F. Scott Fitzgerald Plays the Name Game

The final chapter of Freakonomics is about first names — whether they have an impact on a person’s life and how they travel through the different strata of society. While it’s true that most popular names start out among the middle and upper classes and then travel downward, it’s also true that some old-fashioned names (we cite Max and Sophie as examples) are recycled from obscurity and attain a newly hip status.

Well, Erica Grieder of the Economist‘s Washington bureau has written to tell us that F. Scott Fitzgerald had this figured out a long time ago. She sent in this passage from The Beautiful and Damned (1922):

“Everybody in the next generation,” suggested Dick, “will be named Peter or Barbara — because at present all the piquant literary characters are named Peter or Barbara.”

Anthony continued the prophecy:

“Of course Gladys and Eleanor, having graced the last generation of heroines and being at present in their social prime, will be passed on to the next generation of shop-girls — ”

“Displacing Ella and Stella,” interrupted Dick.

“And Pearl and Jewel,” Gloria added cordially, “and Earl and Elmer and Minnie.”

“And then I’ll come along,” remarked Dick, “and picking up the obsolete name, Jewel, I’ll attach it to some quaint and attractive character and it’ll start its career all over again.”

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COMMENTS: 17


  1. prosa says:

    There’s a site called Name Voyager which allows you to track the popularity of given names over the past 100+ years.

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  2. prosa says:

    There’s a site called Name Voyager which allows you to track the popularity of given names over the past 100+ years.

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  3. wdevries says:

    WOW! F. Scott forsaw the coming of America’s favorite Alaskan/poet/yodeler/pop star! Eat your heart out, Nostradamus!

    “Quaint and attractive,” indeed.

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  4. wdevries says:

    WOW! F. Scott forsaw the coming of America’s favorite Alaskan/poet/yodeler/pop star! Eat your heart out, Nostradamus!

    “Quaint and attractive,” indeed.

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  5. wdevries says:

    Oops — link is here.

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  6. wdevries says:

    Oops — link is here.

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  7. writertmiller says:

    I just finished reading Freakonomics and as a mother of three enjoyed the chapter on what makes a perfect parent. It is somewhat relieving to know that my choices in parenting style, having both been a working mom and a stay-at-home mom, may not make too much of a difference. However, I wonder how far the data went into distinguishing between the reasons behind the decision parents make to stay home with their children or send them to daycare; such as the personality type of their kids and whether or not parenting style makes a difference in final out comes for each type.

    For example, I have a child that has a very hard time dealing with transitions and formal daycare settings, hence my decision to stay home while that child was young. Now I also have a child who is very routine oriented and prefers a very structured environment. She flourishes in school and daycare and so I believe she will benefit more from daycare than if I stay home with her. I assume here that the data took into account and held constant whether or not the parents were parents of special needs children. But, personality, learning style and general reaction to different environments, seem to me harder variables to quantify.

    As the authors mentioned whether or not parents matter is a terribly complicated question, but I’m probably not the only one who is left wondering. Have there been studies done in relation to my questions?

    And, yes I know I’m somewhat of an obsessive parent, snicker away.

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  8. writertmiller says:

    I just finished reading Freakonomics and as a mother of three enjoyed the chapter on what makes a perfect parent. It is somewhat relieving to know that my choices in parenting style, having both been a working mom and a stay-at-home mom, may not make too much of a difference. However, I wonder how far the data went into distinguishing between the reasons behind the decision parents make to stay home with their children or send them to daycare; such as the personality type of their kids and whether or not parenting style makes a difference in final out comes for each type.

    For example, I have a child that has a very hard time dealing with transitions and formal daycare settings, hence my decision to stay home while that child was young. Now I also have a child who is very routine oriented and prefers a very structured environment. She flourishes in school and daycare and so I believe she will benefit more from daycare than if I stay home with her. I assume here that the data took into account and held constant whether or not the parents were parents of special needs children. But, personality, learning style and general reaction to different environments, seem to me harder variables to quantify.

    As the authors mentioned whether or not parents matter is a terribly complicated question, but I’m probably not the only one who is left wondering. Have there been studies done in relation to my questions?

    And, yes I know I’m somewhat of an obsessive parent, snicker away.

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  9. Bruce Hayden says:

    prosa

    Thanks for the great toy. I ran a bunch of names through it, and was surprised at the results. On the one hand, I found I had given a girl a boy’s name about 20 years after its peak (for boys). On the other, a girlfriend who thinks she has a unique name, doesn’t. About a decade after she was born, her name hit the top 1,000. And my name peaked around the year I was born and was #32 in that decade.

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  10. Bruce Hayden says:

    prosa

    Thanks for the great toy. I ran a bunch of names through it, and was surprised at the results. On the one hand, I found I had given a girl a boy’s name about 20 years after its peak (for boys). On the other, a girlfriend who thinks she has a unique name, doesn’t. About a decade after she was born, her name hit the top 1,000. And my name peaked around the year I was born and was #32 in that decade.

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  11. Bruce Hayden says:

    Oh, and I look at my brothers’ names, and all four of them were in the top ten up through the 1950s, with two of them having a number one slot – before they were born. (And one of them having a middle name that also was #1). I always wondered about my name, compared to theirs, and I think this bears it out – Bruce having risen only to #32.

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  12. Bruce Hayden says:

    Oh, and I look at my brothers’ names, and all four of them were in the top ten up through the 1950s, with two of them having a number one slot – before they were born. (And one of them having a middle name that also was #1). I always wondered about my name, compared to theirs, and I think this bears it out – Bruce having risen only to #32.

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  13. sunilbajpai says:

    It appears, from my own little, unscientific survey of friends and family names, that children tend to named with the same initial letter as one of the parents.

    Has anyone else noticed it too?

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  14. sunilbajpai says:

    It appears, from my own little, unscientific survey of friends and family names, that children tend to named with the same initial letter as one of the parents.

    Has anyone else noticed it too?

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  15. RyanHoward1b says:

    Re: First Names

    In greek families (and Italian, Armenian and many other religious ethnic cultures as well), we give our children first names based upon our parents’ first names, which is family tradition, and based upon Christian Saints’ names, which is very important, since in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the NameDay, or feast day of the Saint for whom you are named, is as important or more important than your birthday.

    The notion that you should name children based upon popularity, fads or what is the current going trend shows what a remarkable distinction there is between ongoing cultural groups like the Greeks, Jews, Italians and Chinese, who can all trace their roots back 3500 years or more, and run of the mill groups who choose to assimilate at the expense of losing their identities and cultures.

    There is an economic argument to be made based on sociological groups for group identity based across ethic as well as functional identities. By having an ethnic as well as a work functional identity, the economic actor can travel in more than one sphere personally and professionally, and belong to an entire different set of personal and professional groups and associations, and derive status and prestige from such associations. This is in contrast to the “Lonely Crowd” as portrayed by David Riesman, who have only their job identity functional group status, and little else, and remain atomized and therefore unable to identify with any group or history other than their employer.

    When one adds to these ethnic associations associations based on schools attended, e.g. alumni associations, and also interest associations, such as interests in chess, etc., one can rapidly develop entire networks of groups across different strata of the society such that one is so involved in so many segments and groups, that business and money come easily and as a natural result of being friendly and outgoing and kind to others.

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  16. RyanHoward1b says:

    Re: First Names

    In greek families (and Italian, Armenian and many other religious ethnic cultures as well), we give our children first names based upon our parents’ first names, which is family tradition, and based upon Christian Saints’ names, which is very important, since in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the NameDay, or feast day of the Saint for whom you are named, is as important or more important than your birthday.

    The notion that you should name children based upon popularity, fads or what is the current going trend shows what a remarkable distinction there is between ongoing cultural groups like the Greeks, Jews, Italians and Chinese, who can all trace their roots back 3500 years or more, and run of the mill groups who choose to assimilate at the expense of losing their identities and cultures.

    There is an economic argument to be made based on sociological groups for group identity based across ethic as well as functional identities. By having an ethnic as well as a work functional identity, the economic actor can travel in more than one sphere personally and professionally, and belong to an entire different set of personal and professional groups and associations, and derive status and prestige from such associations. This is in contrast to the “Lonely Crowd” as portrayed by David Riesman, who have only their job identity functional group status, and little else, and remain atomized and therefore unable to identify with any group or history other than their employer.

    When one adds to these ethnic associations associations based on schools attended, e.g. alumni associations, and also interest associations, such as interests in chess, etc., one can rapidly develop entire networks of groups across different strata of the society such that one is so involved in so many segments and groups, that business and money come easily and as a natural result of being friendly and outgoing and kind to others.

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  17. Samuel Wood says:

    Good to see, I’m not alone in reading Fitzgerald in economic terms

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