There’s been a lot of discussion recently about a survey at a prestigious US university that revealed that our names can have an astonishing social impact. The results showed that a name gives a clue to a person’s age, likeability (or lack of it), competence and aptitude for a job.
Some 500 students at Syracuse University, New York were given a list of names and told to rate them according to the impression they made. They were also asked: ‘Imagine you are about to meet Samantha. How competent/warm/old do you think she is when you see her name?’
New Scientist was among the respected publications that looked at the survey results and published a list of the perceived warm and competent names and gave others that were supposed to reflect low levels of warmth and competence.
At Nameslink we believe that everyone’s name is special and we’re sceptical of the supposition behind the survey. For a start, the students were mostly young and they were being asked to pass judgement on a list of names drawn from the past 70 years. Of course, there’s no surprise that a name like Dorothy or Ernest will trigger a sense that the person will be old. These names have not been popular for decades. But when it comes to the other attributes there’s a huge difference between filling out a survey in a classroom and meeting the real Dorothy in person. That’s when we are more likely to form a realistic opinion of someone.
Some names carry a touch of class traced back to the aristocracy while others are palpably more modern. There’s always been a bit of snobbery about choosing names where some are thought to be more common. Nameslink won’t go there because we have found in our research that every name has the potential to produce fascinating characters. Names move in and out of fashion.
The image that any of us creates about the holder of a name will probably have more to do with types of person we know. If we meet an aggressive character called Sophie that will colour our feelings about the name even though according to stereotype Sophie denotes a soft and warm personality.
So we don’t think much of the Syracuse survey. What, for instance, do names such as Julie, Isabel, Alice or William, Liam, Peter tell us about the people with those names. Not a lot.
And for those people who really don’t like the name their parents gave them the solution is simple. Just change it for something else. For day-to-day purposes there’s no need to go through any formalities – just tell your friends that from now on you want to be called Larry or Lulu. Who knows, throwing off an unpopular name might even bring on a personality change.
We’ve noted in an earlier post the growing interest in adopting traditional surnames for first names. Now thanks to a Nasa space probe, comes a string of fascinating opportunities for parents who want to follow writers with epic scientific imagination and set their children on a route to a distant future.
After a consultation process around the world, the International Astronomical Union (AIU) has chosen from fiction a dozen names that it has given to craters, valleys and mountains on Charon the largest moon circling the faraway planet Pluto.
One way or another we’re familiar with Charon – more usually Sharon – and of course Pluto was collared by Walt Disney as a cartoon dog.
Now the surname Clarke, with or without a final e, may get a first name booster from space exploration as a mountain formation on Charon has been titled Clarke Montes in honour of Arthur C Clarke, scientist and sci-fi author of 2001 A Space Odyssey. Clark already has a link to the extraordinary thanks to Clark Kent, otherwise Superman – and Clark is rising in the list of boys names.
If you’re really into the concept of future space travel you just might be ahead of the curve by choosing names like Butler or Nemo for a son or Dorothy for a daughter who will go places.
They’re in the list of new names for physical features on Charon published by the AIU based on images sent back to Earth by Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft in 2015. Here they all are:
Argo Chasma named for the ship sailed by Jason and the Argonauts during their quest for the Golden Fleece.
Butler Mons honours Octavia E. Butler, science fiction writer whose Xenogenesis trilogy describes humankind’s departure from Earth and subsequent return.
Caleuche Chasma named for the mythological ghost ship that travels the seas around the small island of Chiloé, off the coast of Chile.
Clarke Montes honours Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction writer and futurist whose novels were depictions of space exploration.
Dorothy Crater recognizes Dorothy Gale’s adventures in the magical world of Oz.
Kubrick Mons honours film director Stanley Kubrick, whose 2001: A Space Odyssey tells the story of humanity’s evolution from tool-using hominids to space explorers and beyond.
Mandjet Chasma named for one of the boats in Egyptian mythology that carried the sun god Ra across the sky each day, one of the earliest mythological examples of space travel.
Nasreddin Crater is named for the protagonist in folktales told mainly through the Middle East.
Nemo Crater named for the captain of the Nautilus, the submarine in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870).
Pirx Crater named for the main character in short stories by Stanislaw Lem, who travels between the Earth, Moon and Mars.
Revati Crater for the main character in the Hindu epic narrative Mahabharata, widely regarded as the first in history (circa 400 BC) to include the concept of time travel.
Sadko Crater recognizes the adventurer who travelled to the bottom of the sea in the medieval Russian epic Bylina.
International Astronomical Union https://www.iau.org
When it comes to first names, there’s a strong case for saying that Irish-American actress Saoirse Ronan is the most influential person in the world. Since her first Oscar nomination for supporting actress in the 2007 film Atonement her movie profile has shot up. This year she’s been the face – and the star – of Lady Bird, a heavily promoted film for which she won a Golden Globe for best actress and won an Oscar nomination as an unconventional teenager on the verge of adulthood. She was also Oscar nominated for another international hit film Brooklyn as an Irish girl torn between love and family loyalty.
So what’s this got to do with names? Well, Saoirse meaning freedom and pronounced either Seer-she or Sair-sha has been on the rise just about everywhere in the past decade. It’d been a popular name in Ireland for a long time but seldom travelled beyond Irish families living abroad. Now she’s in the Irish top ten and has broken into the US top 1000 for the first time. In England she’s leapt 436 places to reach number 387 – a sure sign that Saoirse’s getting noticed.
Some Irish names have travelled well for generations such as Sean and Aisling but these are in decline in the UK along with one-time favourites Siobhan and Liam. So, is the Irish vogue over? Not so much over as shifting to Saoirse – thanks to the sweet acting skills of Lady Bird.
Girl babies have a greater chance of being given a name that breaks with tradition. Flowers, nature, seasons, cities and emotions all contribute to what sociologists call the ‘originality gap’ compared with names for boys. Showbiz parents especially are willing to experiment. David and Victoria Beckham have brought Harper back into popularity while Kim Kardashian and Kanye West have named their daughters North and Chicago.
More and more parents have picked up on the idea of giving their children traditional surnames as first names. Statistics from various parts of the world in the past couple of years show a range of family names becoming popular as given names. This trend is running alongside an established move towards biblical names, especially for boys, and flowers and nature, mostly for girls.
Lawrence and Alexander have for years been interchangeable as first names and surnames. Now there is a rush to promote family names to the forefront, especially for boys. Perhaps it’s the influence of mothers keen to give prominence to a maiden name or a name prominent on their side of the family. Or maybe these are names that just sound manly. Whatever the reason, the evidence is clear.
Mostly it’s a boy thing both in the US and the UK. The latest official list for England and Wales shows some sharp risers with seven surnames in the top 100 first names: Harrison, Mason, Riley, Harvey, Tyler, Jackson and Ellis. Making rapid progress into the top 150 are Cooper, Parker, Bailey and Cole.
The rise of Harper for girls is one of the few examples of a female name/surname making it big while Harlow and Quinn are rising more modestly up the female chart.
Few people use their middle name on anything other than application forms and a few other official documents. Seldom when making introductions. Most of us have them, but how did we get them?
Here’s a guesswork guide to the person in the middle.
- Throwback to the days when children were given additional name of a saint
- A compromise between parents who can’t agree
- Maintains a traditional family name or mother’s maiden name
- Gives the child a choice to make a change
- Sounds important when using just the first letter as in Donald J Trump
Technical note: You can abandon a middle name, simply by not using it on application forms.
Historical note: Queen Victoria insisted that the name Albert was used as a middle name by her descendants, if not a first, in memory of her much-loved husband Prince Albert who died aged 42.
Their eldest son, Edward VII, was named Albert Edward and known as Bertie to his family. Their other sons all had Albert as a middle name and King George VI (great grandson of Victoria) was given Albert as a first name and was also known in his family as Bertie. On becoming king he chose to use his fourth name. Prince Harry has Albert as one of his middle names.
Noah is without doubt a man of the world. He is high in the list of popular newborn names from England to Australia, and from the US to Europe. Across the United States and in Holland, Noah was the number one choice for boys in 2016 and 2017. In England and Wales the boost for Noah has pushed him to sixth place in the list.
Noah is a classic case of a name growing organically because parents like the choice of other parents with no apparent influence from royalty or celebrity. Amelia is another in this category along with Emma and Emily.
By comparison, the decision by David and Victoria Beckham to call their daughter Harper has had dramatic impact around the world. Harper was virtually unknown as a choice for girls (except author Harper Lee who wrote To Kill a Mocking Bird, published 1960) until the Beckhams. Now she has shot to prominence in just a few years, reaching the US top ten.
And then there’s Charlotte, another international favourite, thanks to Prince William and Kate choosing the name for their daughter. Charlotte’s in the US and Australian top ten and has climbed back up to 12 in England and Wales after a few years of waning popularity.
Why do names go in and out of fashion? Our theory is that a name begins to feel old fashioned after a couple of generations. Once it was common to call a child after a grandparent but their names are not likely to be chosen for a new baby by modern thinking parents.
The name choices given for children of people in the public eye can be influential in setting a trend with the rise of Harper for instance after Victoria and David Beckham’s daughter and of George, son of Prince William and Kate.
Sometimes a name just seems right for the times and parents are willing to follow one another – the rapid rise of Amelia, Olivia, Jack and Oliver being prime examples of names that have just caught on for no particular reason. Once a name has been out of vogue for a century or so it may be ripe for a revival – and so we have seen a boost for Charlotte, Ruby, Lily and Violet among others and for the boys, Alfie, Archie, Arthur and Edward.
At Nameslink we love all names. Even if it is not in our catalogue we can create a greeting card for any occasion and any name.
Traditional names give way to Jack and Emily but remain prominent
Jack and Emily are the overall most popular names for baby boys and girls across both the UK and Ireland. The latest figures from Ireland’s Central Statistics Office show that parents in all five nations are making similar choices with Jack at number one or two everywhere. Emily tops the chart in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland and Scotland while she takes third place in England and Wales.
The Irish list shows that there is still a strong showing for traditional names often from Gaelic that do not appear in England’s top 100.
Most popular Irish name for girls is Aoife at number 13 with Saoirse, Caoimhe, Roisin and Fiadh all in the top 40. Non-Irish people may need a bit of help with pronunciation here.
Aoife (ee-fa) means beautiful
Saoirse – (seer-she) means freedom
Caoimhe (kee-va) means gentle, precious
Roisin (ro-sheen) means little rose
Fiadh (fee-a) derived from the Irish word for wild deer
Ireland’s boys are led by Oisin at 12 and Cian at 14 with Fionn, Darragh and Tadhg all inside the top 40.
Oisin (osh-een) legendary poet and warrior
Cian (key-in) means enduring
Fionn (fin) fair-headed warrior
Darragh (di-re) means fruitful and goes far back into Irish legend
Tadhg (ti-ge, like tiger without the er) a Gaelic name also found in Scotland meaning poet or philosopher.
We tip our hat to Philip Treacy
Sometimes we’re asked about the choice of people we put in our cards. The answer is that try to find a spread of interesting namesakes with a positive story. People of attainment who you feel you can admire or appreciate and who are frequently, though not always, high achievers of the present day or who have made their mark in history. We try to reflect a range of interests and activities from the arts, science, sport, showbiz or the social world.
With characters from the past, the task is relatively straightforward as their circumstances do not change and their place in the pantheon is secure. The tricky bit is sometimes making a selection from a huge catalogue of fame – Thomas, Mary, William, John for example. Who goes in and who is left out.
Our cards are not designed to be a history lesson and so we look for contemporary high fliers. Often – take Andy Murray – we may update a profile to take account of new achievements. Then there is the risk with high fliers that they may crash land. That’s why we’ve recently said farewell to Philip Green, the retail tycoon whose methods and activities have been called into question, particularly over the controversial sale and subsequent collapse of British Home Stores (BHS). We felt he no longer merited a place among the Philips with a positive image.
So out he goes and in comes Philip Treacy the milliner famous for creating daring headgear. His hats are worn at weddings, on film sets, at the races and wherever a woman wants to make a statement. At the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton 36 guests wore Philip Treacy designs.