Ethnic Baby Names Grow in Popularity
- IN NEW YORK CRIBS, JEFF AND LISA GIVE WAY TO AHMED AND CHAYA
JENNIFER 8. LEE, New York Times, 9/17/05
In New York Cribs, Jeff and Lisa Give Way to Ahmed and Chaya
In the last several years, New York City has had more baby girls
named Fatoumata than Lisa, more Aaliyahs than Melissas, more Chayas
than Christinas. There have been more baby boys named Moshe than
Peter, more Miguels than Jeffreys, more Ahmeds than Stanleys.
Among the newborns at the Elmhurst Hospital Center are, clockwise
from top, Andrew Steven, Stephany Nicole and Elleora.
Yesterday, the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
released the name breakdown for the 124,099 babies born in New York
City in 2004. That, together with data stretching back to 1920,
shows that in a city that is fashion-conscious and full of
immigrants, some foreign-sounding names have become arguably more
New York than American classics like Carol, Susan, Stephen and Harry.
But the reverse also happens. Jose and Luis were the top two names
for Hispanic baby boys in 1980. But today they have slipped out of
the Top 10, behind names like Brandon, Kevin and Christopher. The
top Hispanic baby name today is Justin.
There is a lot in a name. One of an individual's most defining
characteristics, a name also says just as much - if not more - about
the country, the city, even the family to which a person belongs.
It is not news that the ethnic makeup of New York City is changing
and has been for decades. But the effects this has on the names of
the city's newborns can be dramatic, and surprising. "When you look
at the incredible diversity of the top of the New York naming list,"
said Laura Wattenberg, author of "The Baby Name Wizard" (Broadway
Books, 2005), "there are two different phenomena working together.
There is the rising diversity of the population and the willingness
to use names from your ethnic background rather than adopting an
Anglo name, which is a change from past generations. At the same
time, there is a fall of the usage of the Anglo-Christian classics."
Names speak to parents' aspirations for their children. Everyone has
one, and, of course, they are free, said Stanley Lieberson, a
Harvard sociology professor who wrote "A Matter of Taste: How Names,
Fashions and Culture Change" (Yale, 2000). And because few special
interest groups have anything to gain in baby name selection, "It's
clean from commercial influences and not simply a reflection of
affluence," Professor Lieberson said.
According to the names released yesterday, Michael and Emily still
hang on to their top positions, with Daniel and Ashley close behind.
However, there were differences across groups, with Emily the most
popular name among Asian-Americans, Ashley the top name for
Hispanics, Kayla among blacks and Sarah for whites. And, just for
the record, there were 27 Katrinas born last year, placing the name
out of the top 300.
But look more deeply into the list, beyond the Top 10, and the ebb
and flow of changes over the years becomes more apparent.
Religion is far and away the biggest influence on names around the
world. Some of that is reflected in New York City, which attracts a
wide cross section of Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Hindus, all of
whom have strong religious naming traditions.
Added up, the spellings of Muhammad, which vary across the Middle
East, South Asia and Southeast Asia (Mohammed, Mohammad, Mohamed,
Muhammad, Mouhamed), make it a Top 50 name - ahead of Richard and
The city's large Orthodox Jewish population has helped to push Moshe
to No. 68 , Mordechai to 155 and Shlomo to 199. Angel (26 in 2004
over all) and Jesus (96) are popular among Hispanic boys, as are
names of Catholic saints traditionally.
Esther, Grace and Hannah have long been popular for Korean-American
girls nationwide due to the Christian missionary influence,
Professor Lieberson said. Fatoumata, a popular West African name
that was given to 41 of the city's baby girls in 2004, may be a
local variation of the Arabic Muslim name, Fatima, though its exact
origins are unclear.
Currently, the stylish trend for boys is two-syllable names ending
in "en" that feature strong vowels and soft consonants. In
particular, the "aden" family of names are surging up the charts in
New York and the rest of the country: Aiden, Caden, Hayden, Jayden.
The myriad various spellings of Jayden (Jaden, Jadon, Jaeden,
Jaiden, Jayden, Jaydin, Jaydon) added together make it a Top 10 name
in New York City.
Immigrant influences can be spotted in baby name data through New
York City history. Francesco, Antonio and Giuseppe were Top 20 baby
boy names in 1920, at the tail end of the great wave of immigration
from southern Italy. No longer.
Likewise, a century ago, Germanic-influenced names were popular in
New York City and beyond: Bertha, Mildred, Gertrude, Herman.
In New York, as in the rest of the country, some standard-bearers
have been spurned by parents who are looking for fresher, more
original names. Lisa, the top girls' name throughout the 1960's, has
slipped out of the top 200. But Lisa has hung on better than Carol,
which hit its peak in the 1940's in the Top 5, but by 2003 had since
fallen out of the city's Top 500, far behind Luz, Yocheved and
Some classic men's names - Michael (1), David (6) and John (19) -
have hung on in the Top 20. Others - Edward, Charles and George,
(all names popular with British royalty) - no longer make the cut
for the Top 50, at Nos. 78, 81 and 91, respectively.
Black female names tracked white female names until the late 1960's.
The city's top five black girls' names in 1965 were Lisa, Sharon,
Kim, Denise and Karen. But spurred by the black power movement and
media phenomena like "Roots," certain prefixes and suffixes inspired
by Islamic and African names, like "Lat," "isha" and "ika," became
fashionable for black girls in 1975: Tamika (No. 3 among black girls
in 1975), Latoya (16), Latisha (20), Latasha (75) and Shameka (88).
Since then, the divergence has kept growing. In 2003, not a single
one of the top 20 girls names for blacks and whites overlapped -
though both strongly featured names ending in the "a" sound. White
families often try to revive classic names that have fallen out of
use like Olivia or Hannah, whereas blacks are more likely to
improvise, Professor Lieberson said. But now improvisation is
becoming more common across the board.
And Asian-American names have their own quirk: They lag mainstream
America, with last year's top 10 list of Asian-American baby names
filled with names that hit their overall peaks a generation ago:
Jason, Brian, Eric, Michelle, Tiffany, Nicole, Amy and Kelly. This
results from a tendency of Asian-American parents to take a cue from
the names of adult peers, Professor Lieberson said.
There is one popular name on which New Yorkers differ sharply from
the rest of the country: Brooklyn. The name, a combination of two
girls' names, Brooke and Lynn, has soared up the list of the
nation's top 1,000 female baby names since 1990, landing at No. 101
in 2004. But in New York City, Brooklyn has barely registered,
appearing nowhere in any of the Health Department rankings.
"New Yorkers hear Brooklyn, and they have an image of a place,
despite its many charms, that doesn't seem very delicate and
feminine," Ms. Wattenberg said.
Andy Lehren contributed reporting for this article.
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