What's up next: the view from abroad

Feb 13th 2005

I write from an American perspective, but name trends don't stop at the border. More than ever before, a cohesive international style is emerging, with a set of names you're equally likely to encounter in Berlin, Paris and New York.

The international style favors smooth classics with a faintly antique flavor and no clear ethnicity -- think Anna for girls, Alexander for boys. The style is especially popular in Central and Northern Europe and in affluent English-speaking areas. Jet-setting American parents will be glad to find that the names travel well. They may also be interested to hear that Europe tends to be a few years ahead in the name curve. Greek names like Chloe and Elias, for instance, spread through Europe before catching the ears of American parents.

So for a new angle on up-and-coming names, I've made a roundup of half a dozen international-styled countries: Australia, England, France, Germany, Ireland and Sweden. My targets were names that rank in top 20 in at least two different countries, but haven't cracked the American top 100 in the past decade.



and some prospects that didn't quite make the cut:
Eloise, Georgia, Holly, Louisa, Mathilda
Elliot, Felix, Jasper, Marcus, Martin

(The fine print: I eliminated names that were close variants of American favorites, and combined spellings like Louis/Lewis.)

Many of these names are already climbing, especially in stylish urban neighborhoods...but the world clearly stands ready to welcome a few more Simons and Claras.

A NameVoyager Case Study: Adolph

Feb 9th 2005

My NameVoyager is designed to give you a sense of names as history. In certain cases you can see the stamp of a single individual -- type in Shirley to see the huge impact of Shirley Temple in the '30s. At the opposite extreme, you expect fo find names sunk by a negative personal association. So one of the most examined names in the Voyager is Adolph.

A few representative user posts:

"It's also funny to note the fortunes of names with political implications. Adolph appears to have been a somewhat popular name during the early part of the century, then plummets off the list in the 40's."

"Check out Adolph. It had a fairly precipitous drop in about 1940.. wonder why."

The odd part is, Adolph does not show a precipitous drop in the 1940s. Our intuition tells us it should, but in fact the name was already disappearing before then. The use of Adolph in America dropped 80% from 1900 to 1930, then slowly trickled off into oblivion by the late '60s. This is not to say that war with Germany played no part in the name's demise...but rather that we're looking at the wrong war.

In the 1890s and 1900s, German names were wildly popular with American parents. (Irish names play the same role today, so think of Gertrude as the Caitlin of her day.) With the dawn of the First World War, that generation of German hit names melted away. Try loading up the NameVoyager and typing Adolph. Then try Gertrude and Otto, and see how remarkably similar the patterns look. By and large, the more distinctly German the name, the faster it plummeted. The spelling Adolf disappeared completely during WWI along with names like Ernst and Ludwig.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that Adolph took so long to vanish from our shores. It's hard to imagine an American family circa 1950 naming a son Adolph, yet a good number did. The name was still close enough to its popularity peak that many parents still had Grandpa Adolphs, or other positive personal associations with the name. Half a century later, Adolph is virtually taboo and will doubtless remain that way...even as Otto prepares for a comeback.

Born January 13: A Bouncing Baby Urban Legend

Jan 28th 2005

Headlines from around the world, January 13, 2005:

"Webhead couple names baby Yahoo"
-Reuters, U.S.

"Yahoo! It's a boy"
-The Sun, U.K.

"Internet couple name baby Yahoo"
-Daily Times, Pakistan

Oops. Smaller headlines, January 24, 2005:

"Boohoo! Yahoo baby story was a fake"
-Reuters, U.S.

"Reporter fired for Yahoo baby hoax"

In case you missed it, the name heard 'round the world was supposedly selected by a Romanian couple who met online. It was actually a middle name: Lucian Yahoo Dragoman. (For my money, Lucian Dragoman is already a heck of a name on its own.) It was reported by the Bucharest paper Libertatea, and somehow became the biggest news story out of Romania in many moons.

Alas, it has been revealed that the reporter invented the whole story, and the newspaper, faced with an international embarassment, sacked him. My favorite part of the saga is this quote from the newspaper's editor:

"If it were real, it would have been a good story indeed."

Indeed! Perhaps American newspapers should lay off the ritual hand-wringing and self-flagellation when their reporters are caught fibbing, and just take the upbeat Romanian attitude: "Wouldn't it be way cool if it were true?"

But I digress.

When the story first broke, it spread like wildfire. Reports of little Yahoo spent days in the "most popular" and "most e-mailed" lists of news web sites. The boring, deflating retraction stories that followed never got any traction. It's fair to assume that thousands of people heard the initial story and never learned it was a fake. And there we have it: a brand new urban legend name, destined for a long life of telling and retelling.

But will it remain just a legend? I have to believe that somewhere out there is a real couple who really did meet on Yahoo Personals, and upon reading the news story--or even the retraction--said "Why not?" After all, it sounds great with Lucian.