Newer Places Breed Newer Names

A new study finds that parents in newer, “frontier” states choose less-common baby names than parents in older states (like the original 13). “In New England states, more babies were given the most popular boys’ and girls’ names than they were in frontier states – those in the Mountain West and Pacific Northwest. Statistical analyses showed the longer ago a state had achieved statehood, the more likely it was to have a higher percentage of people with one of the top 10 most popular baby names. The results held even after the researchers accounted for other factors that might impact baby-name choices, including population density, ethnicity of a state and median income.” The researchers observed a similar pattern across countries. Michael Varnum, one of the lead researchers on the study, points out that various early factors in frontier states “select for people who are high in individualism and foster and reward individualistic values such as uniqueness and self-reliance. This leads to regional cultures which perpetuate these values, which in turn shape behavioral practices, such as baby naming.” (HT: Eric Samuelson)

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  1. Ian Kemmish says:

    Then again, maybe in places where peoples mingle, there are more failed attempts to transliterate names from other ethnic traditions.

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  2. Eric M. Jones says:

    The mind reels with ideas for studies that run out of alternative ideas for causation. Correlation is not causation….Possibilities seem limitless.

    Perhaps being born up against the magnificent Rockies or the cold Pacific gives rise to new notions. Perhaps the people with good ideas left the old haunts on the East Coast.

    When the railroads and canals opened up the Ohio farmlands in 1830–where the fertile soil was 12 feet deep–certain people decided that staying to scratch out a living in glacial-till-strewn quarter-inch topsoils in New England was a good idea.

    Those people aren’t real big on change (or brains)…ya’ know what I mean?

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  3. Michael Radosevich says:

    A very well-known actress named her first two children, born in California, Sunshine and Harmony. After a divorce, remarriage, and move to Connecticut, her next two children were named Charles and Edward.

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  4. ACW says:

    They are also more likely to leave family and ancestors behind. While you might as easily suppose that they would be more likely therefore to name their children for those ancestors, without the physical presence of Aunt Whoever or Great Uncle Whatsis to remind them, and probably less chance of an inheritance to win through the flattery of a namesake baby, there is less incentive to give your child that ancestor’s name (which is, I suspect, probably a traditional name). They may also be consciously trying to assimilate to a new identity, the negative reflection of individualism and self-reliance as positive. (That is, becoming a new self vs escaping the old self.)

    Anyone done a study of the alternating-generations effect, in which the first native-born generation consciously tries to assimilate and ditch its F.O.B. parents’ ways, and the grandchildren revert? An example: The authors of the People’s Almanac series of some years ago, father Wallace (assimilated) and son Wallechinsky (reversion to grandfather). One also sees this phenomenon in religion: Granddad Orthodox; son Unitarian or agnostic; grandson baal tshuvah.

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  5. ACW says:

    Forgot to mention language — grandkids learning Italian or Yiddish or whatever to connect with the roots their parents uprooted. Also not uncommon.

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  6. KevinM says:

    Track, Trig, Bristol, Willow and Piper. Alaska, the 49th state, was admitted to the union 1959.

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  7. Greg says:

    Interesting how the frontier states are said to have “regional cultures which perpetuate these values”, a statement with the implicit assumption that the culture of the original 13 is the default. How about saying that the regional culture of traditionalism in New England perpetuates values of conformity?

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  8. Romain Oliver Nelsen says:

    I’ve long since been curious as to the data on the highly education level of mothers of boys named Romain (15.69) as noted in the notes of original and the revised (05-06) at p. 306. I also thought I saw a source as California. Now I live in California, but was named in Iowa in 1935. In my years I’ve encountered few others who carry the pleasure of the name I detested as a boy. My mother hadn’t a high school education, spoke or read no French and wasn’t aware of M. Roland. She’d just knew someone from thereabouts and like the name. This isn’t for blog publication unless stripped to its basic questions. Where are the other Romains? The romaine lettuce my be common enough now and here, wasn’t there and then. What was the source of the little note that caught my self-conscious eye? Thanks. Romain

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