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The Name Game

Olivia, Leslie, and Linda

Names given to newborns tend to reflect the current times and culture. Ten years ago, IUP Magazine reported on the most popular names alumni gave to their children through the previous decade. Since then, the pattern of naming children has continued to subtly shift.

American names tend to go through a twenty-five- to thirty-year cycle. Certain names boom in particular decades then taper off, like Roy in the 1900s and Jennifer in the 1980s. Girls’ names are often trendy and tend to cycle more quickly than boys’ names, which are usually more traditional. Male names may stay in circulation longer, because boys are often named after their fathers, while girls’ names are often invented or drawn from popular culture. The American Name Society notes that the current pool of girls’ names is two to three times larger than boys’. This is reflected in the past decade’s choices by IUP alumni. While baby boys outnumbered baby girls by nearly one hundred fifty, the variety of girls’ names outpaced boys by over one hundred.

Linda, Leslie, and Olivia

Ten years ago, when Linda, Leslie, and Olivia were photographed for IUP Magazine’s compilation of baby names, their names weren’t among the most popular. Today, they still aren’t. When the 1993 photo was taken, the girls’ families lived in different school districts. Today, all three attend the same school, and Linda and Olivia share the same homeroom teacher. They have been taught by a number of IUP alumni.

Television has a strong impact on children’s names. Writers name characters with new, dramatic monikers which are quickly assimilated by the audience. As a result, characters named Rachel and Nicholas may be in their twenties on TV and two months old in real life. Other names drop out of favor for varying reasons. Earl and Elmer used to be popular, but they lost standing probably because they were stereotyped as rural names. (Elmer Fudd certainly didn't help.)

Besides popular culture, religious texts and politics strongly influence naming choices. The ranking for Hillary (with one “l” or two) plummeted after climbing for a decade and peaking in 1992. The names Ronald and Nancy declined during President Reagan’s tenure. In the mid 1800s, George was such a popular name that it was shared by half of Congress.

The sources from which names are drawn continue to expand. Some parents may literally use maps to help them choose, resulting in names such as Ireland, India, and Paris. First names have evolved from last names, like Tyler, Brandon, and Cody. Former nicknames can now be found as official first names: Jackie, Jimmy, Johnny, and Pat.

Some masculine names from the past are now owned by females, such as Taylor, Ashley, Lynn, and Marion. It appears that once a male name becomes feminized, boys don’t want it back.

One of the more unusual names chosen for an alumni child was Sadonia. “We always liked older, classic names,” said her mother, Nancy Knox Critz ’87, M’01. “We could hardly imagine some day in the future her being introduced, ‘Hi, this is my Grandmother Kylee.’” Nancy and her husband, Mark ’87, chose ‘Sadonia’ from Nancy’s Austrian great-grandmother. They usually call her Sadie for short, just as her ancestor was called.

In 1992, the most common names given by IUP alumni in the preceding decade (including spelling variations) included Megan, Emily, Amanda, Matthew, Michael, and Andrew. Looking through back issues of IUP Magazine reveals how alumni naming trends have changed, or not, in the ten years since that article. From 1993 through 2002, alumni have most often named their daughters Emily (Emilee). Virtually tied for second place are Megan (Meagan, Meaghan, Meghan), and Rachel. Sons were most often called Nicholas (Nicolas, Nikolas), followed by Matthew (Matt) and John (Jonathan, Jon, Jack).