Major shout-out to BNW /2013/12 how-to-name-baby.html


July 18, 2015 7:20 PM

The above is my attempt (now successful) to evade the spam filter.  That should be enough to find the article which uses the Babynamewizard tools to analyze various naming trends/fads, etc.

July 18, 2015 8:52 PM

One of my favorite websites talking about another of my favorite websites! That post was actually the one that got me hooked on both sites, after my mom shared it on Facebook. :-)

July 19, 2015 2:03 PM

Interesting! I hadn't seen that blog before.

I've looked at the Adolph graph at the end of the post before. What's most interesting to me is not the long tail after the end of WWII, but the inflection point at the beginning: Adolph had been dropping pretty fast in the first few decades of the Twentieth Century, but suddenly when Hitler comes to prominence that decline becomes much...slower. ???

Without that inflection in the curve, it looks like Adolph would have dropped off the charts a couple of decades earlier (say mid--to-late-1940s instead of late-1960s).

My best guess is that the ubiquity of the name just made it sound more current and name-y again, though I imagine there were also a few closet sympathizers in there.

Maybe also a version of the glamour of the villain name? Albeit very extreme on the villainous side, and weaker on the glamour.

July 21, 2015 2:32 AM

Some of it might just be the rate at which names die - names that have been used in higher quantities usually don't crash linearly, but ebb out. Even Jennifer, often used as a striking example of a fad, is still used at surprisingly high rates now.  Some of that might be namesakes, but I'd guess some of it is just an inherent property of name fads: names come out of thin air much more than they plummet to zero. (Miley, for all that it was a super-quick fad to come on and has been one of the fastest falling names in Laura W'd analyses, is still being used for hundreds of girls last year, even after the point at which Miley stopped being a wholesome association and started twerking with Robin Thicke.)

But some of why names aren't abandoned dramatically in wake of a negative association surfacing might have to do with the dilution by the population of other [insert name here]s from before the problematic association arose. It's a very different scale from the Adolph graph, but when I was facing the decision to name our child-on-the-way Rupert in the wake of the Newscorp scandal involving Mr Murdoch, I did a lot of dithering about whether the name was still usable, but we were reassured by other people's comments "but there are so many other associations for the name".

I'd been thinking that some the Adolph graph might be attributed to the same. At the time, there were a lot of other Adolphs around -- it was a top 200 name, after all, for quite some time, albeit on its way out for new births. Thus, when Hitler became a prominent association (albeit with a different spelling), there were probably also many competing associations around the expectant parents of the time... which I think might go some way to explaining why it might not have felt as dramatically unusable then as it does now. In the present day one generally doesn't have a variety of other Adolphs in one's circles of acquaintance, unless there is something seriously wrong with the company one is keeping.

ETA: I suspect you're right that there are some direct homages going on, though. This recently showed up in my RSS feed: I really enjoyed Nancy's analysis but was also deeply appalled at the numbers of people who use baby names as a platform for demonstrating some really horrific views.

It's a really interesting question, though. If anyone can think of other examples of names that one would expect to be abandoned after a negative association comes to light, I'd love to look into the decline curves of those names, too.

By Fly
July 21, 2015 4:20 AM

Adolph might also be a migration thing... WWII would've displaced a lot of Germans, who would not have considered Hitler to be the ONLY association with the name - Would've been almost like calling your child 'James' or 'William'... perhaps after a relative who died?

I was playing with Voyager after I read that article today, and the name 'Jordan' has an interesting curve.  It mostly just looks like a trend name that isn't quite finished yet, but both male and female Jordans have a weird little wiggle in the curve  between 2006 and 2010.

Also, how does Voyager work exactly? On that Jordan chart when you hover over the girls name between 1990 and 2000 it just says '1990s', and 1980-1990 is '1980s' and so on back and back.  Was the data its drawn from only released once per decade until 2000?

July 21, 2015 12:02 PM

Happily we have a much nicer association for Bilbo these days.  As for being ashamed of bearing the names of racists, Murphy james (Mike) Foster, jr., governor of Louisiana 1996-2004, named his son Murphy James Foster III, so no shame there.  In fact, Mike Foster paid an ethics violation fine for buying David Duke's mailing list featuring fellow Klan and Nazi sympathizers without reporting the expenditure, and Duke endorsed his candidacy.  OTOH Mike Foster is responsible for the current prominence (?) of Bobby Jindal on the national political scene.

It's probably too soon to tell, but I am wondering as to whether Benedict has been significantly rehabilitated by the current Pope emeritus and the estimable Mr. Cumberbatch.

July 24, 2015 1:10 AM

Re: "Happily we have a much nicer association for Bilbo these days."

That's pretty much exactly what my spouse said when we were discussing this. I was cheered, right until she asked how many more Hobbit-inspired Bilbos there were than racist-inspired ones.

The answer:


That's not a cutoff; that's the end of Bilbo showing up in the stats. The Hobbit was published in 1937. We can't say Mr Baggins hasn't inspired any names, since there might be some under the 5 births/year threshhold, but racist-Bilbo is clearly winning by a landslide. This was thoroughly depressing.

July 24, 2015 8:08 AM

This is depressing. Not to dispute Nancy's thesis at all, because clearly people did name their children after racist politicians, I'm curious about how common it was to pay this type of homage to politicians in general. Has the practice disappeared? I just briefly checked the stats on Palin and found that there were 39 girls named Palin in 2009 (there were none in 2007 and only 14 in 2008--but she didn't start getting press until halfway through the year). Palin does have some trendy sounds, but I don't think there's anyway to explain the name's jump onto the charts other than Sarah Palin's sudden appearance on the national scene. I wouldn't be suprised if other parents paid tribute to her with other spellings as well (Paylynn, Paelyn, etc.), although I don't have time at the moment to look this up.

Does this mean we can expect next year's stats to show a few baby Trumps or Sanderses?

July 21, 2015 12:35 PM

It's not so much that it didn't die out faster (as you say, there would have been lots of other associations at the time), as that it died out *more slowly* after Hitler's rise to prominence than it had been before.

Some of that might be because at first folks didn't know what he really was (there were a lot of Nazi and Fascist sympathizers in the U.S. before we joined the war), and a few might have been because of German immigration, as Fly suggests (though I would expect that to show up a little later, especially given that the U.S. was, if I recall correctly, already plurality German when WWII started), but I'm not sure that can account for all of it. I think it's some alchemy of all these things, so that naming after Granddad Adolph became MORE plausible once the name was in the news more, even for folks who didn't admire Hitler at all.

The article was very interesting. It doesn't seem that surprising, given how much more common it was in those days to name after living politicians and also how mainstream those views were in some parts of the country. Quite sad, though. It also makes me wonder how the Adolphs born in, say, 1965 feel about the name now, and whether a majority use the full name or some less-obvious nickname (or something else altogether).

Miriam, I've also been wondering about Benedict. I think it will turn on how many parents still recall "you Benedict Arnold!" as a common schoolyard epithet for traitors/tattlers and the like.

July 21, 2015 3:01 PM

I get what you're saying about the inflection point, and I think you're right that some of it is just the name being in the news more often keeping it going even for people who did not admire Hitler at all... but I suspect that it is also just the natural shape of name demise -- other trend names don't do a linear decrease if it's a name that's been used in appreciable number for a substantial period of time. (I am still trying to think of other comparable examples.)

I'm actually most surprised by the number of Adolf-with-an-f still being bestowed. It went from 20-30 births per year before the 1930s, and then declined after 1945 to 5-10 births per year... but that is 5-10 births more than I would have expected. I wish Germany had comparable statistics to compare, but I think the impression I got is that even similar names have been heavily tainted by association (like, say, Rudolph/f). In the US, Adolph shows up in the SSA stats every year, although in the new millenium it's at least under a dozen boys/year, and Adolphus also makes a consistent showing.

I think Benedict is showing signs of recovery, mediated by Mr Cumberbatch. It was in 40-60 births/year category for some time, and in the time at which I've become aware of his name it's done this:


July 24, 2015 12:31 PM

Yup, I have confidence that Mr. Cumberbatch has and will restore his name to the usable and even popular name realm. Interestingly, I have an older copy of the Baby Wizard book, and this topic just came up between me and my husband:

Me- "It says here that Benedict isn't used much at the time of publication. I bet that's not true anymore!" 

Husband- "After Benedict Arnold?"

Me- "I was thinking Cumberbatch myself, but whatever..."

We're both in our 20's, but I'm a bit more up on the influences of the pop culture curve than he is! ;)

July 23, 2015 3:25 PM

I don't know about current parents, but in my generation (I'm in high school), I don't think most people even know who Benedict Arnold is. I'm a big history nerd, so I'm personally familiar with him, but I still wasn't sure who you were referring to as a negative connotation for Benedict until you mentioned his name. Benedict Cumberbatch and Benedict XVI are definitely my primary associations.

July 23, 2015 3:43 PM

I think that the population taken as a whole most people in the US do know who Benedict Arnold was.  That may not, however, be true of most high school students.  I don't know if most people of prime child-bearing age would or would not know.

July 24, 2015 7:35 AM

Not being American, I had zero idea of who Benedict Arnold was until googling him just now. I think Cumberbatch will be the first association for most non-American English namers.

Actually, I find it quite strange that Benedict Arnold would dissaude people from using the name. I can see being dissauded if the name is very unusual and has one, and only one, large, negative association .. say Ebeneezer. But Benedict is just a name. It would never occur to me not to use Richard just because it was Nixon's name...

July 24, 2015 8:00 AM

The reason is that Americans say, "He's a Benedict Arnold" to mean "he's a traitor." It's not that Americans are particularly knowledgeable about Arnold, it's that his name became a very common expression, although perhaps now it's fading out of use. I don't think I've heard anyone say that in a long time.

July 24, 2015 10:15 AM

I was born in the early 80s, so older part of the baby-having generation, and I know who Benedict Arnold IS but I've never actually heard the expression you refer, Elizabeth T. -- as such, given that there are other associations for me (relatives in other countries named Benedict, now Mr Cumberbatch and the Pope as well), it has never seemed like an unusable name for treason reasons, to me. I suspect likewise for the younger parts of the baby-having generation, too. That said, I still think it's not ever going to become a mega-hit, either (for me the internal "dick" sound is more of a problem as long as that slang remains in use).

July 24, 2015 10:52 AM

I believe Norwegians stopped using the name Vidkun too after WWII.  (Any folks knowledgeable about Norway who could say whether or not that's true?)  What is true is that even in English people began calling traitors Quislings.  Certainly for many many years in the US, calling someone a Benedict was calling him a traitor.  I am not surprised that long-standing historical references have been fading away in recent years.  I saw a video a couple of days ago in which students from Texas Tech went around asking fellow students who were the combatants in the Civil War and who won and who is the current Vice President, and correct responses were near zero.  However, all the respondents knew who Snooki was.  At the beginning of my career I taught at Texas Tech for a couple of years, so I was not entirely surprised.

July 24, 2015 3:04 PM

I'm in the oldest part of the baby-bearing cohort, and I still recall pretty vividly an episode of the Brady Bunch in which the plot turned on a school play featuring Benedict Arnold and the related epithet. It aired originally in the sixties, but its constant reruns in the after-school timeslot during the eighties probaby impacted a generation of namers more than our school history lessons.

I wouldn't expect anyone outside the US to know who he was, or to discount the name as a result. To the British, after all, he was a (heroic?) patriot.

Overall, if someone can say "he/she is such a _____" in a pejorative way and be generally understood, that name is not coming back yet. So Dick is out for the foreseeable future, and I think so is Bertha. Poindexter seems still too nerdy, even though Dexter has made a strong comeback recently. But Benedict and Lolita and Jezebel seem to be fading as insults, to the point where many young people wouldn't know what they mean other than names, so they may well be poised for revival. I've heard that Fanny is unusable in some parts of the world, but its use to mean what-you-sit-upon in the US has declined enough that I expect it to start popping up in the next decade as a suggestion alongside Sadie and Lucy and such.

By Fly
July 24, 2015 9:24 PM

What's wrong with Bertha?  Benedict Arnold is not familiar to me.  Neither is the American Vice-President or the combatants of the civil war.  And I also don't know who Snookie* is.  Fanny is a word for female reproductive organs in Australia, and possibly also in the UK?  It's always fun when Americans come to visit.  I'm familiar with the term Jezebel, and I could have a guess at 'Lolita'.  International name associations are interesting.

Edit: So its actually spelled Snooki***

July 24, 2015 10:27 PM

Big Bertha (in German dicke Bertha) was the name given to a heavy armament (howitzer) used by the Germans in WWI.  Big Bertha was later afopted as a name for an exceptionally large example of some particular item.  I don't know for sure, but Big Bertha as the name for the mortar might have been suggested by Charlemagne's mother Bertha Bigfoot.  No reason for you to know about the American Civil War or the current American vice president, but the college students polled live in Texas, and they ought to know.  Snooki (yes, Snooki) was a rather obnoxious person on a reality show called Jersey Shore which featured a bunch of young people behaving badly at the beach.

July 25, 2015 1:01 AM

In addition to the above-mentioned howitzer, Big Bertha is a term used in a lot of different contexts for very large things. In a human context, it has a connotation of a large, unfeminine, unattractive woman, unfortunately.

That is the meaning for Fanny I was thinking I had heard. It's not that at all, here--it's an old-fashioned, girly-polite term for the posterior* of any gender. But not commonly used anymore, I don't think.

As I said, I don't expect anyone to know Benedict Arnold who's not American, and even here I'd expect most who do know it to have the association from pop culture references at least as much as from actual history. I'm sure there are historical or cultural figures in Australia that you could reference as shorthand for a bunch of characteristics that would mean nothing to me or most Americans.

I didn't actually know who Snooki was, either, before she started coming up on this board. Reality TV seems to be a very rich source of names for naming (and naming discussion) in the U.S. for the past decade.


*Aside: is there a non-euphemistic, non-medical, non-profane term for that part of the anatomy? Nothing I can think of seems both straightforward and accurate/official, unlike most other formerly-unmentionable body parts.

By Fly
July 25, 2015 8:59 AM

Backside? Bottom? It extends so far as a fanny pack being known as a bum bag here. It's definitely a no go zone haha.

Harold Holt? Murphy's Law, Menzies, Hawke, Keating, Kennett... I don't think there's many name-related associations that we're aware of that you wouldn't be, certainly nothing common (five of the six I mentioned are politicians, and four of those were prime ministers). But then we've only been a federated country for about two centuries.. And the only things to happen in that time are the world wars, of which mostly they teach a very whitewashed version of the ANZAC legend (most people don't seem to realise that we failed terribly at Gallipoli).

By EVie
July 25, 2015 11:49 PM

"Buttocks" is the most straightforward word that comes to mind. Also, the somewhat more euphemistic "rear end," and the very amusingly euphemstic "fundament." 

I'm same as lucubratrix on Benedict Arnold--born in the first half of the 1980s, and I know who he is, but people in my cohort didn't throw the name around as an insult. I would totally consider using the name.

July 26, 2015 1:54 AM

Yes! FUNDAMENT. Thank you EVie. WHen I become thoroughly tired of reminding children to sit on their bottoms, which is approximately midway through breakfast, I now have a fresh and exciting alternative to suggest! They're going to love it!

By EVie
July 26, 2015 11:07 PM

Haha, you're welcome! I recently acquired that particular bit of vocabulary from browsing through Francis Grose's 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (available from Project Gutenberg) for a writing project I'm working on. It's a very fun read if you're interested in that sort of thing. "Fundament" isn't one of the vulgar dictionary entries itself, but Grose uses it to define several other terms. Another of my favorites is "the monosyllable," (aka the C-word) which is used to define several terms and is also an entry itself, defined as "a woman's commodity" and "pudendum muliebre." I just love the prudery of the 19th century--write it in Latin and it isn't vulgar at all! 

July 27, 2015 3:19 AM

In the Summoner's Tale which is about a divided fart, Chaucer uses fundament in its meaning of 'foundation.' The friar in the tale complains about costs of repairing the foundation and pavement of the friary and tries to get a donation from the sick man he is visiting. 

  And yet, God woot, unnethe the fundement
                    And yet, God knows, hardly the foundation
2104         Parfourned is, ne of our pavement
                    Is finished, nor of our pavement
2105         Nys nat a tyle yet withinne oure wones.
                    There is not a tile yet within our dwelling.
2106         By God, we owen fourty pound for stones.
                    By God, we owe forty pounds for stones.

However, given the nature of the donation the friar eventually receives, the fundament in need of repair takes on a bit od a double meaning:

  "Now thanne, put in thyn hand doun by my bak,"
                    "Now then, put in thy hand down by my back,"
2141         Seyde this man, "and grope wel bihynde.
                    Said this man, "and grope well behind.
2142         Bynethe my buttok there shaltow fynde
                    Beneath my buttock where shalt thou find
2143         A thyng that I have hyd in pryvetee."
                    A thing that I have hidden in private."

2144         "A!" thoghte this frere, "That shal go with me!"
                    "Ah!" thought this friar, "That shall go with me!"
2145         And doun his hand he launcheth to the clifte
                    And down his hand he thrusts to the cleft
2146         In hope for to fynde there a yifte.
                    In hope to find there a gift.
2147         And whan this sike man felte this frere
                    And when this sick man felt this friar
2148         Aboute his tuwel grope there and heere,
                    About his anus grope there and here,
2149         Amydde his hand he leet the frere a fart;
                    Amid his hand he let the friar a fart;
2150         Ther nys no capul, drawynge in a cart,
                    There is no horse, pulling a cart,
2151         That myghte have lete a fart of swich a soun.
                    That could have let a fart of such a sound.

Chaucer also uses fundament plainly in the sense of buttocks at the end of the Pardoner's Tale.  In his enthusiasm after telling his tale the Pardoner tries to get Harry Bailly the host to buy some of his false relics, and Harry Bailly is having none of it:

  Com forth, sire Hoost, and offre first anon,
                 Come forth, sir Host, and offer first right now,
944         And thou shalt kisse the relikes everychon,
                 And thou shall kiss the relics every one,
945         Ye, for a grote! Unbokele anon thy purs."
                 Yea, for a fourpence coin! Unbuckle thy purse right now."

946         "Nay, nay!" quod he, "thanne have I Cristes curs!
                 "Nay, nay!" he said, "then I will have Christ's curse!
947         Lat be," quod he, "it shal nat be, so theech!
                 Let it be," he said, "it shall not be, as I may prosper!
948         Thou woldest make me kisse thyn olde breech,
                 Thou would make me kiss thine old underpants,
949         And swere it were a relyk of a seint,
                 And swear it was a relic of a saint,
950         Though it were with thy fundement depeint!
                 Though it were stained by thy fundament!

Whatever one can say about the late 14th century, it isn't prudish.

July 25, 2015 9:45 AM

There was a little girl named Fannie at my children's elementary school several years ago. She looked Hispanic.

July 21, 2015 12:40 PM

Wow. That article on Nancy's blog was fascinating, but chilling.

July 24, 2015 6:26 PM

That article on Wait But Why was actually how I found this site!