Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm
Shirley Griffith. This week on our program, we talk about baby names in America.
year, more than four million babies are born in the United States.
parents name their children based on family, cultural or religious traditions. Girls
are often named after a family member but rarely their mothers. Sons, though,
are often named after their fathers.
Foreman, the former heavyweight boxing champ, has five sons and five daughters.
All of his sons are named George: George Junior, George the third, George the fourth,
George the fifth and George the sixth. Even two of his daughters have George in
their name: Freeda George Foreman and Georgetta Foreman. OK,
so this is an extreme example.
what are the most popular baby names in America? Every year the Social Security
Administration releases a list. For boys, names from the Bible were again the
leading choices last year.
was the most popular boy name for the tenth year. Michael spent a tenth year at
number two. Michael had been the number one name for thirty-eight years, from
nineteen sixty-one to nineteen ninety-eight.
Joshua and Daniel were also in the top five. Next came Alexander, Anthony,
William, Christopher and Matthew.
year Emma was the number one name for girls. Isabella was number two.
twelve years the most popular name was Emily. But last year Emily fell to
third, followed by Madison and Ava. The other names in the top ten were Olivia,
Sophia, Abigail, Elizabeth and Chloe.
days, the choice of a baby name seems to be guided as much by individual
desires as by tradition. This is shown in the fact that the most popular baby
names are not as popular as they used to be.
at San Diego State University in California did a study. They found that thirty-two
percent of boys received one of the ten most popular names in nineteen
fifty-five. The same was true for twenty-two percent of girls.
two thousand seven, however, the numbers were down to less than ten percent of
boys and only eight percent of girls.
Evans is an associate professor of psychology at Bellevue University in
Nebraska. He is also an expert in onomastics -- the study of names and naming
CLEVELAND EVANS: "People are more and more into
finding unusual names. And now since we have the information on the Internet --
at least in the United States -- of what the most popular names are, the
percentage of kids who get them actually is going down because people are able
to avoid them much more successfully than they did before."
get a better sense of the modern name game, we stopped some families out on the
National Mall here in Washington, D.C.
MOTHER: "Hailey is the oldest. With her we wanted
one that wasn't too popular. And at the time we were living in New Mexico and
we didn't know anybody that was Hailey. And this is my daughter Caitlin and
with this one we just liked the name."
MOTHER: "She's Elizabeth, after Elizabeth Taylor.
I think my husband was in love with her."
MOTHER: "This is Derek and I have another son,
Dillon. I basically looked through baby books and just found names that I
thought were a little bit different. We named both of our kids with Ds. My
husband starts with a D and I'm a D. And they're both Ds, so ...
MOTHER: "Stephanie Rafaella. She's named after my
MOTHER: "Well I always liked the name Sebastian, so
I wanted to name our older son Sebastian. And Jonathan, to be honest, was kind
of random. But his middle name is Miles which is my mother's maiden name."
MOTHER: "Elizabeth is named after my grandmother. Daniel
is named after Daniel in the Bible. And Zachary sounded wild and fun so we went
parents choose names that really set their children apart.
Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband, Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin, named their
daughter Apple. They chose it, they said, because the fruit is sweet and
wholesome. They chose a less unusual name for their son, Moses.
Singer Ashley Simpson and her husband, singer Pete
Wentz of Fall Out Boy, named their son Bronx Mowgli Wentz. Bronx, after the area
in New York City; Mowgli, from a character in "The
Jungle Book" by Rudyard Kipling.
names can be used for either sex, like Sidney, Shawn, Alex and Taylor. Thirty
years ago the name Taylor was much more likely to go to a boy than a girl. Today
the opposite is true -- as evidenced by the young singer Taylor Swift.
expert Cleveland Evans explains that many of these names were traditionally
female or male at one time or another.
CLEVELAND EVANS: "For a couple hundred years we've
had names which have switched gender but they almost always switch from male to
female. Leslie and Ashley are examples of that. Now they are overwhelmingly
female even though they started out as male. There aren't very many examples of
names which are equally popular for both boys and girls for a really long
names can, of course, make it difficult to know if someone is male or female.
Alex can be short for Alexander or the female version, Alexandra.
Charlie was last year's three hundred
seventh most popular name for boys. But it also rose to the seven hundred
thirty-sixth most popular name for girls.
We met a woman on the National Mall whose
nickname is Charlie. She was named after her father's only brother, who died a
few years before she was born. She admits that her name has caused some
WOMAN: "Actually my first name is Charles. When I
was in the military they would always assume that somebody had mis-keyed the M
versus the F [in personnel records] and would house me with a male roommate or
Sometimes a difference in spelling can identify whether
the person with the name is male or female. This brings us to a question we
received from China. A listener wanted to know if Billie Jean is considered a
girl's name, or if it can be used as a boy's name.
You might remember Billie Jean King the
women's tennis star. Of course "Billie Jean" is also one of Michael
Jackson's best known songs. In fact, the question happened to arrive just a few
days before the pop star died on June twenty-fifth.
Evans had this advice for our listener.
CLEVELAND EVANS: "Well, that's one of those things
that a little bit it depends on how you spell it. I would expect a male Billy
Gene to be B-I-L-L-Y G-E-N-E and a female Billie Jean would be B-I-L-L-I-E
Traditionally, married women in the United States have
taken their husband's last name. But now more and more are keeping their own family
name. Some add their husband's last name at the end. Some couples even create a
totally new name. But what happens when children arrive?
some cases the child takes the mother's surname as a middle name and the
father's name as the family name. Other times, the child may take on both names
as a family name. But, this can create
problems in the future.
happens when Emma Isabella Brown Smith meets Jacob Michael Williams Jones? You see
how this might be an issue.
Unlike some countries, the United States
has no laws restricting what parents can name their children. And if adults decide
they want another name, they can legally have it changed.
can find plenty of advice on the Web and in bookstores about choosing a baby
name. A lot has also been written about the possible effects that a name might have
on a child's future.
There are studies that suggest children with unusual
names are more likely to be teased. Other studies suggest that as adults, they might
be less likely to get called for a job interview. Yet other research suggests
that giving a child an unusual name might help build character.
all this adds up to is a big responsibility for parents to consider what's really
in a name. I'm Shirley Griffith.
I'm Steve Ember. Archives of our programs are at voaspecialenglish.com We leave
you with more of the names we found on the National Mall. Join us again next
week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.
WOMAN: "Tre is named after his father David Glenn.
But he's a third so that's how his nickname is Tre. Kaylee, we liked that name.
We adopted her and in the hospital they gave her a name of Cali which we didn't
like but we wanted to keep close to that.
WOMAN: "Caroline was a name that we liked. We
found it in a baby book. And then Michael we named after my husband's good
friend and my father."
WOMAN: "Carla Marie. This is Ashley Lyn and
William David. Carla was from a friend. William was from my husband's uncle and
Ashley we just picked."
MAN: "My mother's was Virginia so we named after
her and my wife Caty's middle name is Allison. So we took my mother's name and
WOMAN: "He is a third so, and I didn't like Trip
or Tre, so Tres had it. I always like the name Reagan and I'm kind of a Ronald
Reagan fan, so, voila, here she came along. And this one, I was skiing out in
Salt Lake City and the name of a building out there was Reid -- with R-E-I-D --
and it sounded good at the time."