Thursday, April 10, 2014

What's in a name?

What's in a name? - Telegraph

Why are some traditional names dying, while others continue to thrive?

Singer Doris Day
Singer Doris Day Photo: ALAMY
The situation may look perilous for names like Dorothy and Arnold, but we shouldn't write them off just yet say those who study Onomastics.
Professor Carole Hough from the University of Glasgow specialises in the study of names, or Onomastics. She says that while names regularly become obsolete, there may be hope for them to come back into fashion:
"Girls names do tend to change a lot more rapidly than boys names so there is a search for new, unusual girls names and one of the sources for those are names which have become obsolete and gone out of use.
"It wouldn't surprise me at all if Dorothy and Doris come back into use in the next generation or so."
While some traditional names have dipped in popularity in their full forms, their diminutive forms are still being used.
"We often get nickname forms which are disguised. For example William is not that popular a name, but Liam which derives from it is very popular. Likewise Mia is related to less popular names like Mary and Marion"
She adds that in the past there has often been a distinction between official names that people are given and the names they actually used. The shortened versions are now often used as names in their own right:
"Somebody might have been christened Elizabeth but known as Liz or Eliza or Beth whereas nowadays it is those informal names that are actually being used for the birth certificates, they actually become formal names."
As to why some people choose certain names for their children, Professor Hough says this is often down to our celebrity culture:
"We are such a media conscious culture. People get well known and individual people can just have an enormous influence. One television programme, one personality, can have a really big impact. For example Luke, which is a very traditional name, became very popular in the 1990s because of Luke Skywalker in Starwars."
According to Professor Hough, boys names tend to be more traditional than girls, but this is only partly down to boys being seen to carry on the family tradition, and more to do with the influence of the bible:
"So many traditional names are biblical names, like John, James, Peter and Andrew. The traditional names from the bible are very often boys names because there are fewer women named in the bible.
"There always has been some tradition of naming after the family members but it is endemic that girl names are to be unusual and they are to be different.
"The very long established biblical names which tend to be repeated and which are unlikely to be superceeded do tend to be the boys names and for girls names people have always had to look elsewhere- or adapt boys names from the bible."
Many of the traditional boys names on the 'at risk' list are not biblical names, and says Professor Hough, are more likely to stop being used:
"They don't have that guarantee of longevity, a biblical background. Even now there are new names coming in from the bible, like Noah and Eli which would only a generation ago have been regarded as old fashioned and are now becoming very popular"