Last time I gave out a little challenge: can you find a distinctive name ending tied to each decade from the 1880s to today? Ok, maybe that challenge isn't SO little. Not many of us today can tell the trendy names of 1890 from the hot new creations of 1910. But even back then, 20 years was a long time in fashion terms--and a lot of the fashion action came at the end of names. In the 1870s-80s for instance, about a fifth of all American girls were given "-IE" names. By the 1910s the number of -IEs was cut in half, replaced by the likes of -LMA.
Today's trends work both ends of the name. Our Mc/Mac/Mak- and Kay/Kai/Kae- names are more than matched by our -Lee/Leighs and our...well, you'll see.
120 years of trendy name endings:
1880s: Girls named -TTIE
1890s: Girls named -LDA
1900s: Girls named -OLA
1910s: Boys names -STER
1920s: Boys named -AND
1930s: Girls named -LENE
1940s: Boys and girls named -ONNIE
1950s: Girls named -EEN
1960s: Girls named -RI
1970s: Girls named -NYA
1980s: Girls named -ANY/ANIE
1990s: Girls named -TNEY/DNEY
2000s: Boys named -DEN/DYN/DIN
Quick, what do these five girls' names have in common?
Not exactly subtle, is it? That opening Kay- makes them all peas in a pod. But the five Kays share another distinction too: they're all names from the 2004 top 1000 that didn't make the charts 15 years before. It's that kind of sound-based trend that makes the NameVoyager compelling. Type in KAY- and you're looking at last month; type in ED- and you're looking at a time gone by .
There's more to sound style than just openings, though. For a counterpart to the KAY- names, take a look at the -LEEs and -LEIGHs:
Name endings like these play a powerful role in defining the sound of the times. To demonstrate that power, here are three girls' names I just made up. I'll bet you can assign one of them to a birth year in the 1920s, one to the 1960s and one to the current decade.
So here's a challenge: can you think of different ending sounds to peg the style of each decade from the 1880s to today? (Hint: girls' names change the quickest, so they're usually the best place to look.) There are many possible answers...I'll give you one set next time.
Back in June I discussed "likeable" names -- the names that are perceived as friendly, approachable and trustworthy. The surest route to likeability turned out to be adopting a short form of a familar classic name. For further proof, let's turn to some experts in perceptions of honesty and likeability: politicians.
In 1976, United States voters reeling from Watergate-era dishonesty elected a man who took his inaugural oath under the name Jimmy. In 1990 Michael Dukakis, known to friends as Michael, campaigned as likeable Mike. And this week's senatorial candidates, based on the names used in their campaign materials, included:
Allmost every candidate with a traditional, multisyllabic name campaigns under a nickname. To find a nickname-free race you have to turn to candidates with no naming alternatives, like the Kent vs. Dwight race in North Dakota. (Though even those aren't givens...think of Dwight "I Like Ike" Eisenhower.)
Would Senator Jeff Bingaman, who pulled in over 70% of the New Mexico vote, really have faced an uphill battle had he dared to campaign under his given name? Hard to believe. But many politicians cling to their nicknames so doggedly that even official Senate websites don't reveal the names on their birth certificates. (It's Jesse Francis Bingaman, Jr. by the way.) Clearly, a nickname is seen as a crucial part of a candidate's all-important public image. Just a point to ponder for the many, many parents who insist on keeping nicknames away from their children. A name can serve many functions, and sometimes options come in handy.