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2011 Is The ‘Twilight’ Of Baby Names

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I’m not joking when I say today is one of my favorite days of the year. Why? Because the Social Security Administration has released the top baby names of 2010. And the top names are … Jacob and Isabella. Thank you, Twilight! The only new name on the Top 10 list this year is Aiden, which replaced Joshua on the boys’ side of the ledger.

Here’s the list for the ladies and gents:

But my favorite part of the release of popular names is to gauge just how popular my children’s names are. Daughter 1’s name was ranked 598th most popular in the year she was born. But now it’s moved all the way up to 333rd. Daughter 2’s name isn’t in the top 1000. Which is funny because a few years ago I read something that claimed it would be one of the most popular names by 2015. As for their middle names, daughter 1’s middle name doesn’t make the top 1000. And yes, it is a fruit name. And daughter 2’s name, Katherine, fell from 60th most popular name in the year of her birth to 70th most popular last year. Why do I think that might reverse course?

On the one hand, I think people worry too much about what to name their children. But on the other hand, as I read in an essay on naming years ago:

“The first gift of parents to a child, after the gift of life itself, is its name. Like the given life it names, the given name is a gift for a lifetime-indeed, for more than a lifetime; when we are gone, our name carved in stone and the memories it evokes will be, for nearly all of us, all that remains. Here is a gift that is not only permanent but possibly life-shaping. Here is a gift that cannot be refused; here is a gift that cannot easily be put aside; here is a gift that must be worn and that straightway not only marks but constitutes one’s identity.”

No pressure! I loved the names my parents chose for their children, including me. It did shape me to be one of girls who didn’t have to use the first initial of my last name in class — so as to distinguish me from my mates. I already was distinguished. And as if my name wasn’t unique enough, my parents used an old Irish spelling to ensure it.

It’s also interesting, though, how the child shapes the name. When we named our first, it was for a variety of reasons. We wanted a Christian name, for instance, and we loved the titular songs by Emmylou Harris and Matthew Sweet. But I thought I would use an abbreviated version of that name. I’ve done that precisely no times. It just doesn’t fit for her. And most people actually call her by her middle name.

Anyway, have some fun surfing around the Social Security Administration site. Here’s the cool tool where you can see changes in popularity. And if you want to totally geek out on the topic, try this London Review of Books piece on the history of naming. Prompted, of course, by reviewing Volume 5 of an Ancient Greek lexicon.