Parents are giving babies a variety of names

Published 8:09 am Tuesday, December 23, 2008

“Forrest. That’s a nice name.”

Thank you.

That same compliment seems to happen a lot lately for many parents.

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“(Insert name here). That’s a nice name.”

I suppose the conversation always has happened, so what I mean to say is that I like a lot of the child names I hear lately.

It seems many post-World War II children had the same standard names: Chris, Tom, Tim, Doug, Dan, John, Mark, Mike, Brian, Joe, Robert, Sarah, Linda, Nicole, Laura, Jennifer, Melissa, Lisa, Ann, Amy, Judy, Mary, Cari, Terry, Sheri, Barry, Larry, Gary, Steve.

Teachers in the second half of the 20th century had to deal with many students with the same names. My small-town class had three Dougs at one point. My Sunday school class had two Tims. He was I Timothy, and I was II Timothy. My mother switched her nickname spelling to Teri because there was a boy named Terry in her class.

But many grandparents had these interesting and unique names. I delivered the Des Moines Sunday Register on a motor route. I’d look on a county plat map and see farmers with names like Clarence, Ernest, Stanley, Melvin, Glenn, Elmer, Ernest, Floyd, Gilbert, Herman, Oscar, Duane, Dean, Roland, Leo, Lowell, Vernon, Warren, Felix, Kent.

Go to a church potluck and the women had names like Mabel, Esther, Agnes, Frances, Francine, Gwen, Alta, Marguerite, Virginia, Helen, Christine, Wanda, Doris, Dorothy, Eileen, Hazel, June, Eleanor, Ruby, Faye, Dixie, Velma, Eloise, Gretchen.

Sure, they still used common names, such as Robert, William, Charles, Jill, Carol and Susan, but it seemed babies born before the end of World War II were given a greater variety of names.

Look at my family. I have older or deceased relatives with names of Rudolph, Cecil, Chester, Walter, Naomi, Gladys, Mavis, Merlyn, Ardell, Phyllis, Darlene, Mildred, Wallace, Harry, Daisy, Norman, Otto, Nora, Violet, Elizabeth, Beulah, Fannie. The relatives more my age or my parents’ age have names of Thomas, Jeff, David, Kristin, Jennifer, Kelly, Emily, Michael, Scott, Dale, Matt, Brian, Diane, Michelle, Amy, Ryan, Cari. There are some less common names, such as Peder, Kara and Jocelyn, but you see the overall trend.

My mother likes to say things go in cycles, and names prove that true. The younger age group of relatives has varied and less common names again: Forrest, Caitlin, Macy, Lauren, Karlee, Parker, Meadow, Jazmyn, Josi, Tara, Madelyn, Brody, Talia, Cole, Lucas, Maddox, Grace, Mya, Reagan. Sure, some are more common, such as Adam, Nick and Rebecca, but the trend is there.

It seems names of babies these days have greater variety, and I like it. When I meet a baby and ask the name and the mother says something that is distinctive and special — for instance, two baby girls of Tribune employees are Sophie and Jaelyn — it is easy to respond with “That’s a nice name.” When I was born, people probably said, “Oh, my friend just had a kid they named Tim,” or some off-the-cuff comment on the frequency of the name.

What’s different is the choice of names parents are using today aren’t the same as the parents of pre-World War II babies. Some are the same, sure, but many haven’t had this sort of popularity in a long time, if ever.

Like always, certain names are popular, but we are seeing more babies with names like Noah, Aiden, Elijah, Mason, Connor, Hunter, Carson, Grant, Peyton, Eli, Ashton, Logan, Drake, Dallas, Brendan, Grady, Graham, Davis, Lance, Reese, Jackson, Caleb, Chase, Diego, Dylan and Chloe, Abigail, Ava, Grace, Elsa, Brooke, Kaylee, Brandi, Mackenzie, Arianna, Faith, Megan, Haley, Makayla, Addison, Summer, Camila, Brianna, Sabrina, Sierra, Hope, Piper, Heaven, Chelsea, Jasmine.

What really is different these days is each and every name has about 14 spellings. Teachers are glad the kids don’t have all the same names anymore, but now they have a hard time keeping track of the crazy spellings.

OK, my sister’s name is Jocelyn. Mom liked common boy names and uncommon girl names. She was born in 1973. According to the Social Security Administration, Jocelyn was the 493rd most popular name for baby girls that year. Timothy was the 22nd most popular boy name.

In 2007, Jocelyn was the 50th most popular girl name. Timothy was the 100th most popular boy name. Her name has skyrocketed in popularity. It first made the top 1,000 in 1927.

Forrest, my son’s name, reached its high point in 1913 as a name for boys, coming in at 173rd. Its popularity waned until the mid-1980s. It leaped up to 217th in 1994, but then declined. “Forrest Gump” came out in 1994, so I suppose that explains it. It hasn’t made the top 1,000 since 2003.

That’s OK. If it’s cool to have an uncommon name these days, you want to be off the chart.

Here’s a surprise: Forrest as a name for girls — yes, it’s true! — reached its high point in 1890, at 890th. It last appeared in the top 1,000 girl names in 1907.

Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.