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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  1. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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  5. 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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  6. 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?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. 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.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  8. 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.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0