On Barack and Caylee: names and the news

May 10th 2009

In December, I described calls I'd received from journalists eager to report on the huge wave of babies named in honor of new president Barack Obama. I had to break it to them that I wasn't aware of any such wave; as far as I knew, Barack remained a rare name. What's more, that was pretty much to be expected. Hero naming for new presidents used to be routine, but in post-Watergate American we generally wait until a president is out of office -- and preferably dead -- before committing our children's names to the cause.

Some of the reporters had trouble accepting this. The flood of new baby Baracks was an awesome story idea, and they were on deadline. They asked me to put out a call to my readers to find little Baracks. I did; nobody answered. Around the country, more journalists scrounged for examples. One dad scored a major newspaper profile by pretending to have named his son after the president. Another family was featured on television for choosing Barack for their son...as a second middle name. In fact, if you followed the news accounts, you'd be excused for thinking that the wave of little Obama namesakes had actually happened.

And now, the Social Security Administration has compounded that impression with its lead story on the 2008 name popularity data. Barack has flown thousands of spots up the popularity ranks...all the way to #2409!

Everybody, do you realize just how insignificant that change is?

For perspective, more babies would be affected by a move from, say, #99 to #98. Tons of minor reality tv stars had a bigger impact. Our president's name still isn't within shouting distance of the popularity of names like Hezekiah or Abdiel. Or to put it in political terms, even Tripp outpaced Barack by a mile.

Today, as I peruse the many headlines about the "stunning rise" of the name Barack, I can't help but think about the opportunities lost. Because when you only search within the narrow beam of your own preconceptions, you miss the chance to truly discover anything. If you'd let the data take the lead, you might find that names did tell some revealing stories about American society in 2008. For instance, you might notice the name Caylee.

Caylee Anthony was a Florida toddler who was tragically killed in June, 2008. The child was initially reported as missing; later, her mother was charged with murder. Caylee was the fifth-fastest rising name in America, ahead of Miley. Previously unranked, Caylee is now #519 among all girls' names, many times as popular as Barack.

This is not an anomaly. When the death of an attractive young woman or girl generates extended media coverage, the victim's name reliably soars in usage. The name Laci, off the charts for a decade, rose all the way to #438 in 2003 after the murder of Laci Peterson. Similarly, the name Natalee was one of the fastest risers of 2005 due to the disappearance of teenager Natalee Holloway.

At first glance, this might seem to be another instance of the "hurricane name effect": the publicity surrounding a terrible storm can make its name rise in popularity, despite the associations of death and destruction. It's the ultimate example of the old saw that any publicity is good publicity, as long as they spell your name right.

But there's a significant difference with the crime victim names. A hurricane, or even a celebrity, will only  boost a name if it's the right name. If the name is fresh and stylish, the idea will inspire parents. If not, all the publicity in the world doesn't help. The crime victims, in contrast, inspire namesakes even when their names had already gone out of style. The graph of Laci illustrates the phenomenon. This year, Caylee created new momentum for a familiar name that, accross its many spellings, had leveled off. It takes an extreme name like Jon-Benet to keep namesakes away.

This pattern suggests that much more than a mere publicity effect is at work. The victim names behave more like personal homages. And for those who might think of the intense public interest in the cases as simply "morbid curiosity," the naming pattern reveals a more profound kind of emotional involvement. Parents take baby name decisions very seriously, and they won't name a child after just anybody.

I'm a baby namer, not a sociologist, so I'll only draw my conclusions as far as the names take me. But I'll end with a contrast to contemplate. In the 21st Century, American parents are less likely than ever before to name a child after themselves, or after their own parents. They're less likely than ever to choose a name to honor a new leader, or a military hero. But they will choose names to honor a particular kind of crime victim. Look at the difference in baby-name impact between a Laci Peterson and a Pat Tillman, and come up with conclusions of your own.



By Guest (not verified)
May 10, 2009 1:08 PM

It may not have had much of an impact for first names, but I do know of 2 couples who gave their sons Barack as a middle name. I wonder if that may have been more of a trend?

By Ellen (not verified)
May 10, 2009 1:26 PM

While I agree that I have not heard of anyone naming their kids Barack in the US, didn't the name rise in other countries?

May 10, 2009 1:27 PM

Laura-Great thread! As I will continue to say, it's all about the right sound.
Barry:955 in 2004
as opposed to
Jacob=1; Jace=180; Jaden=88; Jadon=473; Jadiel=874; Jadyn=823; Jaeden=610; Jaiden=168; Jaidyn=802; Jaime=321; Jake=112; Jakob=309; Jalen=317; James=17; Jameson=382; Jamie=671; Jamison=526; Jase=643; Jason=60; Jay=395; Jayce=384; Jaydan=886; Jayden=11; Jaydin=745; Jaydon=434; Jaylan=981; Jaylen=184; Jaylin=521; Jaylon=598; Jayson=341
All infinitely MORE popular than Barack.

May 10, 2009 2:14 PM

"It may not have had much of an impact for first names, but I do know of 2 couples who gave their sons Barack as a middle name. I wonder if that may have been more of a trend?"

That's certainly possible -- it's what we do with grandparent names nowadays!

I'm not suggesting that nobody has been named after Barack Obama, or that nobody will be in the future. Just that the only way you could look at this year's name data and come away reporting on the stunning rise of Barack is if you went in with the objective of reporting a stunning rise of Barack. In past years, no name that uncommon was even noted by the SSA.

May 10, 2009 4:36 PM

Ugh. Love this post, annoyed at the trends--both looking for data only for what we want to see and naming after victims. Well, I'm not sure yet what naming after victims mean but I'm suspicious of it. I wonder if it is gendered too. All the victims Laura mentioned are female (Natalee, Caylee, Laci)...

Anyway, interesting names from my local listings:
Capri (as mn)
Azaryn (as mn)
Arthur Jr.

By ScooterGirl (not verified)
May 10, 2009 4:58 PM

In comparing this two phrases from Laura's writing: "Barack has flown thousands of spots up the popularity ranks...all the way to #2409!" and "For perspective, more babies would be affected by a move from, say, #99 to #98.", perhaps it would be better to give hard numbers? Often, rankings and percentages give a different impression from hard numbers.

I can't see the Barack numbers, but understanding that there were 200 more Caylees/Kaylees in 2008 than in 2007 (6,235 versus 6,012) is perhaps more clear. Even if you're looking at rising in the ranks from #1000 to #999, it means that roughly 194 babies were given the same name versus 192. Two baby boys out of 200 isn't much, but noting that it's out of 200 babies spread out across the nation is tiny!

May 10, 2009 5:38 PM

I guess I didn't win the Baby Name Pool, because I picked Kaylee as a falling name. I just couldn't imagine naming a baby after a murdered toddler.

May 10, 2009 5:49 PM

It is weird. The name Nicole got a slight bump (from 13 to 11) in 1994, but then started falling in popularity.

The killing of Sharon Tate didn't help Sharon's rank at all.

Nicole and Sharon were in a while different category from Caylee, Natalee, and Laci, however, in that there were already very popular names when the murders happened.

I couldn't think of any other high profile victims with unusual names. Anyone else have a better memory?

By Rayne of terror (not verified)
May 10, 2009 8:04 PM

In 2003 I was standing in line for a student ID next to a Barak. I mentioned to him I knew another Barack, a state senator I used to work for, and he was running in the US senate primary. He was nonplussed.

By Amy3
May 10, 2009 9:57 PM

This is fascinating, Laura. I agree with RobynT, though, that the trend of naming for crime victims is unsettling. I can't imagine doing that.

I hate to go off-topic so soon, but would love to get some perspective on a disagreement my husband and I are having. Our daughter, Astrid (who is 7), has lately expressed interest in having a nn (she's never really had one beyond the pet names we use for her).

I did a little digging and found two nns for Astrid I thought might work--Asti and Asta. She likes Asti, but my husband pretty much flat out refused to call her that, ever, saying that nns should arise organically rather than being chosen.

While I agree that *often* nns arise organically (and maybe I even slightly prefer this), I also think there's room for them to be chosen, especially if the person doing the choosing is the one whose name it is in the first place. I'd love to hear what the NE community thinks.

By CB, not logged in (not verified)
May 10, 2009 10:19 PM

zoerhenne - thought you might be interested in this baby name I heard today - Emmel!ne. Not ranked, but fits right in.
I wonder what percent of non-ranked names go along with major trends?
Thanks for all the number crunching!

By CB, not logged in (not verified)
May 10, 2009 10:25 PM

Amy3 - I agree that character driven nns should come about organically. You know, you can't just start calling yourself Champ or Hawkeye one day. However, I think shortening a given name falls into a different category. What's wrong with tweaking a major life choice you had no say about to suit your own style?
Treedie might be fun, even though Astrid is absolutely lovely on its own.

By knp (not verified)
May 10, 2009 10:37 PM

Amy3: I remember that when I went to Kindergarten orientation (5 y.o.), my parents asked what I wanted to be called Kristin (my given name and what I had always been called), Krissy, Kristy, Kris... at school and I chose Kris, which I was then called exclusively throughout high school and college (where I unsuccessfully tried to change it to Kristin). So, I suppose you can say I chose my nickname.
Now I'm mostly called Kristin since I work in an office of only two people -- Kris(topher)is the other person.
I'm curious-- Why does your daughter want to have a nickname?

On topic, I don't believe most people name after a violence victim to honor. But, the name comes across their radar more with the constant media attention. It sounds and looks more and more 'normal' and usage goes up. I guess I do believe that it is a publicity effect, but the difference is that it is a name of a "real" person rather than a storm or a celebrity (both can feel remote and separate).

May 10, 2009 11:26 PM

RobynT-Those are some interesting actual names. Some of them fit right in-Mackson, Riloh, but none I personally think are outstanding.

ElizabethT-I don't remember many high profile cases about boys. I'm not sure why this is. I remember also Madeline McCann, and Samantha somebody who still have not been found. Did Adam have any sort of jump either when he went missing or when he was found? On a celebrity note-I wonder if Susan will have a jump because of the Monsters + Aliens movie?

Amy3-I think if she asks for a nn then why not help her search for one? She is 7 and beginning to find her way in the world. I believe she probably thinks this is a positive step to help her do that. I like Asta as Asti makes me think of Asti Spumonti even though there is a slight pronunciation difference. It's a hard name to pull a nn from though. Maybe you could also use her mn.

CB-you are welcome for the stats. I have not had a chance to continue going through the list past the top 100 but will report when I do.

Laura-Waiting patiently for the final results of the winner!

May 11, 2009 2:26 AM

Really liked the idea of this post.

Amy3 - I did a little look because I love finding more hidden nicknames.. for Astrid I found Trix/Trixie, Oz/Ozzie, and Sid popped into my head, although a stretch.

By Holey (not verified)
May 11, 2009 2:33 AM

The Victim Boost could just be due to the way young female victims are portrayed by the media. In order to raise public interest in the case, attractive photos and glowing descriptions of the victims are publicized. For example, the about.com description of Natalee Holloway: "She was very popular and respected by her classmates and had a reputation among peers at being very intelligent and focused on her future." People who don't even know the victims hold candlelight vigils for them and hold signs saying, "We love you, [name]!" In a way, it's the safest kind of celebrity to name a kid after, because there's no chance they're going to do something that will sour people on them. But parents might not be deliberately choosing these names in homage to victims - possibly they have simply learned to associate the name "Natalee" with "attractive, popular, intelligent teenager" and "Caylee" with "adorable little girl."

May 11, 2009 5:16 AM

On the topic of self chosen nicnames, I think generally the problem is they don't stick aswell. It will probably help that she is younger, and will be called it at home, but I know when I tried to find a nicname for my name in highschool (as an Emily I felt pretty blended in) it was hard to get people to call me that instead of the easier to come by nicnames (Em, Emmy). Generally now I get called by either of those or by a nicname based on my surname.
Basically then I think it is easier to have a nicname stick if it feels natural, as then people will actually naturally call you that, and it helps the naturallness if it isn't a forced descision.

The most natural nicname that jumps out at me though would be Strid, in the same way I know a Roisin that goes by Sheen/Sheeny. Though that isn't the most feminine name for a little girl. The problem is that Astrid is already only two syllabuls, so a natural nicname feels like it should only be one syllabull. Though thats not to say that it won't eventually get longer again, I did end up calling my friend Courtney "Colabelle" at one point in highscool.

May 11, 2009 6:33 AM

I want to second knp's analysis of the post- I think it's much much more likely that it's just that people are hearing these names more, and so they're thinking about them when they are coming up with name ideas for their children, rather than "oh, let's name our baby after ____"

When my husband and I were brainstorming, sometimes the first names to come to mind weren't because we liked them so much but more we'd heard them a lot lately- for good or bad!

May 11, 2009 9:31 AM

"I want to second knp's analysis of the post- I think it's much much more likely that it's just that people are hearing these names more, and so they're thinking about them when they are coming up with name ideas for their children, rather than "oh, let's name our baby after ____"

This certainly does happen all the time, but what I attempted to get across (not too well, I guess!), is that the crime victim names behave very differently from other names in the news. They're relatively impervious to the existing trend of the name. (And surely we heard names like Barack and Bristol more than Caylee in 2008?)

Cases like Nicole Simpson and Sharon Tate are a different animal too, because they're celebrity-focused. The spotlight in the OJ trial was on the accused, not the victims.

By Coll
May 11, 2009 9:39 AM

I agree that parents are likely naming their children after crime victims because the names are in the ether due to constant media exposure rather than in self-conscious homage to dead women.

But-- I think the point Laura is driving at (with the caveat that I could be misinterpreting) is more about the way our culture and particularly our media responds to events like this rather than about the discrete thought processes and motivations behind the naming choices of particular individuals, none of which we can know.

When an attractive, beautiful young girl like Natalee Holloway goes missing in an exotic tropical environment under strange circumstances (with a hint of sexual intrigue) the news stations devote WEEKS of non-stop converage, analyzing every angle and aspect of the case. When Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan, to use Laura's example, it was certainly covered, but without that level of hyper-intensity.

Our culture fetishizes these beautiful and tragically dead white women and girls. But it's not to honor or revere them. The upshot is to valorize being a victim and to make women feel less safe. You are highly unlikely to vanish while vacationing in Aruba. Your child is highly unlikely to be kidnapped. Wartime casualties have a much greater impact on the lives of many more Americans, but we're taught to fear these rare and exceptional events.

Laci Peterson's example is a little different. Her death could have led to more coverage and awareness of the fact that pregnant women as a demographic are disproportionately likely to be killed by their significant others. But instead, the news stations fixated on the husband's motivations, his actions before the event, the evidence against him.

But I'm just as guilty of this kind of thinking. I get panic attacks on airplanes but get in a car with no problems.

May 11, 2009 9:44 AM

Laura- Thanks for the clarification, I think I at least was missing that they behave differently from other names in the news.

Amy3- I think you should definitely encourage your daughter to have a nn, but I also agree it may easily not stick. My sister tried to get people to use her mn for awhile in elementary school and it didn't work very well. Though she was JL on soccer when there was another girl with her name... You could also have her come up with her own nn. That might be sort of a fun wordgame. You could bring her mn or parts of her mn into the mix. My mn is actually Leigh, and I have some bookplates from when I was little with Jenny Leigh on them from my godmother. Now I'm occasionally called Jenny May by coworkers at a museum I work at (after the family member I usually portray in living history). So Jenny May is definitely longer than Jenny (similar in length to Jennifer), but it has become a nn for me!

By Eo (not verified)
May 11, 2009 9:59 AM

bianca-- you have a flair for inventive but plausible nicknames!

I don't have anything as good as the ones that have been offered by other posters-- but I very much like "Addie" for Astrid. It may not be "correct" in that I doubt Scandinavians would use it, but I find it charming, and it does relate to the name in terms of the letters used...

Oh, the whole "Barack" naming phenomenon. Often, when this comes up I feel duty bound to make an initial disclaimer: I'm completely outside the "Glow-bama"-- that is, I'm strangely immune to his charms since I don't agree with his policies or political philosophy.

Am disclosing that because I personally am not fond of "stealth" political statements disguised as neutral commentary-- I could be wrong, but some of the comments by the Social Security Admin. guy struck me that way. Anyway, you can choose to take my contribution with a giant grain of salt, knowing where it's coming from:

I would be surprised if parents DIDN'T pick up on the name, given the last two years of rapturous coverage of the man by most of the favorable-to-him media.

However, I don't doubt there are lovely, sincere people who bestow the name as a tribute to one with whose agenda they are completely familiar and approving... And then, some just like the sound of the word, the strong meaning, etc.

I personally wouldn't give a namesake name unless I was connected to the figure, OR, enough time had passed for history to sort through everything and render a verdict. Even though I feel toward Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp the way some people feel about Barack Obama, I don't think I would give their names to a child. For me at least, it's too soon.

So, naming after Benjamin Franklin or Inigo Jones or Anne Bradstreet, yes! But naming after Tom Hanks or current leader Sarkoszy (sp?) of France, or Oprah Winfrey, no.

By JRE (not verified)
May 11, 2009 10:03 AM

I had Caylee as a faller 'cause I couldn't imagine someone naming their child after a little girl whose mother was the accused murderer.

Guess I should take it as a compliment that I don't totally get the obsession folks give to these cases.

By Eo (not verified)
May 11, 2009 10:07 AM

Oh, and here's an interesting point hubby brought up when we were discussing the Social Security list of names.

Hubster takes a sort of libertarian view on this and is appalled that the Social Security Administration is using our money to compile name lists, etc. He sees that as completely frivolous, and outside their purview, etc. He also thinks that in an odd way, it's an encroachment on citizens' privacy-- which I'm not sure I agree with, but...

The interesting thing is that as a name obsessive, I hadn't even considered that point of view-- I was just eager to get the new list! But on reflection, I wonder if there isn't a case to be made that we don't need state bureaucracies engaging in this kind of endeavor.

But as Eric and I agreed, who would be able to do it otherwise? No private agency would have the access to the information...

By CB, not logged in (not verified)
May 11, 2009 10:25 AM

Eo - I also view the coverage of Barack's rise with a little suspicion. Why not just say in their press release, "Barack did not make the top 1000," and leave it at that? Once they start giving out obscure place numbers it seems politically driven.
I think they should stick with an "only discuss top 1000 names" policy.

By Andrea J. (not verified)
May 11, 2009 10:34 AM

Caylee, Laci, and Natalee are all odd spellings of names that were already fairly popular or well used. I would guess that all the publicity just makes parents think of names they already liked and gives them a new way to spell it they might not have thought of. If the victim was a cute little girl named Edna, I doubt you'd see it in the top 1,000. It doesn't hurt that all of the above victims were pretty young girls or women with a compelling story. Parents latch onto the stories for the same reason the news media does. They attract attention.

I just saw a birth annuouncement for a boy with the middle name Obama. There is a noticeable increase in kids with Barack or Obama somewhere in their names, but I would guess most of those kids are black.

By Holey (not verified)
May 11, 2009 10:53 AM

Trix could work as a nickname for Astrid.

May 11, 2009 10:59 AM

"Caylee, Laci, and Natalee are all odd spellings of names that were already fairly popular or well used. I would guess that all the publicity just makes parents think of names they already liked and gives them a new way to spell it they might not have thought of."

FYI, the crimes tend to make ALL spellings of the name rise:


May 11, 2009 11:00 AM

I really like Coll's interpretation about these names getting into people's heads from the huge amount of news coverage these cases get. I think my concern with naming after victims goes back to what I learned about movie representations in some class in college. You know, things like "The only good woman is a dead woman," where the most virtuous woman is the one who dies. Little Women comes to mind here.

May 11, 2009 11:03 AM

Amy3: I can see your husband's point about nicknames arising organically, but I don't think they necessarily have to work that way. Maybe he can continue to call her by her full name? I think it's interesting when people are called different things by different people. Shows different relationships or something about their history I think.

By Amy3
May 11, 2009 11:04 AM

I appreciate the clarification of the original post, Laura, and the perspective others have brought to it (specifically Coll).

Re: the nn for Astrid, thanks so much for all the great ideas! I'm going to run them by her tonight. I agree the nn may not stick, but I want to support her cause.

By NatalieHastings (not verified)
May 11, 2009 11:14 AM

Laura, you have just described a common theme in journalism that is sadly all too familiar to me as a media relations professional, particularly with the subject of Obama. Not to get political at all here, but I work for a large, nondenominational church, and I had newspapers calling asking for information on a certain subset of evangelicals and how they were voting, etc.

I don't even remember exactly what they were looking for regarding Christians and voting for Obama, but when I told them that I knew plenty of Christians voting for Obama, but that it wasn't regarding the particular little trend they were looking for, they told me, sorry, I'm only looking for this particular little thread of a trend.

What I was going to give them was much more substantive, but that wasn't going to make a good story for them. ---SIGH---

May 11, 2009 12:18 PM


It appears that the SSA has considered the privacy issues. They state on their web site that they only release the top 1000 names because of privacy concerns. I think that's an adequate place to draw the line.

By Sandra (not verified)
May 11, 2009 12:52 PM

I agree with Holey, who's the only one that's actually given a pretty good and possible reason for what's happening with female victim names.

I think because the media will associate a name with a beautiful woman, or an adorable child, people come to think of that name with those qualities.

May 11, 2009 1:13 PM

I think the Caylee name has less to do with the story behind the little girl, and more to do with the over-all trend of names that start with the "Cay" or "Kay" sound and end with the "Lee" or "Leigh" sound.. which is a LOT of names right now.

I bet if you polled all of the parents who named their daughter Caylee this year, less then 5% of them would say it had anything to do with the little girl from Florida.

Most would probably say that they liked the sound of the name, they have a friend named Katie, and thought Caylee was a good honor, etc.

Just guessing of course!

By Annee (not verified)
May 11, 2009 4:17 PM

Why don't you call her Pippi -- after the author of Pippi Longstockings (Astrid Lindgren). [Asti makes me think of Asti Spumante.]

Or mayabe you could call her Skippy -- after the real name of the dog who played Asta in the Thin Man movies. Good luck!

By Shelly (not verified)
May 11, 2009 4:21 PM

Accused wife murderer Drew Peterson named his child, who was born after the disappearance of Laci Peterson, Laci. To me, that says a lot about the type of person who would use a name of a crime victim.

May 11, 2009 9:04 PM

I missed this post yesterday. I will admit that I am a supporter of President Obama (can we still be "NE friends," eo?), had the privilege of speaking with him personally early in his campaign, and have a much-treasured photo taken with him that day that sits on my computer desk shelves. So of course, I noticed the media search for babies named Barack or Obama soon after the election. I think (I'm pretty sure) that Barack Obama is seen as a positive role model by African Americans and it's especially parents from this section of the population that I expected might choose his name for their baby boys. When the 2008 results came out, I looked to see if "Barack" made the list -- it didn't.

But Social Security commissioner Michael Astrue got the media going by announcing on the Today Show that the name Barack had shown the biggest ranking increase ever in one year. He didn't say how many baby boys were named Barack in either 2007 or 2008, just that the name had gone up the most number of places ever. SSA also put out this news release and put it on its website:
"The name everybody is wondering about, Barack, did not make this year’s top 1,000 boy’s list, but it did set what is believed to be a record by skyrocketing more than 10,000 spots in rising from number 12,535 in 2007 to 2,409 in 2008. Social Security’s sophisticated predictive models are forecasting an increase well into the top 1,000 for Barack for 2009." So it was the Social Security Administration that got the story going, and the media went with it.

I think it's a valid story. After all, Barack is the very unusual name of our current president. And reporting on the rise of the name of the president of the United States, the first African American president, who is providing a positive role model for black and other minority boys, who through his election is showing all minority kids throughout the country that you really can grow up to be president, is a story worth reporting. I think SSA is right: there will be even more baby boys named Barack this year.

May 11, 2009 10:39 PM

Eo - thanks!

Or what about Azzy for Astrid? I know a lot of people pronounce it Ahhhhstrid, but I use the shorter sound that the one Astrid I knew used. Or Star - I still get an astronomy feel from the name, and it's got a similar sound/letters anyway. Pippi is super cute, I like the idea of taking the nn from a cute name associated with the original name. I suppose you'd have to read her the story and have her like it first to make the connection.. Let us know how she responds:)

By Andrea J. (not verified)
May 11, 2009 10:41 PM

Sure, it makes all spellings of the name rise because it's in the news and they hear it a lot and they may not know how to spell it if they never read the papers or the magazine. If it's a name they already like and have heard in the past, it becomes one of the top names on their list for a possible child. If the victim happens to be a cute little blonde girl named Agatha, Edna, or Olga, you are not going to see the same effect as you do when the kid's name is Laci or Natalee or Caylee. It has to be a name that people already like or one that fits a currently popular sound pattern. It also isn't going to be as noticeable if the woman or girl in question had an already popular name: Emma or Hannah or Elizabeth, say. I'd guess Elizabeth Smart attracted similar attention but you can't know if she had any impact on use of the name because Elizabeth was already an extremely popular, well-known name.

It is unfortunate that people pay more attention to stories about attractive, young, white female victims, but it probably isn't going to change any time soon.

By Patricia (not logged in) (not verified)
May 11, 2009 10:49 PM

Journalists are reporting on the new SSA baby name stats from different angles. Best-selling author Mitch Albom focused on the top 5 names in "What's in a name? Let's ask Emma!"

"What happened to Mary, Sue, Amy, Alice or Beth? It's not that I think they are prettier or more mellifluous. Just more ... American. I mean, Emma, Isabella, Emily, Madison and Ava sounds like roll call at a British boarding school. Except for Madison. Don't get me wrong. But did anyone really name their baby Madison until the movie "Splash," when Daryl Hannah made it famous?"

Regarding the boys top five, Albom quips, "By the way, the most popular boy's name last year was Jacob. Followed by Michael, Ethan, Joshua and Daniel. Those don't sound British. They sound Amish."


By Beth the original (not verified)
May 11, 2009 11:06 PM

Oooo, I like Pippi as a nickname! And as a late poster, I must know what Amy3's daughter chose!

We will know that the Barack Obama phenomenon (Obamanon?) is real when people start giving their kids the name Hussein. Did anyone see that Facebook campaign where people added Hussein to their middle names to protest anti-Muslim rhetoric being aimed at Obama? It was so charming to me to see the Facebook names like "Linda Hussein Schmecklewitz" and "Min-yee Hussein Jones." But Eo, despite our hanging out on different ends of the political see-saw, I think you may be right that the media sometimes tries a bit too hard to recreate the Kennedy era with coverage of all things Obama-related.

As to naming babies after victims of horrific crimes, eww. It seems a curse. Unless the victim was in your own family.

May 11, 2009 11:08 PM

Patricia-LOL that comment about the boys names above is so funny. You may remember I am in central PA (prime Amish country). When I was pregnant with my DS, I liked the name Joshua Connor. My dh said absolutely no way was he naming our son an Amish name.

By Patricia (not logged in) (not verified)
May 11, 2009 11:58 PM

I really dislike it when people make a big thing about Barack Obama's middle name Hussein. After all, he didn't name himself, nor is he himself Muslim (which is a perfectly all right religion to follow, but he is a Christian). I disagree with your assertion, Beth the original, that "We will know that the Barack Obama phenomenon (Obamanon?) is real when people start giving their kids the name Hussein." Why would parents who admire Barack Obama bypass the name the President is known by -- Barack -- and choose his middle name instead? And what would it prove if they did -- or didn't?

By Guest (not verified)
May 12, 2009 12:59 AM

"And surely we heard names like Barack and Bristol more than Caylee in 2008?"

Laura, you're showing your class. If you got all your news from Nancy Grace I can guarantee you which names you hear most often. It's also why soap opera names become so popular.

By Patricia (not logged in) (not verified)
May 12, 2009 1:05 AM

Beth the original, if you're interested in Muslim names in the USA, you might check the 2008 SSA stats. Mohamed, the name of the prophet who founded the Islamic religion in the 7th century, is number 505, while other transcipted spellings of the name rank in the 600s: Muhammad - 617, Mohammed - 648, and Mohammad - 684. Altogether 1644 American baby boys were given some version of the name Mohamed in 2008 -- about the same number as that of boys who were named Martin (perhaps for Martin Luther King or Martin Luther, founder of Lutheranism). Amina, the name of Mohamed's mother, ranked 763.

In our town there are a number of Bosnian refugee families who are of the Islamic faith. My 13-year-old granddaughter has several Bosnian friends, including one named Amina and others named Emina (which I think may be an alternate spelling of the same name), Ermina, Nermina and others. My 6-year-old twin grandsons have a Bosnian classmate, a boy named Dzenan (pronounced Jennan). It's no big deal to my grandkids that their friends are from a different culture and religion and have names that are unknown to most Americans. That's the great thing about America: people from different cultures and religions live side by side and their kids grow up together, taking it all for granted. And new names enter our name pool too.

By Nina
May 12, 2009 3:21 AM

I think it's a great signs that there wasn't a huge surge in people naming their child Barack.

No matter how in awe you are of the man now, he hasn't accomplished anything yet. You don't know how he will do and if you will still agree with him in a few years. I would never name my child after a politician, no matter how much I admired him/her at the moment. It's just not a smart thing to do.

Regarding the nn for Astrid, I tend to agree with your husband.

May 12, 2009 8:56 AM

And yet parents would name their child the same name as a young woman or child who was recently brutally murdered.

I think many parents just choose a name that appeals to them, often for what they perceive as its uniqueness. Going beyond that to assess whether the qualities of a person in the news who bears that name are those they want their child to emulate doesn't appear to be part of the naming process for many parents. Considering what their child's name brings to mind doesn't seem to be part of their assessment of the name.

Barack Obama, no matter how his presidency is viewed in the future (and we know there are those who are hoping he fails, no matter what that would mean for our country), has made history by becoming the first person of African American ethnicity (of any minority group) to become president of the United States. For that alone, he is a role model to all children that in America anyone can rise to the highest level.

I don't think parents need to wait another generation before giving their sons the name Barack if they so choose.

May 12, 2009 9:48 AM

Andrea J.: "I just saw a birth annuouncement for a boy with the middle name Obama. There is a noticeable increase in kids with Barack or Obama somewhere in their names, but I would guess most of those kids are black."

I agree with the first part of your statement, but winced when I read what seems to be a qualifying closing: "but I would guess most of those kids are black". Does it make the use of the name less noteworthy if that's so?

Here's a news report of a baby in the UK, not black but Irish-Indian, who was born right after the election of Barack Obama and given the name Barack as his middle name: Art Barack Chatterjee. His parents chose not to know the sex of their baby before he was born and didn't settle on a name until he was a week old. "For GP Amit, whose parents both hale from Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India, and social worker Emer, who was raised in County Monaghan, Ireland, their son’s middle name [Barack] has special significance."

"[Mum]Emer, 35, said: “It was a fantastic moment when Obama won. We were quite hopeful things would be different. We’d joined everyone else in the slight negative view of the way things have been over the last few years. Now there’s the hope things can be different.”

"Dad Amit said: “There was one night when we thought about calling him Barack for a joke, because it was all over the news. Then we just forgot all about it. Then when he was born we spent a long time thinking about the name... Its unusual and we don’t know anyone else with it, so we just went for it. It’s definitely one of the more ‘out there’ things we’ve done.”

Emer said: “I think part of why we found Obama’s victory inspirational [is] because our children are mixed race. We thought it would be nice in 20 years time when Art can look back and know he’s named after someone who changed history.”

Amit said: “We hope Obama’s going to be a great president. Who know’s what’s going to happen, but he’s already broken new ground. He’s shown skill and talent are what counts, and America can have a black president."


By Andrea J. (not verified)
May 12, 2009 3:14 PM

It may make you wince, but it's also true that most of the kids named Barack or Obama ARE probably black or some other minority, most likely because it is such a momentous event to have the first black president. The child whose birth announcement I saw is black and his parents have names that I would guess are Somali, since there are a fair number of Somali immigrants in that part of the state. So were the children who were named around the election whose parents were interviewed for news stories. There probably are a few white kids being named Obama or Barack whose parents are just enthusiastic Obama voters, but I would be willing to bet money that the majority of the little Obamas/Baracks are black and a lot of the others are Hispanic or American Indian or Indian.

As far as where most people get their news, I doubt that most people hear Bristol Palin's name more often than Caylee Anthony's or that people actively choose to name their kids after murder victims. If you stand in line at the grocery store and aren't actively paying attention, you're still going to glance at a picture of cute little Caylee Anthony on the front of the tabloid with a story about "Monster Mom" under it. It's a name that's in the ether and one that fits a sound pattern people already like.