“What’s in a name?” Apparently a lot

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So you made it through Monday. Now what? Procrastination has a way of gripping any college student…so give in to it. Take a trip on a tangent with us, and put off your week for one more day.


My grandfather had a saying, “When you decide to have a kid, you decide a lot of things.” Essentially, when you decide to have a kid, you decide to be fully responsible for this human being. You need to make sure he or she grows up right, is taught right from wrong, is physically, emotionally and mentally healthy, gets a good education and many, many more things. Under ideal circumstances, parents take this responsibility very seriously and for some, it starts with that baby’s most basic need: a name.


The decision of what you’re going to name your new baby is not one that is taken lightly. There are entire books and websites devoted to helping parents pick out the right name for their genetic offspring. I, myself, wasn’t named for a few days after I was born. When I came into this world, my dad knew I was going to be a boy. My mom, however, had doctor-endorsed proof I was going to be a girl but decided it’d be more fun to keep it a secret, even from my dad. My dad was so sure that I was going to be a boy, he didn’t even bother thinking about girl names. When I was born, the doctor turned to my dad and said, “Congratulations. You have a healthy baby girl. What’s her name?” My dad, dumbfounded by the news, said the name that boy-version of me would’ve had, “Scott.”


Had I been a boy, my name would’ve been Scott Casteel Cannon. I would’ve been named after my dad’s brother Scott and my mom’s father (though Casteel was his middle name). My name now, Kelly Cannon, was determined after my mom wrote three names for every letter of the alphabet until my parents narrowed it down to Kelly. I am not named after anyone. It just sounded suitable.


According to the Social Security website, the name Kelly was fairly popular the year I was born, ranking 30th in the nation. However, Kelly has since dropped significantly since then. In 2010, Kelly was ranked 306. Scott was also somewhat popular but less so than Kelly, ranking in at 43. Scott has also fallen further from grace, being ranked 350 in 2010.


In 1987 (the year I was born), the top five most popular female names in the United States were Jessica, Ashley, Amanda, Jennifer and Sarah. The top five most popular male names were Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua and David. The names stay relatively the same in 1988, though Andrew replaces David in the number 5 spot and Sarah moves up one space, making Jennifer number five.






When I graduated from Timpview High School in 2006, so did eight Jessicas, four Ashleys, four Jennifers and four Sarahs. There was only one Amanda. There were also three Michaels, five Matthews, six Joshuas, and seven Davids. There was only one Christopher and one Andrew. Interestingly enough, there were six Jonathans, four Lindsays and seven Stephanies. This means that in our comparatively small high school, if your name was Jessica, Joshua, David, Jonathan or Stephanie, chances were there was someone else in your class with your same name. (There was another Kelly in my class but she spelled her name “Kellee,” or, as I like to call it, “the wrong way.”) All of my fellow classmates were born sometime during 1987 and 1988.


For some reason, all of these girl names are now nowhere near as popular as they once were. Jessica, which held the number one or number two spot from 1986-1997 was ranked 92 in 2010. Ashley, which held the first or second rank from 1986-1995 is now 27. Sarah is now number 30. Jennifer, which held the number four spot for two years in 1986-1987 is now 120. And perhaps the most drastic is Amanda, which held rank three or four from 1986-1992 is now 188.


What’s really interesting is the boys names have stayed relatively popular. Matthew is ranked 16, Andrew is 14 and Christopher is 13. Joshua, which was in the top ten from 1979-2009 now sits comfortably at slot 11. David, which was in the top ten from 1937-1992 is now ranked 15. And in perhaps the most astonishing change, Michael, which was the number one name in America from 1954-1998 (minus 1960 where it was number two) is now number three.


Why such a drastic change in popularity in girls names while boys names have stayed relatively in vogue? From looking at the top boys names and top girl names over the years, one thing does strike me. While girls names seem to change often, not unlike popular trends, boys names have remained traditional. According to the Social Security website, the top five boys names of the 2000s were Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew and Daniel. The top five girls names for the same decade were Emily, Madison, Emma, Olivia, and Hannah.


Now, I am not a biblical scholar by any means, but I do know that those five boy names can all be found in the bible. With the exception of Hannah, none of the girl names can be found in the bible. While there are no government statistics on religious affiliation in America, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted a study entitled U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. They found that 78.4 percent of Americans claimed Christianity as their religion. With the majority of Americans being Christian, perhaps it isn’t so shocking that boys names stay within the traditional realm. As for the girls, there are not many girls mentioned in the bible to begin with (again, I am no scholar but all I can think of is Mary, Hannah, Ester, and Deliliah, though I’m pretty sure that last one wasn’t a good person). Could this be the reason girl name popularity changes so often? There isn’t a core belief system to choose from?


Whatever the reason, I can say I am quite fond of my name. It was unique enough that I didn’t have to burden myself with trying to stand out from a crowd of Kellys but it was traditional enough that people didn’t raise their eyebrows at me. And for that, I am grateful (I am also grateful my parents didn’t name me Scott. Could you imagine?)


 By Kelly Cannon – Life Editor

Graphics by Carly Montgomery – Life Designer


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