One of these lists is not like the other
Here's a top-10 name list. What strikes you about it?
|1. Isabella||1. Angel|
|2. Emily||2. José|
|3. Mia||3. Daniel|
|4. Sophia||4. Anthony|
|5. Ashley||5. Jacob|
|6. Emma||6. David|
|7. Madison||7. Luis|
|8. Ava||8. Ethan|
|9. Samantha||9. Jesús|
|10. Elizabeth||10. Michael|
What leaps out at me is that the boys and girls look very different. The boys clearly represent a heavily Latino population. Almost half of the boys' names are exclusively Latino, and several of the others (Daniel, Anthony, David) are cross-cultural names especially favored by Latino families. The girls? Well, they look at lot like a cross section of the United States.
So, any guesses where those lists come from?
They're the top 10 baby names of 2007 for the state of Arizona. Arizona's population is about 30% Latino, twice the national average. Among young families, the percentage is probably higher. And as the name lists above show, American Latino families still lean toward traditional Spanish names for boys...but not for girls. The boys' names Angel, José, Luis, Jesús, Carlos, Diego, Juan, Miguel, Alejandro, Jorge, Victor, and Francisco are all more popular in Arizona than the top distinctly Spanish girl's name, Maria -- and even Maria is used cross-culturally.
(A quick aside: all of this makes it tremendously difficult to come up with style-matching "sibling" suggestions for the Baby Name Wizard book. There is no crop of timeless Spanish girls' names to match with José, Juan, Carlos and friends.)
So what are little Latinas named? The top-10 list does give us some clues. Ashley is #5 in Arizona compared to #13 nationally. Ashley is an English surname, popularized by a Welsh/English fashion designer and an Anglo soap opera star. Its sound and spelling are virtually impossible in Spanish. Yet Ashley is one of the top names for girls in the same communities where José and Luis lead for boys. In fact, for a number of years now the "Ashley rate" has been a pretty good indicator of any state's Latino population.
Such different approaches to boys' and girls' names used to be the widespread norm. If you look back at the decades before World War I, the top 10 boys' names in America were reliably the pure English standards. The girls' lists, though, were studded with the trendy names of the moment: Bessie, Mildred, Ethel. My grandmother was one of those Ethels, and her brothers, predictably, were Charles, George and Richard.
Over the past century, the naming gap between boys and girls has been slowly closing. Today trendy new boys' names like Jayden (in all its spellings) are more popular than any traditional name. But that's for the country as a big, diverse whole. You still see echoes of Ethel, Charles, George and Richard in families named Ashley, Carlos, Jorge and Ricardo.
There's a difference, of course. Charles, George and Richard were traditional English names, chosen by my immigrant great-grandparents who were not native English speakers. Today, not only do many immigrants choose names from their native cultures, but their American-born children and grandchildren often choose them too. You shouldn't assume that a Carlos is the son of immigrants today, any more than you would have assumed a Charles was the son of native English speakers a century ago. That's just one of countless cultural changes that separate my great-grandparents' generation from today's Arizona parents. Yet the boy/girl name gap is one tradition that lives on.