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Why are baby names so different in Republican states?

Six or seven years ago, before I retired from the newspaper racket, I wrote a feature piece on baby-naming trends in America. The more I researched the subject, the more I was fascinated by it.

For example, let’s compare the top ten lists for the decade in which I was born (the 1940s) with the lists for the first decade of this century:

In my time, the most popular boys’ names were, in order: James, Robert, John, William, Richard, David, Charles, Thomas, Michael and Ronald. For girls, they were: Mary, Linda, Barbara, Patricia, Carol, Sandra, Nancy, Sharon, Judith and Susan.

The most popular boys’ names of the 2000s were: Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew, Daniel, Christopher, Andrew, Ethan, Joseph and William. For girls, they were: Emily, Madison, Emma, Olivia, Hannah, Abigail, Isabella, Samantha, Elizabeth and Ashley.

Interestingly, the most popular girl’s name in the whole of American history, Mary, isn’t even in the top 200 among babies these days. And among boys, old favorites like James, John and Robert have noticeably slipped in popularity over the years.

And now I’ve come across a new wrinkle with regard to baby-naming trends. It seems that there are distinct differences in this matter between Republican and Democratic states. And surprisingly, traditional names are more popular in the blue states:

The story is HERE:

Styles of baby names, it seems, are nearly as different in various parts of the country as voting habits. “There is an enormous red state and blue state divide on names,” says Laura Wattenberg, founder of BabyNameWizard.com and author of The Baby Name Wizard, which claims to be “the expert guide to baby name style.”

But this doesn’t play out the way you might expect. More progressive communities, Wattenberg says, tend to favor more old-fashioned names. Parents in more conservative areas come up with names that are more creative or androgynous.

“Sometimes people have a naive expectation that people who are politically conservative on social issues would name their kids in traditional ways, and it doesn’t always happen that way,” says Andrew Gelman, a professor of statistics and political science at Columbia University and author of Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State.

 Hmmm. Does this mean we’re going to see more boys named Mitt?

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9 Comments

  1. That is interesting as I get asked if we named our kids from the Bible. More traditional names in my book. I would have thought the conservatives would have went traditional.

    I had simple rules for a baby name.
    1. have to be able to spell it. ( no funky spelling of a common name)
    2. Sound like a white boy. ( not to be racist, but to be able to connect)
    2. Could have nickname. (There are no common nicknames for Carl)

  2. Carl: Education might be a factor in all of this.

    Residents of blue states tend to be better educated than those in red states. Perhaps better education translates into greater preference for more traditional baby names.

    Read this: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/03/the-conservative-states-of-america/71827/#

  3. Neftali

    I doubt we will see a dramatic increase of babies named Mitt anytime soon, even from Mormons. Now that I think about it, all the recent Presidents don’t have overly popular names. George, William/Bill, Ronald/Ronnie, James used to be popular in the 40′s but now its not, Gerald, Richard, Lyndon, Dwight….none overly popular names.

    On that note, I’ve always thought “Barack” is actually a kick-ass, cool-sounding name. Its sounds like the name of a steel worker, or nosetackle on a NFL team. (Obama’s policies I don’t think so highly of)

  4. Neftali: Actually, two of the three presidential first names just prior to Barack are still fairly popular:

    William (as in Clinton) is ranked 10th. James (as in Carter) is 17th. But George (as in the Bushes) is only 143rd.

    Patrick, by the way, is ranked 97th. When I was born, it was 58th.

  5. Incidentally, when Gerald Ford was born, his name was Leslie Lynch King Jr. He was later adopted by a Ford family.

  6. More fun with presidential names:

    Who were the last two presidents whose middle names were the surnames of previous presidents?

    Hint: These two guys were presidents in my adult lifetime. But their middle names were the surnames of presidents who served before I was born.

  7. monkey

    Ronald Wilson Reagan
    William Jefferson Clinton

    Didn’t even use Google for that. I will now turn off my brain for the rest of the day. :)

  8. monkey: Go to the head of the class.

  9. As someone who does not agree with the idea of traditional/family values being the property of one political perspective to the exclusion of others, I find it very insightful that Blue States tend to use traditional names for their babies. Perhaps that reflects the divide between political groups when it comes to “Taking America back…” What are the American traditions and values we should all share? Perhaps all of us have shared values we could do a better job of respecting…if we tried harder. Babies’ names may reflect there’s a bit of the non-traditional and of the traditional in all of us, and knowing that is a place to start.

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