The Social Security Administration just released their list of the 1000 most popular baby names of 2011. Topping the list are Jacob and Sophia.
Jacob has held the top spot for something like 13 years running! People, it’s a nice name, but there are others out there! When I was in the fifth grade, there were three Jeff Browns in my class. If your last name is Brown, I think you can afford to be a little more creative with a first name than Jeff. Sophia is taking the reigns for the first time, knocking off Isabella after that name was number one for two years. (Which confirms my theory that parents are more willing to be creative with a girl’s name than a boy’s.)
When it came to naming our own kids, DB and I had vastly different approaches: he saw these lists of most popular names as lists to choose from, while I saw them as lists of names to avoid. Luckily for me, he came around to my way of thinking. I always liked being Alia, having a nearly unique name. Although it’s not so much anymore: The name Alia cracked the top 1000 in 1995, and ranked 732 last year, behind Aliya, number 657, and Aliyah, at 133! Which makes sense, because it is just in the last ten years that I have started hearing my name called in a crowd or at a mall and it’s not for me, it’s for a cute little girl, usually African-American. I certainly can’t claim any influence on that front, I think it was the popularity (starting out on Star Search at age 10 in 1989) and death (in 2001) of the R&B singer Aaliyah.
For our children, I had two rules for names: I wanted a name that was the same in English and Hebrew, and it should be spell-able and pronounce-able for Americans. I loved the name Michal, but didn’t think the hard ch sound would fly. I imagined a daughter being constantly called Mikel or Mitchell. Of course, I wasn’t counting on New Jerseyans penchant for a hard “a” sound. Big Girl’s name has an “ah” sound, but even her NJ-born and raised grandmas had to learn to say it. For her first month they kept saying it the way the “a” is pronounced in Sally, rather than the softer “a” of tallit, but they learned.
The funny thing is her name, although unusual and compliment-getting in the grocery store, is not so unusual in the actively-Jewish world. It ranked number 393 in her birth year (and 431 last year). When she got to kindergarten in Jewish day school, there were two other girls with her name in the grade. Of course she became, and remains, really great friends with both of them. My boys, however, have Hebrew/Israeli names that didn’t crack the top 1000 at all in their birth years or last year. So we bucked my anecdotal trend of being more conservative with boys’ names without even trying.
I’m saying all this without even getting into the “naming after” question. My daughter’s name has the same first letter as my late father’s, but the boys each have their own first name, independent of a dead guy. Each of my kids’ middle names, however, are English and directly the same as a deceased loved one, in Ashkenazi tradition.
I want your input: how did you choose? It’s an important thing you give your child, his or her name. How did you pick among the literally million options?