Names can reveal clues about your age

What your parents chose to call you can link you to the decade of your birth

The Middle Ages

Staying young, growing old and what happens in between

November 26, 2006|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,[Sun Reporter]

Careful, your name may reveal more about you than you realize. If you're a Linda or a Larry, for instance, it's a good bet that you're older than 40, and probably closer to 60.

The popular names of the 1940s and 1950s are aging along with the baby boomers who own them. From 1946 to 1964, the most fashionable girls' names were Mary, Linda and Lisa. Top names for boys were James, Robert and Michael, better known as Jim, Bob and Mike, according to records at the Social Security Administration.

These names have become, well, dated. Last year's most popular baby names were Emily and Jacob. Other names in the top 10: Christopher, Ethan, Joshua, Andrew, Olivia, Madison, Isabella and Ashley.

Linda, Mary, Bob and Jim have graduated to popular names for grandparents. So have Pat, Carol, Sue, Ron, Jerry and Wally.

The newest generation of names implies that boomer names are not only older, but also what cultural anthropologist Robbie ("officially a Robert") Blinkoff calls "vanilla and middle-of-the-road."

In the Beaver's day, for instance, girls' names were always just girls' names. Today a lot of children possess "either / or" names like Taylor, Alex and Sydney, says Susan Bartolini, a school nurse who's proud to bear one of the most popular boomer names.

"We were named solid names," says the 59-year-old Baltimorean. "A lot of us were named for saints -- which meant we were supposed to live up to something -- rather than being named after movie and TV stars."

Is she suggesting there's something of a generational name clash?

"I hate names like Misty, names that could be cats," she says. "What really bothers me is misspellings: Tiffany with a 'ph'. Sean's a lovely name, but it's spelled every which way. Why give your child a name with a misspelling? I don't get it."

Larry McGlinchey, chocolatier and owner of Cacao Lorenzo in Timonium, has trouble with names like Tyler and Taylor.

"They give me the creeps," he says. "They sound yuppie and gentrified. I like "over-the-back-fence" names for people. Noah and Madison? Give me a break. I feel like I'd have to dress up and give them a gift when I meet them."

McGlinchey, 54, grew up in southwest Philadelphia, where kids whose names ended in a consonant, like Jim, were given an "ee" sound, while kids whose names ended in a "ee" sound were stripped of it.

"So Frank was Frankie," he says. "Since I was Larry, I became Larr. But only people my age or older call me that now.

"We had Franks and Frans. Mary Janes. Nancys. Mary was enormously popular. Johns, Jacks, Charlies -- a lot of Charlies. Sharons. Ed and Eddies. Dennis. Joes. Debbie was really big. So was Noreen. There were a ton of Kathleens. And Dorothy, Dottie for short, was big."

Making assumptions

Larry was usually just Larry. In McGlinchey's case, however, it was also Lawrence, the name wielded by the nuns at his school and grown-ups who'd seen Lawrence of Arabia.

"At that time, the Three Stooges were also big. So when I was introduced as Larry, people used to say 'So where are Moe and Curly?'

"I've heard that in the last 20 years or so, Larry is used as a goof name or a nerd name. If you want a really weird character on a TV show, you'll call him Larry."

That makes sense to Baltimorean Ailene Staples, 28, who works as a writers' assistant on The Wire. To her, names like Larry suggest men who tend to think of themselves as younger than she and her friends do. But every so often she bumps into an anachronism.

"I have a friend named Bob in his mid-20s," she says. "There's something incongruous about a Bob that age because you always have this image of an older, middle-aged man."

What about names like Gary, Sandy, Joan and Pat?

"You're naming my managers and bosses," Staples says. "The connotation is that people with those types of names tend to be more conservative. The names themselves feel kind of dated and dull. Obviously, that's an unfair generalization, but I think the association is there whether you realize it or not."

Ailene was born Eileen but changed the spelling of her name in middle school because she thought it seemed more feminine. Daughter to a Jean and a Phil, both born in the 1950s, she has a half-brother named Tristan, a name also used for females.

"I like the idea of ambiguously gendered, neutral names," she says. "I like things a little farther off the beaten path."

Unique and Uneek

Since the 1970s, picking unusual and one-of-a-kind names has been a solid trend in African-American communities, especially when it comes to girls. Because parents seek the opposite of trendy names, sometimes creating new names by blending sounds from various family names, they do not appear in the Social Security Administration's most popular lists.

In a study of baby names in California during the past 30 years, researchers Steven Levitt and Roland Fryer found that the typical baby girl born in an African-American neighborhood in 1980 was given a name that was 20 times more common among blacks than whites.

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