The Most British and Most American Baby Names, Revisited
"That is such a British name!" "That is such an American name!"
Depending on your nationality, one of those statements will probably be much more evocative than the other. We tend to have more neatly defined mental images of other cultures than of our own.
For instance, to the British**, hearty nicknames like Bill, Chuck, Peggy and Brad have been a big part of the American stereotype, but that impression is slowly giving way to an image of America filled with androgynous surnames. Meanwhile Americans still tend to cling to an imaginary England populated by Nigels, Felicitys, and Benedict Cumberbatches.
Two years ago, I first laid out the reality of British vs. American name style. I compared usage rates of baby names in England and Wales vs. the United States, and found the names that skewed most strongly toward one nationality. Clear trends distinguished the two name cultures. British names ran cute, full of cuddly diminutive nicknames for both boys and girls. American names were far more formal, with an abundance of Old Testament bible names and, yes, androgynous surnames.
I've just updated those calculations to see if styles have changed in the past two years. Overall, the same trends distinguish the two name lists. But modest shifts point to fracturing styles within each country, while a couple of intriguing outliers show what it takes for a name to swim against the fashion tides.
The Most British Names of the Year are:
Cute old-fashioned nicknames take the top four spots on the boys' list, marking Britain as the land of cuddly boys. Two spellings of Mohammed rank six and seven, both significant leaps from two years prior, reflecting the much higher Muslim population of Britain vs. the U.S.
For girls, the cute factor seems to be declining. Double names like Ellie-May and Lily-Mae no longer make the chart, and sweet nicknames like Rosie and Millie are increasingly balanced by statelier old-fashioned choices like Florence and Harriet. Both sexes also reflect the naming influences of Scotland and Ireland in regional choices like Finley and Niamh.
And then there's the fifth most British boy's name: Jenson. What on earth is a semi-androgynous surname doing on the Most British list? Isn't that the kind of name that British parents call "so American" -- and not always politely? I suspect my British readers know the answer, while American readers are probably mystified. Two words: Formula One.
English race car driver Jenson Button was the 2009 Formula One World Champion. F1 racing is enormously popular in many countries, but in the U.S. it's a distant third behind NASCAR and IndyCar. So Jenson Button is unknown to many Americans, even as he propels his oh-so-American-sounding name to #54 on the British charts. For perspective, the biggest one-man sports name in the U.S. in recent years was Kobe, which peaked at #222.
To be continued, with the Most American Names next time...
** A note to my U.K. readers: I do recognize the distinctions among England, England + Wales, Great Britain, and the U.K. I do not, alas, know how to reflect these distinctions in readable prose. So for the purposes of this column, I will be talking about England + Wales name stats while loosely throwing about terms like "British." Sorry, Scotland.