British Baby Names vs. American Baby Names, Part 2
Last time, I described how I compared baby name stats in the United States vs. England and Wales to look for stylistic differences. (Take a moment and read that part first!) The distinguishing characteristic of contemporary British naming turned out to be cuteness. The most-British list was packed with old-fashioned diminutives (Alfie, Ollie) and sweet li'l cuddly names (Poppy, Ellie-May).
The irony is that that nicknames, especially with hyphens attached, used to be stereotypically American names. Once upon a time, Americans were supposed to be Chuck, Steve, Nancy, Randy, and Hank...or Billy-Ray and Peggy-Sue. Clearly, those days are gone. What are the Americans up to now, then?
There turn out to be multiple answers, some which fit other American stereotypes, and some which might surprise you. Here's the top-10 list:
Most American Baby Names, 2010
Compared to the most-British list, you'll notice a strong formality. In place of Alfie and Lily-Mae, we have Anthony and Lillian. Even when a name ends in the -ee sound typical of diminutives, as much of the girls' list does, it's a full, formal name.
That formality plays out in several overlapping themes. First off, we have surnames -- lots of surnames. Names like Addison, Landon, Hunter and Hailey have strong surname style, and several names with longer histories as given names, like Avery and Ashley, also have surname roots. (Note that the surname spelling Allison makes the most-American list, while the classic first-name spelling Alison doesn't come close.)
Surnames like these are a contemporary name style, but a relatively conservative and formal one. On the girl's side, you especially see surnames that had a tradition as male names -- yet a farther step from Lily-Mae and friends. It's as if America wants to dress up its little boys and girls alike in pinstripe suits.
Other themes: Jose and Angel represent the Spanish traditions of parts of the American population, the counterparts, you might say, to the Celtic names on the E& W list. Next come the modern inventions packed with long vowels (Kaylee, Brayden). These fit some American self-stereotypes about modern naming, that our nurseries are filled with newly created names that sound like teen idols.
And then we have the Western pioneer names. You see hints of the style in Elijah and Landon (picture actor Michael Landon in Bonanza), and it hits its stride just outside the top 10 with names like Wyatt, Jackson and Jeremiah. Yes, Americans really do choose cowboy names! Yee-haw!
In the remainder of the list, the formality resumes...and our American stereotypes abruptly cease. Gavin and Christian are old, traditional names that Americans consider to have a certain formal elegance (and maybe even a British edge). And how about Anthony? Andrew? And lurking just beyond the top 10 you'll find names like Christopher and Jonathan. As in Anthony Trollope, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Christopher Wren, and Jonathan Swift. All impeccably tradional names, all with plenty of British tradition, and all now overwhelmingly American.
It's an interesting group. They're all classic men's names without the slightest whiff of the exotic about them. Even the most conservative namer would approve. Yet none of them are part of the traditional core of English-language names, the kingly names like John, James, William, George, Edward and Robert that reigned for centuries. One hundred years ago, none of the four "all-American standards" ranked among America's top 30 boys' names. Today, they all do. That makes for a neat little balancing act: classic, traditional and formal, but not old. While Americans may not share the British love of child-like names, they're on the lookout for the new and fresh. Americans want to sound youthful, but not young.