inform like-minded voters that Sarah Palin shares their cultural values (or doesn't, if the names strike you--as they do me--as funky and odd). We have a since of who this candidate is and what she believes in just from the names of her children. In a way that we perhaps wouldn't, if they were names James, Mary, Ruth, Rebecca, Christine, and Joshua...or perhaps those names would be equally revealing, based on cultural style climate.

3
By SS Beacon (not verified)
September 3, 2008 2:48 PM

This was very insightful. Thanks for this interesting perspective. I always say that I'm only conservative when it comes to baby names -- and now I understand why.

Any one want to hazard a guess on the baby name that Bristol will use for her baby?

4
By Amanda (not verified)
September 3, 2008 3:03 PM

Fascinating. One of the most compelling blog entries you've done lately. I can't wait to hear more on this topic!

5
By Laney (not verified)
September 3, 2008 4:03 PM

What Yolanda said here:

"What I find most fascinating is that these names tacitly inform like-minded voters that Sarah Palin shares their cultural values (or doesn't, if the names strike you--as they do me--as funky and odd). We have a since of who this candidate is and what she believes in just from the names of her children."

is SOOOO true.

6
By Steliana (not verified)
September 3, 2008 4:15 PM

I'm predicting that Bristol will choose to honor her parents by naming her baby Todd or Sarah. Then a funkier middle name that evokes Alaska, like Snow or...McKinley? Ok, so I don't really have a good idea of what evokes Alaska. But as I said before, I'm fascinated by the feisty literal-mindedness of the Palin name picks.

7
By sh1996 (not verified)
September 3, 2008 4:26 PM

Did anyone else think Harvey's Bristol Cream when they saw the prego daughter's name? Maybe just me...betraying my age.

8
By Sarah S (not verified)
September 3, 2008 4:34 PM

I am a conservative Christian and agree with Palin's political views (but don't align myself with any particular political party), but her kids' names are very different from my personal naming style, which is more in line with the typical blue state style Laura mentioned. But then again, I am 30 with a college degree, and I live in a blue state. I guess not everyone fits in a box. :)

9
By nl (not verified)
September 3, 2008 4:39 PM

This is interesting to me because I live in Brooklyn, where plenty of people get creative with their naming style yet are most definitely NOT down with what Sarah Palin has to say. Let's just say there are Obama signs everywhere...even kids holding bake sales to raise money for Obama.

That being said...the more "creative" names here follow a certain path too. I've met a Yucatan and a Sequoia and an Atticus. Never a Trig nor a Bristol. Interesting.

10
By maya (not verified)
September 3, 2008 5:00 PM

When I heard two of her kids' names are Track and Bristol, I figured they were NASCAR fans.

11
By Keren (not verified)
September 3, 2008 5:13 PM

Fascinating, thanks Laura.

12
By Elaine (not verified)
September 3, 2008 5:33 PM

Wow! Great post and very surprising! I would have thought Red=more traditional/Biblical names while Blue=innovative names. I can't wait to hear more about these trends; I find it very interesting.

13
By Kristy (not verified)
September 3, 2008 5:43 PM

This post has left me with a lot to think about! I'd like to hear what you have to say, Laura, about my area specifically: Southern California, because it kind of seems like your categories don't apply as much here.

I'm 32 years old, I'm a red person (evangelical conservative), I live in a blue state. I was a literature major and have a BA from a prestigious university. My husband is a doctor. I was 28 when our first son was born, 31 with our second. Their names are Judah and Micah. If we ever have a girl, her name will most likely be Evangeline. Obviously, my choices (Biblical, but not the new traditionals like Peter and John) fit in one of your categories (red person), but not the others (I'm highly educated and was not a young mother).

Looking around at my friends, both red people and blue people, all levels of education, their kids' names are all over the board. An Elsie and a Carson (girl) in the same family. A Savannah and an Annabelle in the same family. They range from Aaron (red parents) to London (girl, blue parents) to Zoe and Leah (sisters, red parents) to Jenna and Jacob (red parents) to Haley and Riley (sisters, blue parents).

So what do you think? The categories don't seem to fit as neatly around here. Do you have any stats for this area?

14
By Valerie (not verified)
September 3, 2008 5:51 PM

Red people and blue people? My preference would be that political preferences not be used to describe the person as a whole. We're not two different races! Maybe that's why you don't fit neatly into one category, Kristy!

15
By janet (not verified)
September 3, 2008 6:13 PM

Great post -- it's more complicated than I would have guessed, but then when I think about my own life and friends (blue state, Democrats) it's mostly true. A friend just named her baby Henry David. She is among my most liberal/feminist friends. And I certainly like Elizabeth and John more than Bristol or Trig.

Of all the Palin kinds, I think I like Piper the most.

16
By janet (not verified)
September 3, 2008 6:13 PM

kinds = kids, sorry :)

17
September 3, 2008 6:28 PM

Reading the interesting comments here, I want to emphasize that I'm making broad generalizations about what shapes a community's "style climate." Every individual is a mixed assortment of life experiences. The shorthand of red *states* and blue *states* doesn't translate to simple red *people* or blue *people*!

There's a lot more to be said about this naming divide, though. If there's enough interest, I'll delve into more detail in a future post.

18
By Tirzah (not verified)
September 3, 2008 6:41 PM

Kristy,

I agree that Southern California bucks many of the naming trends. In addition to missing the red state/blue state trend, the area also flouts the upper class/lower class split. I know lots of wealthy parents who have kids named things like Caley, Kayla, Jaden, Jade, Rylie, McKenna, Taylor, Jagger, Jackson, etc. My theory is that class is much more ridged in other blue states (i.e., the East Coast). In addition, Californians are much more comfortable with the untraditional, whether it be clothing, art or baby names.

19
By Wendy (not verified)
September 3, 2008 6:54 PM

okay, so the thought that Alaska is on the creative fringe on naming made me go and look at their top 100 names on SSA. With the exception of Aurora (Borelais?) I found the names to be... boring...all names that are in the top 100 in other states.

So I looked at Mass. a blue state if there ever was one. It looks very similar.

I don't have time for this, but is there a NE out there who can compare the two states? Are their naming styles really that different?

of course if all Alaskans go for unusual names like Trig and Bristol, then it could be like the African American naming trend -- none of them show up on the popular name list because there is only one of each...Laura, is there any way to know how many "unique names" are given in any state?

20
By claire (not verified)
September 3, 2008 7:05 PM

any idea where the name track comes from, specifically?

also, did you do a blog post explaining the regions that you can point me to?

thanks for the great post!

21
By Rosamond (not verified)
September 3, 2008 7:40 PM

"okay, so the thought that Alaska is on the creative fringe on naming made me go and look at their top 100 names on SSA. With the exception of Aurora (Borelais?) I found the names to be... boring...all names that are in the top 100 in other states.

So I looked at Mass. a blue state if there ever was one. It looks very similar."

Alaska and Massachusetts very similar? Have to disagree. Of course, a top-100 list is going to include include a lot of names everybody agrees on, but just from a quick eyeball here are some names on the Alaska likst but not the Mass. list:

Aaliyah
Aurora
Brooklyn
Cadence
Cheyenne
Hayden
Serenity
Trinity

and vice versa:

Alexandra
Caroline
Catherine
Eva
Lucy
Maeve
Margaret
Nora
Sofia
Victoria

22
By Sabrina (not verified)
September 3, 2008 7:54 PM

Fascinating! Please do another post on this...this is such stuff as the glory of name study is made of!

Also, Eo, not sure you saw this before:
-->In your opinion, how similar is too similar? Megan and Rita both derive from Margaret--are they too similar for siblings? Bettina and Isabel (Elizabeth)? Evan and Johanna (John--speaking of which, I think Ivan Reginald Ian Cameron is too much John)? Just wondering, because you pointed out something very interesting.

23
By Carly (not verified)
September 3, 2008 8:37 PM

What a wonderfully thought-provoking post, Laura! Yes, please do explore this topic again in future posts.

24
By Mari (not verified)
September 3, 2008 8:40 PM

I don't like the idea of baby names as a commentary on one's social class/education/political affiliation. It justs feels so... wrong and inaccurate. (I'm tired and can't think of a better way to word this!)
I live in an affluent town just outside of Boston, and many of the wealthy, Ivy-educated families have daughters with names like Finley & Avery (not Madison & Willow though) and sons named Tucker & Cooper (not Tyler & Braedon though). There are of course a few named Annie, Charlotte, Henry & John, but overall, the names are an even mix of traditional and modern/surnames. I work with many lower income families, and there are far more children named Sophie, Isabella, Michael and Joseph in that group than in the more "upper crusty" group.
Anyway, I just think that the process of lumping people into categories based on their naming style is disturbing. Perhaps it's just me!

25
By Joni (not verified)
September 3, 2008 8:45 PM

Laura, I knew I could count on you to come up with an interesting blog about these names! :D What I am thinking about too is if McCain were to win, would we end up with a spike in baby girls named Palin? Ala Harper or Tatum? I can see it working. It ends in the beloved 'n', it's a ln, it rhymes with Kaylyn/Jalin etc...

I'd love to have a conversation with Sarah Palin about how and why she chose the names she did. Esp Track. I read on one news story that Trig's second mn is Van - Trig Something Van Palin, a nod to Van Halen (the band). I also read that Piper was named for the plane... :)

26
By Sabrina (not verified)
September 3, 2008 9:06 PM

Joni--That something is Paxson.

Mari--I would agree with you if we were discussing individual people, because, as has been mentioned, no individual can be put into a box, and there are countless influences on individuals beyond their general educational status or whatever. But I see no harm in noticing and analyzing overall trends (as long as we keep in mind that they don't apply to everyone), which of course do not cover every last person, but which do exist and do say something about society *as a whole*.

27
By Amy3 (not verified)
September 3, 2008 9:08 PM

Fascinating post, Laura. I agree that more on this "naming divide" would be very interesting.

Sorry to go off-topic so soon, but I have a naming challenge. A co-worker is expecting her second son in January and is casting about for names. Her older boy is Charl3s Frankl1n (nn Charlie). The ln begins with a hard /c/ and ends in an /o/.

First names that are on their acceptable list so far include Henry, Theodore, and Jansen. They're still thinking about Gus, Andres, Sam, Scott, Geoffrey, and Max.

Middle name possibilities (all family names) include Emmet, Alois, Edward.

Parents have a mixed ethnic background: Germanic/Slovak, Colombian, Spanish, French, Scottish/Irish, if that helps.

Rules are:

Nothing too popular
Nothing that ends in /o/
Nothing that begins with a hard /c/ or a /k/
They like names that have nns, but that's not a requirement
No William, Andrew, Michael, Robert, or Matthew (too many in the family)

I told her about this blog, and she's excited to see what the NEs are able to come up with.

28
By Yolanda (not verified)
September 3, 2008 9:12 PM

On the origin of the name...

These are it according to an essay from Maureen Dowd of the NY Times:

Track (named after high school track meets), Bristol (after Bristol Bay where they did commercial fishing), Willow (after a community in Alaska), Piper (just a cool name) and Trig (Norse for “strength.”)

Also, for people who are concerned about the categorization, I think it's fair to say that Laura is talking about a tendency or trend based on people who fit a certain demographic. We all overlap many demographic categories. I am a 32-year-old, African American, college educated, woman, with a biracial child, and living in Southern California. My identity doesn't neatly fit into one category, but that doesn't mean that I completely buck all trends amongst my "groups."

29
By Kate, mom of T, G, and J (not verified)
September 3, 2008 9:39 PM

Amy3 -- how about Thomas? It's my son's name, and I thought of it immediately when I saw their first son's name (we've considered Charles as well). Thomas Emmett, Thomas Alois, and Thomas Edward all sound great imo ... there is the great nn Tommy, and also the possiblity of Teddy (my dad calls our Thomas that sometimes ... and with Edward as a mn, it'd make sense ... and Theodore's already on their list).

30
By Erika (not verified)
September 3, 2008 10:06 PM

May I respectfully ask that we keep political arguments/debates out of our comments? I like a good political discussion and I have strong views on the presidential campaigns, but that's not what I come to this blog to read.

31
By Amy3 (not verified)
September 3, 2008 10:09 PM

Thanks, Erika. My sentiments exactly.

Kate -- I love the suggestion of Thomas. It's my father's name, and I've always loved it. I agree that it works well with Charles and with the mn suggestions, particularly Edward (a fave of mine).

32
September 3, 2008 10:34 PM

FYI: I've deleted a few comments focused on partisan politics. We all have strong feelings in this election year, but there are plenty of places to express your views on the candidates. Let's keep this a place to talk about names and their relation to culture.

Thank you!

33
By Brunka de Loof (not verified)
September 3, 2008 10:35 PM

Back-to-school night, Southern California, diverse suburb, 2nd/3rd grade split class:

BOYS: Benjamin, Mika (pr. like Micah), Yusuf, Daniel, Jonathan, Alexander, Eric, Dylan, Christian, Kierin

GIRLS: Kavya, Samantha, Claire, Tamara, Kayci, Adriana, Jazmine, Helen, Lea, Christina

See? We're not all Moonbeam and SaN*DeE out here!

Me, my kids' names (James and Helen) match my handmade Obama t-shirt and my PhD.... I'm definitely the stereotype described in this post by Laura!

34
By Caren (not verified)
September 3, 2008 10:41 PM

I was just waiting for you to comment on this, Laura!

While I certainly hope not to have expectations or judgments about individuals based on these trends, I find the trends themselves fascinating.

Thanks for the data, analysis, and insight, per usual!

35
By another amy (not verified)
September 3, 2008 11:02 PM

yay! I've been internet-less for a week and I've been dying to see what the NEs were thinking about Palin's naming style! The minute I heard her reference her kids when she was introduced I knew y'all would be talking aobut it.

I like some of the names (mostly girls) but I don't like the boys names at all. Trig will always mean math to me and I wasn't that good at track so didn't have much fun at the meets! The names don't seem to go together but with Laura's description of naming styles and Yolanda's list of sources they make sense in some strange way.

ok, OT traditional nn question:
my mom is really into genealogy and wanted me to ask you all how the name Martha managed to collect the nn Patsy? apparently it shows up that way several times in our family. Oddly, my mom just managed to avoid being named Martha--but got named Patricia. which is what Patsy seems like it should come from.

36
By J&H's mom (not verified)
September 3, 2008 11:03 PM

Fascinating, Laura! Thank you!

Here's a wrinkle for anyone who wants one:

I've read a couple compelling articles arguing that there really aren't red and blue states (TV maps to the contrary).
Instead, the authors argue, voting can be explained much more simply in terms of rural vs. urban. Big cities are reliably blue; rural communities are reliably red, and the suburbs are somewhere in the middle, with older sections of the 'burbs tending more blue and newer ones tending more red.

Perhaps this explains why we all know so many little "exceptions."
We live in a middle/working class suburb of Washington state, and I feel like we're really in the middle of both styles.

Yes, Laura, please do more on the regional differences in the future. Fascinating stuff!

One last thought: I've mentioned this before, but I do think names reach what I call a popularity "tipping point."
When this point is reached it becomes very hard to pin down anything about why it appealed to the parents in question.
For example, Isabelle is Very popular out here, but an Isabelle is just as likely to be sister to a Mackenzie as an Emma.

37
By Brunka de Loof (not verified)
September 3, 2008 11:22 PM

The Martha-to-Patsy sequence is:

Martha-Marty-Matty-Patty-Patsy

I agree it seems strange, but the steps between are all pretty common for Anglo nicknaming patterns. The M-P initial shift is also seen in Mary nicknames (Molly-Polly) and Margaret nicknames(Maggie-Peggy), for example.

38
By William (not verified)
September 3, 2008 11:53 PM

What do California, New York, and Illinois have in common? Big (and old) cities. And blue states.

What do Texas, Wyoming, and Arizona have in common? Low population or fast-growth modern cities. And red states.

I wonder if the naming differences have more to do with settlement patterns than with political affiliation.

39
By Emily Weaver Brown (not verified)
September 4, 2008 1:14 AM

I was going to say these are Alaskan names but I see someone already caught it.

Bristol Bay, look at a map

Willow, a common tree and city

Piper cub, as in the extremely popular aeroplane. AK has tons of private planes and Piper cubs are everywhere.

40
By RB (not verified)
September 4, 2008 1:53 AM

I would like to put in my vote for more on regional naming! I think it is fascinating.

I also live in Southern California, and I find its naming different from anywhere else I have lived. I teach at a diverse university with lots of East Asians, SE Asians and Latinos. Since the students are already 20-ish, their names don't represent current naming trends, but I find an eclectic mix of the kre8tiv, traditional (John/Elizabeth), old-fashioned (Eugene/Carol), and names from the students' ethnic backgrounds.

With parents Bristol and Levi, I see the Palin-Johnston baby going in one of two directions, based on gender. For a boy I imagine a popular Biblical name like Jacob or Joshua, while for a girl I envision something girly and traditional with a creative spelling, such as Madlinn or Abigayle. Not really sure why, but it makes sense in my head! No matter what, I wish her luck. It must be hard enough to be in her position, without being thrust onto the national stage.

41
By Easternbetty (not verified)
September 4, 2008 2:11 AM

I'm pleased to see some posters I haven't heard from in a while and several whose screennames don't ring any bells at all. Welcome, and keep your comments coming!

I agree with Valerie and others that neither "red/blue" nor geography alone are the whole story here. Some posters touched on the town-and-country divide (and it is age-old, in so many countries around the world), and others mentioned education. Perhaps the key to understanding this in a way that avoids facile "check-boxes" of identity is that all of these disparate threads are looped together in some way--e.g. the largest concentrations of less-diploma'ed parents are in semi-rural and newly suburban communities, and the largest communities of Euro-American evangelical Christians are in semi-rural and newly suburban communities, and so on. In that sense, "red state" or "Creative Fringe" are terms that are not labels, but rather, indicators of sorts.

[I already commented in the last post on why I think Palin's naming "spectrum" appears very artfully done, even if it turns out to have been more haphazard than I give her credit for.]

42
By Guestina (not verified)
September 4, 2008 7:46 AM

The rich white social-liberal idea is to do the right thing but not force others to see everything the same way you do. So you name your kids traditional names - already proven to be 'good'.

The everyman social-conservative idea is that you are in a free country and can do whatever you want, with the exception of things that are somewhat religion-influenced, in which case they should be regulated for everybody. So you do what you want with non-traditional names, because it's not regulated by religion, and you have to go crazy somewhere!

43
By Sarah (not verified)
September 4, 2008 8:07 AM

Hmm.

I think the reason that there is so much interest in Sarah Palin's naming choices is that she seems to have been selected for the VP role as someone with minimal political experience, but whose experience of running a family gives her the savvy she would need to step up to run the country should something happen to McCain. However, she is such an unknown quantity that very little about her is publicly known. But one thing we do know about her family (and therefore, her apparent qualifications for McCain's choice of her as his VP) is what she has named her children. Hence the reason why, in my mind, it is so important.

However, I find all the commentary about what her daughter might choose to name her child extremely distateful, whether on this site or any other.

44
By Eo (not verified)
September 4, 2008 9:06 AM

When I first saw this topic, my heart sank a bit. History has shown on this blog that inevitably subjects like this lead to sometimes heavy-handed political and social commentary, something I definitely don't come here for.

That said, thank you, Laura, for trying to keep things on "track" (ha) as it were. I do think it's a losing battle.

Mari, Valerie and others expressed well the uneasiness I feel. I feel such a resistance to stereotyping by "class", region, political leanings, etc.

As one with a traditionalist, conservative viewpoint, I'm pleased to think that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie must be leaning evangelical, based on their name choices!!

Theirs seem far closer to the Palins than to so-called blue state favorites. Yet, it's interesting to me that, in general, most of THEIR name picks were greeted by their public with wonder and approval, while the Palins have not been treated quite so well.

Oh, Sabrina, sorry I missed answering you in the last one. (I'm flattered you would want my opinion. Ahem)

Megan and Rita-- Not crazy about this name combo, but strictly on the merits, I THINK perhaps Rita has been divorced from Margaret long enough that it wouldn't bother me. (Maybe)

Ditto Bettina and Isabel, MAYBE Evan and Johanna. But I agree with the poster who made the case that it's particularly the SOUND and repeated letters of "Kitty" and "Katya", PLUS their derivation from one name, Katherine, that makes them too alike for me as siblings.

Heartily agree with you that "Ivan" and "Ian" in one name is too "John" repetitive. I bet they were honoring real-life relatives or ancestors with that one.

Paradoxically, I quite like "Jane" and "John", or "Charles" and "Caroline" as siblings. (Oh, no, I must have latent "blue state" tendencies...)

45
By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
September 4, 2008 10:07 AM

This is fascinating. I have an evangelical friend who told me that she and her husband were considering naming their first child Whisper. I concealed my initial reaction, which was, "But you are 5'11" and your husband is 6'5"--the child is going to be a Shout!" and smiled politely. It was not meant to be, however, as the baby was a boy. They named him Tr3k, because they liked the idea that life is a journey. I thought that was much cooler than naming a girl Whisper.

I'm totally ignorant of American evangelical naming history (paging Cleveland Kent Evans!). Is the evangelical embrace of more modern names a reaction against Catholicism, which until recently dictated that children be given saints' names? Among my Catholic friends (I am Catholic, so I have many), the most politically conservative still tend to name their children things like James and Mary, even though they trend red in their political views. What do you all think?

46
By Coll (not verified)
September 4, 2008 10:19 AM

EO, the Charles and Caroline set I can't abide, those are WAY too similar for me. (But they were sort of charming as the given names of Ma and Pa Ingalls). I also knew a sib set named Michelle and Michael. That was so odd to me. The daughter was older, and I always had the feeling that they wanted a son named Michael, named the daughter Michelle thinking they'd never get to use it, and then had a son. Danielle and Daniel have a similar feel.

Amy3: what about suggesting Jasper, Oliver, Thaddeus, and Roland? They're less traditional than your friend's current picks, but I think they'd go well with Charles and the parameters for the last name. Worth a shot.

I think Laura handled this potentially explosive topic very well. As our discussions of local popularity pockets and the influence of social ties on name choices prove, they are both designators and products of our social networks. I don't believe Laura (or many of the posters, for that matter) has ever said "You named your daughter MaKenzie, therefore you are a [fill in the blank]." While the temptation to apply broader social characteristics to individual situations is potent--and can be harmful and inaccurate--that doesn't mean those social characterizations have no merit. Name choices *do* correspond to various social factors, and discussing those factors is a part of discussing naming trends. And isn't the sociology factor one of the reasons we enjoy discussing names so much?

We've all got strong feelings about this election--I certainly do!--but I think most of us are trying to keep political opinions out of the conversation, as difficult as that may be. And doing a good job of it!

47
By Coll (not verified)
September 4, 2008 10:27 AM

Addition: Elizabeth T, that's an interesting point you've raised. I'm also Catholic--does my lifetime of friends and family named Theresa, Francis, Mary-Whatever, and John--as well as various Irish-American names--cultivate my distaste for names like Track, Trek, and Whisper as much (or more!) than my higher education and geographical region? It's entirely possible. A lot of staunchly Catholic communities are both politically conservative and in major blue-state cities. (Of course, Catholicism also has a long tradition of political liberalism, so there go the generalizations).

48
By Claire (not verified)
September 4, 2008 10:42 AM

Rather than red/blue or urban/rural, I'd like to see the baby naming be organized by Claritas PRIZM clusters. (For what these are, see: http://geography.about.com/od/obtainpopulationdata/a/claritas.htm) You'd have to screen out the clusters of people who are mostly over the baby-naming age, though.

Then again, I'm pretty geeky when it comes to this sort of thing.

49
By Miriam (not verified)
September 4, 2008 11:42 AM

Christians who belong to denominations which practice adult baptism (and this would apply to many evangelicals of all backgrounds), having no religious strictures/customs concerning names, freely name their children in all sorts of (creative) ways. Christians belonging to denominations which practice infant baptism tend to be constrained to give children at least one Christian given name. While people of any and all socio-economic statuses can belong to any denomination, the infant baptism denominations (particularly Episcopalianism) tend to trend toward the higher end of the socio-economic continuum and also tend to have more socially liberal practices. Thus, at least some of the regional naming practices may reflect which religious denominations are more prevalent where.

50
By christinepearl (not verified)
September 4, 2008 11:48 AM

I am also Catholic and live in a very densely Catholic state, which generally votes very blue. Based on my experience, I would say that other factors probably have more influence than Catholicism but that saints names do seem to show up more, especially as ethnic names, especially Irish, Italian and Portuguese.