NEW YORK - "I was such an ugly baby when I was born," Henny Youngman used
to joke, "that the doctor slapped my mother."
However beautiful the baby may be, the decision about its name is
usually the mother's, according to Edward Caflary, editor of Names: A
Journal of Onomastics. Mothers of sons tend to stick with traditional
names: Michael is still popular, along with the standbys John and Matthew;
lately, there has been a good run on Nicholas, Jacob and Samuel. Although
no national survey is authoritative, it seems that Christopher, Austin,
Joshua, Zachary and Andrew are holding their own, with Brandon, Cody,
Christian and Dylan moving up in the kindergartens, but Mark and Luke are
already in their 30s.
Macho names are fading fast: Fewer boys are named Rock, Lance or
Pierce. Whatever happened to William? It's way down the list with Richard
and Robert, and it's "goodbye Charlie" to the once-hot Jason.
Girls' names, like their clothes, are much more subject to the swings
of fashion. Surging past Michelle, Jennifer and Jessica, according to a
list posted by Michael Shackleford of Maryland, the new Top Five includes
Emily, Kaitlyn, Brianna, Ashley and - atop the list - Sarah.
It's nice to see Sarah, with, its biblical overtones, rising to new
popularity. I was blessed with two Sarahs in my life - my aunt and
godmother, Sarah Siegmeister, and my longtime secretary, Sara Cutting -
and spelled with or without the final "h," the sibilant name comes lovingly
off the, lips, along with its diminutive Sally. With Sarah atop the
Top 40, can Rachel, Rebecca and Ruth be far behind? (Ruth, with its
touch of sadness, is quite far behind, and Hagar, as Abraham's jealous
Sarah made certain, is out of it.)
Mothers seem to be searching for the uncommonn in daughterclature.
Kaitlyn is big these days, an updating of the ever-popular Catherine.
Brianna is the feminine form of the Irish Brian.
Women in today's maternity wards whose names are Loren, Karen, Linda,
Lisa, Hillary, Michelle and Kimberly -- and whose mothers are Barbara,
Mary, Jane, Helen, Dorothy and Betty -- name their daughters Megan, Alyssa,
Hannah, Brittany, Haley and Jasmine. (Maria seems to be falling from
grace, as Grace did long ago. Not a trace of Tracy.)
Androgynous names abound: Taylor, Cameron and Madison can be borne by
male or female. This means it is harder for prospective employers to
tell a job applicant's sex when reading a résumé, a possible
reason for the choices.
As names make news, news makes names: A generation ago, Jacqueline was
hot, as Diana is today. Controversy can make or break a name; it is too
soon to tell if Paula will be many babies' Monica.
In hilarity heaven, St. Henny will catch the groaner on monicker.
Rootless etymologists think it is probably from the Shelta language of
itinerants in Ireland; monicker began there as munnik, derived from the
Gaelic "ainm," in turn taken from the Greek no-men, meaning "name." From
that stem sprout noun, the name of a thing; nomenclature, a system of
names leading to nomenklatura, the names of the old Soviet elite;
anonymous, no name at all, and nomination, the naming of a candidate.
Contrary to Shakespeare, plenty is in a name.