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!


By Chee Chee (not verified)
September 7, 2008 8:50 PM

I love this discussion. Actually, here are some names that I can see somebody giving to a child, but I would never do:

Riot, Zoo, Catcher, Madelon, Zebedee, Nebraska, Nevada, Snow, Colden,

But I can see, maybe, a person from Alaska doing these names. But I must say, I do like Nebraska as I name for a boy-- that is, if I had ties to it. I'm a New Englander.

By Blythe (not verified)
September 7, 2008 9:59 PM

I wonder whether these political generalisations hold true outside the US? Does anybody have any insights on that?

Demographically, I'm neither writer nor teacher. Nor yet Jewish. Granted, I *do* volunteer in a school and I used to write/edit school newspapers. Though I'm in humanities, I go to a school that supplies RIM, Microsoft and Google with their minions, so I have to admit the mathy/stats side of this site also appeals to me.

By Zoerhenne (not verified)
September 7, 2008 10:13 PM

N.Amanda-Drum roll please...Nymbler picks are:
Warren, Vaughn, Neal, Nelson, Preston, Forrest, Grant, Blaine, Rudy, Stuart, Duncan, and Rolf.
Claudia, Juliette, Fiona, Cecilia, Clara, Nina, Astrid, Ingrid, Priscilla, Matilda, Cordelia, Ursula, Winifred, and Millicent.

So with Sheldon Charles&Ada Rosalind I would suggest-
Preston Neal; Priscilla Juliette
Warren Oliver; Winifred Imogen
Nelson Stuart; Nina Claire
Duncan Clifton; Ursula Cordelia

By Miriam (not verified)
September 7, 2008 10:59 PM

Chee Chee--

There's the mystery writer Nevada Barr. Nevada is her legal name, not a nom de plume. She just bought a house in New Orleans, and the transaction was listed under Nevada Barr. I believe that I read somewhere that Nevada is her birth name, not something she chose later on. Also in New Orleans there is a prominent clergyman named Zebedee. Many years ago I knew a little girl named Snow Apple. When I was still teaching I had a colleague named Madelon. But, please, I hope no one names a child Riot or Zoo.

By Lucie la Morena (not verified)
September 7, 2008 11:30 PM

Blythe, that's an interesting question. I'm English, and I wish I could answer it! I'll have a go, but I'm a bit out of my depth...

I live in a small town between two larger towns, which happen to serve as pretty good examples. Town A is wealthy, in a rural setting (although nowadays populated by executives as these lovely places always are...), and attracts tourists. The MP has always, always been Conservative. The names I see tend to be very classic ones, usually slightly ahead of the trend (e.g. plenty of Emilys, Eleanors, Lucys and Olivias born a decade before they went top 10), but not avant-garde. There is also a fair sprinkling of names which are pretty much exclusively middle/upper class, e.g. Hattie, Jemima, Felix, Liberty, but mostly the naming scene is pretty middle-of-the-road and down-to-earth.

Town B is more urban with lots of hideous 70s architecture, and a largely working/lower-middle class population. The MP is inevitably Labour. When I flick through the local paper from Town B, I see a lot of modern and American-influenced names like Stacey, Kayleigh, Mikayla, Taylor, Corey, Cody, as well as more mainstream names with mass appeal such as Megan, Callum, Jack, Lauren, the ever-present Emily...

So, judging from those examples, it seems that Conservative voters are more conservative with their children's names, unlike in America. It raises all sorts of interesting questions about politics and society in our different countries...

By Lucie la Morena (not verified)
September 7, 2008 11:47 PM

^^ Then again, now that I think about it, it's both the predominantly C/conservative upper classes, as well as the working class (most likely to vote Labour), who are most innovative with names - whether it's Ophelia Andromeda or Casie-Leigh. Those in the middle of the socio-economic spectrum seem to be the ones most likely to forsake individuality and go with Chloe, Sophie, Thomas or Jack. I wonder whether this bears out in politics, too.

By Brunka de Loof (not verified)
September 8, 2008 12:00 AM

Zoo is probably a bad idea, but Zuzu (as a nickname for Zuszanna or Zuleika or maybe a few other names) is one of my alltime favorites for a little girl.

By Cathy (not verified)
September 8, 2008 1:43 AM

I've long read here, but only recently started posting a time or two. I've enjoyed reading about the demographics of other posters here as well.

I don't fit the mold - I'm not a writer, nor a teacher, nor am I Jewish, but I love the racial, religious & educational diversity I have seen here so far.

Most of my posts are quick, and not well thought out, so they probably make the writers in the group cringe. I can spell & I do know grammar, but I rarely proofread online.

I'm caucasian, as is my husband. I hold a Master's Degree in the health field; he's an MD. We have one child so far, a son - I was 32 when he was born; my husband was 31.

We live in a blue state, but it's only blue as a whole because of NYC. Most of the main geographical state (upstate NY) is red; but by population of the state as a whole (NYC) it's blue. Our county leans blue, but most upstate counties (very rural) lean red. Names here are a good mix of traditional & new-wave/trendy. My husband & I lean more traditional, when it comes to names.

By Opal (my new screen name) (not verified)
September 8, 2008 2:11 AM

Blythe, forgot to add, I'm with you when it comes to enjoying the "mathy"/stats angle of naming trends.

By Sarah (not verified)
September 8, 2008 6:59 AM


As an American who's lived in the UK a while:

I thought 'posh' English people named their children things like Santa and Lettice and Jemima because, being posh, they could do what they liked.

I thought 'common' English people named their children things like Jasmine-Jade and Mikayla and Stacey because, since they will never be posh no matter how much money they have, they could do what they liked.

Therefore 'middle-class' English people, who wish to be posh although they will never be allowed to, and fear being 'common' because, well, who wants to be common?, name their children Emily and Chloe and Megan so that the names are less of a class identifier. Although, of course, they are.

And on thinking about it, perhaps you're right about the politics, since it's only the middle classes who vote Lib Dem!

By Alitalia (not verified)
September 8, 2008 8:33 AM

Tirzah, I'm curious to know why Clementine and Penelope go so well together... only because when I was about 22 (and FAR from having children) I had a dream that I had a baby girl and named her Clementine Penelope!

The coincidince vibes on these comments is too weird for me today, because also in the Zoerhenne's names for N. Amanda, my last name is listed among the boys' names, and my mother-in-law's name and my newborn baby daughter's names are listed among the girls' names! Too weird!

For the demographic record, I AM a teacher living in a blue area of a key swing state.

By Guest (not verified)
September 8, 2008 10:21 AM

There are so many variables at play when it comes to name tastes, I'm not sure one can accurately conclude that political affiliation has much bearing on name choices. The trend may actually be more reflective of regional influences--which I think someone else may have already mentioned.

What would be more interesting to me would be to see the breakdown of parent's political association for each top 100 name - would be a bear of a project I know.

For example, take the name Elizabeth - of all Elizabeth's born last year what % were born to Republican, Democrat, Moderate, Mixed (1 parent Republican, 1 Democrat - sometimes happens)...etc.

I bet with a classic, popular name like Elizabeth, the distribution would pretty much match the distribution of the country as a whole... just saying..

And speaking as another person who fits "outside the box," I'm as conservative as you can get and admire Sarah Palin, but HATE her kids' names (except Willow). I like names like: Girls - Daphne, Julie, Ione, Sophie, Sylvie, Vera, Viola, Zoe and Boys - Calvin, Frank, Linus, Louis, Paul, Peter, Stuart, Sylvester.

Needless to say, despite Laura's best efforts, with my tastes and political affiliations being what they are, I (rightly or wrongly) interpreted the overall theme of this message as "When it comes to names, Democrats have tastes, Republicans do not." But don't worry, I'm not offended, and admit that statement may just be my own. But I'm here to say, some of us Republicans DO have name tastes. If I say so myself.

By ET (not verified)
September 8, 2008 10:59 AM

Lucie la Morena- that sounds exactly like where I live! Do you live anywhere near North Wales?
Also I agree completely with your assesment.

Eo- I have never heard of Gower as a name, only as a place. I toohave noticed that now if you put in a name that is very unusual Nymbler just asks you if its for a boy or girl, rather than saying its too unusual. Since it has no information on this name it then just trys to match by sound maybe? Guillaume is pretty close to Gwilym, the Welsh form of William, so thats not too bad.

By Jenny (not verified)
September 8, 2008 11:02 AM

OH I missed a lot while not reading up over the weekend! Hyz congratulations!!

Guest, I'm glad to hear you're not offended as I'm sure no one would want that. I don't think Laura meant things that way, but I can see how you take that from some of the comments (even if they aren't meant that way). Either way I'm glad we have a mix of people here and I hope you'll keep posting.

Speaking of which as we were looking at who posts here earlier I am not a writer or teacher, nor am I Jewish. I'm an mid-20's NE, WASPy in heritage, New Englander, who went to college in the No.East and works in Museums. (and likes to make up her own sentence structure;).

By Jenny (not verified)
September 8, 2008 11:04 AM

By the way, has anyone ever heard the name Hallisey? I know an early 20-something with the name and it's very similar to the Hallie, Hailey, Hadley style, but I've never seen it mentioned.

By Coll (not verified)
September 8, 2008 11:22 AM

New baby--my husband's college friend just announced (on Facebook) the birth of his daughter...Sophia. He's in the Twin Cities area.

I literally cannot attend a gathering featuring a large number of small children these days without running into at least one Sophia/Sofia (including my infant niece). Has the name reached saturation point yet? Will Sophia eventually hit #1? (Among parents of my extended acquaintance it is by far the most popular name.) When will Sophia-fatigue finally set in?

By michelle (not verified)
September 8, 2008 11:26 AM

Guest- I had a similar reaction and glad you pointed it out. I am conservative living in a red state and my favorite names are also conservative (Oliver, Theodore, Violet, Caroline, and Eleanor). I know an abundance of babies with very different names born within the last two years and I wish I knew the political affiliations of the parents to break it down. The ones I do know are Alexandra, Addison, Gabriella (liberal) and Caleb and Ryan (conservative). Some of the other baby names that would really help my little study are Riley (g), Pierson (g), Taylor (g), Evan and Cooper. Maybe I will have to do some research and find out.

Since we are giving demographics, I am 27, caucasian, have a masters degree, a CPA, live in a big city in TX, and married with no children.

By Jennifer (not verified)
September 8, 2008 11:35 AM

I'd like to weigh in on the seemingly puzzling "traditional name for rich white urban liberals" phenomenon.

I went to one Ivy League school, my husband another. We met at Oxford where he was a Rhodes Scholar and I a Marshall Scholar. We live in Manhattan where I am a surgeon and he is a corporate lawyer. I think it's safe to say that we know some of the most hyper-educated, privileged, neurotic people in America.

Most people in this set live with a deep, penetrating fear of not being "special" or different. They have been constantly judged for their tastes, talents and abilities since nursery school. They need to signal to the world-- instantly-- that their expensive educations paid off. Therefore naming a child something that's wildly popular in mainstream America would be a deep, revealing character flaw. Calling your daughter "Brylee" would be akin to saying your favorite author is John Grisham and you love reality TV. It's a strong, strong signal that you're not the right sort of person, you don't belong, and you obviously aren't all that bright.

Hence we all favor either strongly traditional names-- *precisely because they're distinctive from the vast swaths of names given in Middle America*-- or creative names that are allusions to expensive classical educations. You're much more likely to find a Hypatia or a Clytemnestra than you are Jaden and Dakota. Those of us who are religious, of any stripe, tend to favor ancient classical throwbacks that again showcase our values. (Think Herschel and the like among the Jewish set, Benedict or Maximus or Athanasius among the Christians).

We're all conformists, we're just shaped by who's around us and whose approval we're courting. Just like the good, dear friends of mine in my home state who married young, have happy young families, work office jobs and watch television want to name their kids things that will fit in (Hannah, Olivia, Riley, Keegan, what have you), so do the establishment liberals.

But underneath it all is a deep, deep desire to thumb our noses at the rest of America and say "we're so much better than you, it's impossible to even describe. We're global citizens, we think critically about the world you're handed, and we have been educated at many hundreds of thousands of dollars of expense."

By S (not verified)
September 8, 2008 11:43 AM

I think all the hypothetical pop-psychology of conservatives vs. liberals is getting in the way of the actual explanation - age and class of the average mother in each of these areas. Places where birth control and pre-marital sex are both taboo (let alone abortion) are going to have a lot more women marrying young and having children right away. And a 20 year old mother is much more likely to choose a trendy (tryndee?) name than a 30 year old mother (who's idea of a normal name is Amy, not Navaeh).

By J&H's mom (not verified)
September 8, 2008 12:49 PM

Lucie la Morena's post is so intriguing.

To extrapolate a bit....can we say that the parents using Clytemnestra have more in common with the parents using Nevaeh than they do with the folks going with Katie or Sam?

Someone mentioned North Dakota above. My mom went to college in Minnesota, and as I think I've mentioned before, her alumni magazine has had multiple new babes named variants of Trig/Tryg. There are also nearly always multiples of Annika and Anders. I think it's probably reasonable to say that anywhere there remains a highly concentrated population of a particular ethnicity (in this case folks with Norwegian or Swedish ancestors) there are likely to be at least some regional patterns independent of red/blue demographics. It would be interesting to hear more from Laura on this.

By DelinaRose (not verified)
September 8, 2008 1:21 PM

Robyn T -- Your comment about Alyssa and 30-40 year old men made me laugh. My BIL and his wife named their baby Alyssa Grace less than a month ago, and he definitely fits the profile.

EssBee -- I also love Annelise (although in my head I always spell it Anneliese). My husband actually likes it too, but we have a very German last name, and so it may be too much. We'll see.

In regards to demographics, I don't fit the mold very well, either. I grew up in a purple city in a red county in a blue state and I now live in a redneck town in a red county in a very red state. I have always loved small town America--although I am less fond of redneck America. :) No offense to any proud rednecks who may be reading this! That said, my mother and grandfather held terminal degrees, and I have a BA and am preparing to return to school for my masters degree.

I like many of the classic names, but they are usually too popular for me. I look for names that are uncommon and that have a good meaning (the meaning of the name is the ultimate deciding factor for me). So that leads me to some pretty unusual names and also rules out some names that I would otherwise love (e.g. Cecily, which means blind).

My favorites right now are Anneliese, Helena, Avia, Vivienne, Seren, Gwenllian (although pronunciation issues may ruin this one for me) and Tirzah.

By Maggie (not verified)
September 8, 2008 1:33 PM

Okay, for the Caroline/Charles discussion, here is one that if I didn't know personally I would never believe. Father's name is Kevin, mother is Linda. First son = Kevin (after his father, of course) First daughter = Kevina (after her father, naturally!) Second son = Kimball after paternal grandfather and get this... second daughter = Kimbalina, also after paternal grandfather. So each girl bears the female version of her brother's name. Parents said they didn't want second daughter to feel left out, when everyone else was named after dad or grandpa. Incredible, n'est pas?
Please, individual names for individual children!

By Amy3 (not verified)
September 8, 2008 1:33 PM

Re: the discussion of 30-40-yr-old men liking the name Alyssa, I have a somewhat related story. I knew someone whose daughter (who would probably be about 5 or 6 now) was named Marissa. The father wanted that name because "every woman" with that name was attractive.

By Lucie la Morena (not verified)
September 8, 2008 1:56 PM

ET - I live in the West Midlands, not a million miles from Wales.

Sarah - Yes, I think that's true (although I wouldn't have put Jasmine with Jade and Stacey).

This topic has actually been playing on my mind a lot today. My feeling is that England is a lot more homogenous in terms of regional name trends than the U.S., and that most of the variation correlates with social class. I would also (as I begin to step perilously out of my depth) argue that England is more politically homogenous than the U.S. - it's hard to tell the main parties apart for a lot of people, and few have very strong allegiances to a certain party nowadays. Many "hot-button" issues which divide the U.S. just aren't a factor in British politics - for example, abortion. Plus, it's a much smaller country!

Neverthelesss, I decided to do a very quick and rather unscientific investigation into regional name trends and politics. I have a slim book published by the government in 1994 which lists the top 50 names in England and Wales by region (annoyingly, it seems to have been a one-off publication and I can't find more recent data). I then googled for a colour-coded election results map. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/vote2005/flash_map/html/map05.stm - remember the red areas are left-wing, and the blue conservative). There really doesn't seem to be much correlation. There are a lot of Labour areas in the industrial north - but also in Central London. Although there is much overlap, the north is slightly behind on some trends and hangs on to elsewhere outdated names for a little longer.

Naming trends seem to differ from north to south - as do incomes. I suspect that the upper classes name their children the same way all over the country, as do the middle and working classes. Politics only comes into it when you then look at the general voting habits of a socio-economic group, and is not a very accurate indicator. There just aren't particular regions where premarital sex and contraception are taboo, as S descibes for America - but the teenage abortion rate plummets as you go down the social scale, perhaps because there are fewer disincentives to starting a family young when your future looks unpromising anyway. So I'm sure that the average age of the parents does come into it - certainly as a teenager I would have gone for trendier names than I would now.

Whew! I'm not sure how much sense that all makes...

By michelle (not verified)
September 8, 2008 2:13 PM

I guess this fits in with the Caroline/Charles discussion:

Just read on People that Tony Dovolani (a Dancing with the Stars professional dancer) and his wife just had twins. Their names...Adrian and Adriana!! WOW.

By Opal (not verified)
September 8, 2008 3:08 PM

Maggie, I agree, re: individual names for individual children. With all of the wonderful name choices out there, I can't imagine limiting myself to the same names over & over again anyway. I appreciate the sentiment of juniors as well, but it's not for me.

DelinaRose, How do you pronounce Helena? In my lifetime I've heard it pronounced 3 different ways. It was on our long list of potential girl names (we had a son) and had the benefit of being linked to my husband's grandmother, Helen. The pronunciation issue made me shy away from it a bit, though.

By Zoerhenne (not verified)
September 8, 2008 3:08 PM

Jennifer-I do not have an Ivy league education. However, if everyone who does comes off the way you just did then I don't want one!! I don't think naming your child Brylee, watching/reading John Grisham, or watching reality TV is a character flaw. And I certainly don't believe that anyone who DOES do these things is "not that bright" as you put it. Having such a deep desire to please others and "fit in" seems like a waste of time and thousands of dollars. I would never "thumb my nose" at a neighbor/friend/acquaintance/preschool parent
for naming their child Clytmenestra, Horatio, Dakota OR Elizabeth even if those were NMS. I would also treat them the same if they had 1 or 100 kids. Though I might feel obligated to ask if I could help them out any in the latter case. But irregardless of all that, we are all getting very off topic IMHO and I wonder if maybe we have anyone else out there who needs some naming advice.

BTW, cara is the baby here yet??

By Guest (not verified)
September 8, 2008 3:11 PM

I could not determine if Jennifer was being sarcastic (trying to be funny) or if her post was for real.

By Kelly (not verified)
September 8, 2008 3:26 PM

This is OT, but I was applying for a job online and that particular company had a system that would fill out some of the fields for you if you uploaded your resume. It filled out most of them accurately (of the ones that were filled out at all), but it put something really weird in the name fields. For the name it put in Network + Certification, which is a certification that I had listed on the resume (Network being shown as the first name, + as the middle name/initial, and Certification as the last name). I thought that was interesting, especially the "+" symbol (does anyone know of any real names with symbols like that in them, or can you not even do names like that)? I just thought that I'd share this interesting name-related incident.

By Eo (not verified)
September 8, 2008 3:34 PM

Hi ET, "Gower" is indeed an old name of Welsh derivation, meaning "pure". Gower Champion was a famous Hollywood choreographer/dancer of the Forties onward. He also choreographed smash hits on Broadway, and I partly associate the name with his grace and the high glamour of the period!

As a traditionalist/conservative, I find much in Guest's, Michelle's and Jennifer's comments to be fascinating and provocative. Thanks for adding more perspectives!

I'm hoping that Nymbler is in a transitional stage, and at some point it will be able to provide compatible names for even the most rare monikers...

By Amy3 (not verified)
September 8, 2008 3:41 PM

Zoerhenne -- I'm going to repost my request that is now waaaaay upthread for help naming my co-worker's baby.

"A co-worker is expecting her second son in January. 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)"

Names that have been suggested thus far:

*Thomas and James (too common)
*Roland (earmarked for a future dog)
*Thaddeus (not crazy about)
*Jasper (considering)
*Oliver (like but not the nn Ollie)
*Tobias (considering, like the nn Tobey)

Names they haven't given any feedback on yet:


By Valerie (not verified)
September 8, 2008 4:08 PM

There's a mock school registration form in the NYT today that I found amusing:
particularly the part about the child's names.

By Easternbetty (not verified)
September 8, 2008 4:15 PM

Like Eo, I quite enjoyed Jennifer's pop-psychology analysis of her own community; that's the sort of "insider's" perspective that I appreciate. Not only does her post resonate with much of what I've opbserved of the demographic she describes, but I believe her thesis is a sound one: in several societies with which I'm familiar, there are indeed many points of commonality between the "lowest" and the "highest" socio-economic strata.

By the way, Zoerhenne, I interpreted her tone differently. It seems as though she was smirking over the perceived folly of the community into which she was born and in which she has been raised. She's able to stand back and observe herself more than perhaps many others in the same situation, and the dissonance between what her community thinks of itself ("we are unique, indivudal, distinct from the masses") and what it actually practices (a powerfully rigid form of social compliance and "falling into line") is striking--wryly amusing?--to her.

By Easternbetty (not verified)
September 8, 2008 4:17 PM

I also think that if there was ever a place to discuss society and the social implications of naming, this is it! There are many other blogs committed only to soliciting and giving name suggestions; this one is refreshing for me in its stated goals of deconstructing the "art and science of baby names" AS WELL AS creating a space for name solicitations.

By Rosemay (not verified)
September 8, 2008 4:44 PM

Coll: "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?"

I agree completely with the above. Academic studies I've read often analyse language based on social class data, and as a part of the language names are no different in being affected by such factors. It's unfortunate that such a divide exists, but the fact remains that it does - and describing it is not the same as perpetuating it.

I have to say that I'm surprised at the ripples Palin's children's names have caused. I like to keep an eye on US birth announcements and trends, and her names seem far from 'out-there' compared with many others I've seen. In fact, Piper, Willow and Bristol seem positively tame!

I do wonder - if it was her husband running for VP, do you think the name choices would be analysed in nearly as much depth? I think her gender certainly plays into people's perceptions.

By sdh (not verified)
September 8, 2008 4:45 PM

new baby alert -- my brother and his wife had a boy last week named Jackson. it's a little too popular for my taste, but the baby is healthy and adorable which is all that really matters in the end!

Amy3-- how about Frederick? i think Freddy or Fritz would be adorable nicknames for a brother named Charlie.

for those of you who commented on my comments in a previous post, i think we are definitely going to go with River as a nickname for our son Richard IV who is due in Jan. but we are not making a firm decision until he is born.

as for demographics, i am a 14th generation massachusetts-resident wasp with a seven sister's undergrad degree and a master's degree from a state university. i work at an ivy league school and my husband is getting his MBA. he is from the red area of southern CA but has been in new england since college and is definitely a blue person! we are in our early 30s. i guess you could say that our naming style is traditional based on the fact that we are considering only family names. though we are seeking a less popular, less traditional nickname (see River, above). if we were having a girl instead of a boy, we would have gone with a family last name as first name for her.

By Rosemay (not verified)
September 8, 2008 4:49 PM

Jennifer: "Calling your daughter "Brylee" would be akin to saying your favorite author is John Grisham and you love reality TV. It's a strong, strong signal that you're not the right sort of person, you don't belong, and you obviously aren't all that bright."

"We're all conformists, we're just shaped by who's around us and whose approval we're courting."

I love that, Jennifer! What a brilliant portrayal - and so true!

By Opal (not verified)
September 8, 2008 4:54 PM

sdh, So true, re: your nephew being healthy. Names are great, and important, but not the be all, end all when it comes down to it. I'm glad he's hear & okay!

And I love the idea of River as a nn for Richard IV - how clever and cool!

By Aybee (not verified)
September 8, 2008 5:02 PM

I understand the patterns noted, of course there are exceptions to every rule. Here are some IRL babies I know.

Born to conservative parents: Lorelei, Austin, Collin
Born to liberal parents: Liam, Kyle, Ethan

All are in blue states.

Amy 3--
Of the names they like so far-- my favorites are Henry, Max, Tobias, and Gabriel. I like Andres but I don't know if I think it goes with Charlie.
New ones I can suggest:

By Steliana (not verified)
September 8, 2008 5:03 PM

I thought Jennifer's post was intriguing and on-base. I don't think she was trying to be rude, just to give us a sense of where she's coming from. As someone who's also coming from where she's coming from, if that makes sense, her observations about trying to be different ring very true. Everyone wants his or her little darling to have a special name, but different sets and social classes have different understandings of what specialness is. Many typical "blue-staters" (god do I hate that term, but how else to say it? I guess I'm referring to people whom Karl Rove would call "elitists") try to distinguish themselves by choosing distinctive names that are traditional in some sense, usually a literary or religious one. It's a way of allying themselves with that tradition. Introducing your children as Clytemnestra and Pindar immediately signals that you are a person who knows from classical literature. I don't see how this is any better or worse than naming your kids McKenna and Jayden as a way of showing that you like fresh, high-energy names and are clued-in to pop culture. Each sibset showcases certain values.

By Trish (not verified)
September 8, 2008 5:20 PM

Amy3- The name "Dexter" popped into my head while reading this post.
The only other name I can think of is Owen.Fre

By Trish (not verified)
September 8, 2008 5:23 PM

Just Owen. Not Owen.Fre. @@


By J&H's mom (not verified)
September 8, 2008 5:35 PM

Amy3-Here are a few more

Duncan (if they're not around a bunch of the donut places-they're very rare around here)

I love Charlie with Sam, but I'm surprised they don't think Sam is more popular than Thomas and James.
Love, Love, Love Tobias/Toby!

By DelinaRose (not verified)
September 8, 2008 5:48 PM

Opal -- I am also concerned about the pronunciaion issues I might face with Helena. I grew up hearing it pronounced HEL-e-na, but I prefer He-LAY-na. I think that the reason I am drawn to this pronunciation stems from my love for the Russian name Elena. The Russian letter E is pronounced Ye (like the 'Ye' in Yes), and so the name is Ye-LYE-nah. Obviously, there are even more pronunciation issues with that name, so I 'settled' for Helena. I still haven't decided if the pronunication difficulites are enough to put me off the name. Time will tell.

By Opal (not verified)
September 8, 2008 6:00 PM

DelinaRose, If you really love the name Helena, I don't think the pronunciation issues should deter you from using it. It did give me pause for concern, but if it had been at the very top of my list, I would have used it regardless. I think it's a beautiful name, and like you, I prefer it to be pronounced he-LAY-na.

I've also heard it pronounced simply like the name helen with an -a on the end. And I've heard it pronounced as he-lee-na as well.

If it's the name you love & choose, folks will catch on fast to the pronunciation you use.

By Valerie (not verified)
September 8, 2008 6:13 PM

Baby name alert- a colleague just had a baby boy this weekend, Cosmo James, brother to Eleanor. Like others, I'm just glad all are well, but am pretty intrigued with their choice. Having an Eleanor, I was expecting Henry or something similar. They are Ivy Leaguers but pretty down to earth. My strong hunch is that they would vote blue. We live in S. Cal.

By Brunka de Loof (not verified)
September 8, 2008 6:37 PM

Don't forget that "blue states" are also the states with more ethnic Roman Catholics (Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut--think "Everybody Loves Raymond"), which certainly tend to choose very traditional names (James, Robert, Michael, Kathleen, Mary, Grace), but are NOT generally considered socially elite. This group is part of the blue state trend too. Painting all the traditional-naming trend with one exaggerated reason-brush is a huge overgeneralization, bound to confuse and mislead.

By george (not verified)
September 8, 2008 6:56 PM

Fascinating! Thank you so much.

By sdh (not verified)
September 8, 2008 7:02 PM

where is Cleveland Kent Evans? i would love to hear his take on this post...

By Valerie (not verified)
September 8, 2008 7:05 PM

Oh, I forgot to mention I was at my SIL's wedding this weekend and met two unrelated 20-something women with interesting names. One was Alethea (Al-EE-thee-a) and the other was Alaya (AH-lee-a).

I can imagine both have challenges getting people to pronounce and spell their names correctly. I heard Alethea introducing herself to someone and he immediately said "Oh, is that Castilian?" thinking he had heard Alicia pronounced the Spanish way! I think she gets that a lot.

With Alaya, I knew her name previously, but not how to spell it. I would have guessed Aliya, or Alia or even Aaliyah. Now I've seen it written I keep wanting to pronounce it Ah-LY-ah. Sigh.

Both are lovely young women, very pale and fair where I would have guessed Hispanic, or even Arabic in the latter case upon hearing the names.

To any of you reading who are inclined to choose an unusual spelling for your child, be prepared for a lot of explaining and spelling! I got tired just watching them dealing with introductions!