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Thread: American given names increasingly based on surnames

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    Post American given names increasingly based on surnames



    One of the biggest cultural differences between the USA and Europe is the increasingly common use of patronyms as given names in American society, especially for boys/men. I had a look at the top 100 baby names in the USA in 2012 and found 33 boy names that were based on family names - one third of the total !

    1. Jackson (2nd most popular boy name)
    2. Mason
    3. Logan
    4. Dylan
    5. Owen
    6. Connor
    7. Carter
    8. Landon
    9. Cameron
    10. Grayson
    11. Tyler
    12. Wyatt
    13. Hunter
    14. Colton
    15. Cooper
    16. Levi
    17. Parker
    18. Chase
    19. Blake
    20. Nolan
    21. Miles
    22. Jordan
    23. Carson
    24. Riley
    25. Hudson
    26. Cole
    27. Brody
    28. Bentley
    29. Ryder
    30. Brandon
    31. Easton
    32. Lincoln
    33. Harrison


    This phenomenon is less common for girl's names, but still account for nearly one in five of the 100 most popular names.

    1. Madison (10th most popular girl name)
    2. Addison
    3. Avery
    4. Hailey
    5. Harper
    6. Mackenzie
    7. Peyton
    8. Riley
    9. Brooklyn
    10. Reagan
    11. Bailey
    12. Sydney
    13. Taylor
    14. Kennedy
    15. Kendall
    16. Piper
    17. Reese
    18. Quinn


    Although using patronyms as given names has been known to happen in other English speaking countries, especially among people of Celtic heritage, nowhere is this more fashionable than in the USA. The Celtic connection is obvious from the above list. About half of the surnames turned into given names are of Irish or Scottish Gaelic origin, and many of the English-sounding ones are actually more typical of Lowland Scotland and Ulster (Carson, Easton, Harrison, Hunter, Jackson), Wales (Reese), or Devon and Corwall (Cole, Colton, Wyatt).

    The question is why is this happening ? What made Americans decide one day that it was okay to call one's child by a family name rather than a regular given name ? In some cultures it is very rude to address someone only by his/her surname (without being preceded of Mr/Ms). Americans also started the trend of calling most people, even in business situations, by their given name instead of saying Mr or Mrs something. This extreme informality may have been the factor that blew away the clear distinction between given names and family names.
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    I disagree with your observations. As a person that has lived in the States for a while, the most popular name I heard was Jose, Hernandez, Rodriges, Mohamed, Tirone, Sanjay, Aaroon, Shimon, We Tchi Neese, Yoo Koo Rean etc..The names you are mentioning were in use long ago.

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    Quote Originally Posted by albanopolis View Post
    I disagree with your observations. As a person that has lived in the States for a while, the most popular name I heard was Jose, Hernandez, Rodriges, Mohamed, Tirone, Sanjay, Aaroon, Shimon, We Tchi Neese, Yoo Koo Rean etc..The names you are mentioning were in use long ago.
    It's not a matter of personal opinion. The list above is the official list from the Social Security Administration based on births in 2012.

    Btw, Hernandez and Rodrigez are surnames, not given names. Contrarily to surnames of British or Irish origin, I have never heard any Spanish surname (or any other continental European surname) used as given names.

    Good joke about We Tchi Neese and Yoo Koo Rean. I hope you were not serious about that.

    Then if you think that given names like Mason, Grayson, Hunter, Parker, Chase, Madison, Hailey, Mackenzie, or practically any name on the above list were used long ago you obviously don't know much about American culture, nor about British and Irish naming traditions. Most of these names didn't exist as given names one or two generations ago. Some took off only a few years ago.
    Last edited by Maciamo; 14-11-13 at 18:02.

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    1 members found this post helpful.
    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    ............

    Then if you think that given names like Mason, Grayson, Hunter, Parker, Chase, Madison, Hailey, Mackenzie, or practically any name on the above list were used long ago you obviously don't know much about American culture, nor about British and Irish naming traditions. Most of these names didn't exist as given names one or two generations ago. Some took off only a few years ago.
    I suspect the reason that so many Americans now use surnames as first names is television, which is responsible for much that's odd about American popular culture. I used to be married to a woman who liked to watch American soap operas, and all the characters seemed to have first names that were actually surnames. And if you were to ask someone who watches a lot of American television (which I do not) they could probably tell you what show names like Madison and Hunter come from. So, why would television script writers create a caste of characters who all use surnames as first names? I don't know. Perhaps because they live in Hollyweird, so their ways are inscrutable to the rest of the world. I'm just glad that they haven't yet decided to honour America's substantial German, Jewish and Italian heritage. I really don't want to have to deal with American tourists with first names like Mueller, Weinstein and Falconetti.

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    2 members found this post helpful.
    I can put a face to every name! (except Piper?!)


    In any case, the gaelic connection is valid as these types of naming conventions are typical in much of heavily scots-irish influenced middle-America.
    I've studied American onomastics a bit. It was popular among Americans in the mid-1700's to name a son after a noble family in his ancestry (ie. Dabney, Massey, Ewel, Clough, Pouncey, Shelton, etc.)
    In the early 1800's Southerners who were heavily mixed Scots-Irish/Anglo-Saxon tended to name the first or third son with a middle name of his mother's maiden name (ie. Richard Brackenridge Stokes, John Allen Stewart, Belton O'Neal Musgrave, Jefferson Davis, etc)

    As you've mentioned one of the more interesting aspect are those names that were surnames that first became boys names (Lindsey, Leslie, Allison, Madison, Morgan etc) that are now exclusively girls names! You may find an old man named "Leslie" like the late comedian Leslie Nielsen, but no parent would name a boy "Leslie" now.

    Other names like Jordan, Logan, Peyton, Avery are in the process of transitioning to girls only names. In other words you will still find men named Peyton, like football star Peyton Manning, however young parents will avoid naming new boys Peyton because it is seen as becoming a girls name.
    So it's a weird gender twist. Every surname that is a first name has become a boys name, a girls name, or is transitioning to a girls name.

    I think Americans want to name boys manly names. Once a name like "Lindsey" has been given to a girl "Lindsey Lohan", then it is essentially contaminated with girl stuff. In the case of Lindsey Lohan maybe for other reasons as well. So Lindsey, once a manly name for a guy hammering spikes out on the rail road, is now no more.
    Last edited by Tabaccus Maximus; 15-11-13 at 10:46.

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    Should it really mater how we call people? As long as it works well in recognizing people and they are ok with their name why should we care? Person will be the same no mater what name is chosen by parents. Well as long as it is not some form of vulgarity or common objects, like Soda or Dick. ;))
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    Quote Originally Posted by LeBrok View Post
    Should it really mater how we call people? As long as it works well in recognizing people and they are ok with their name why should we care? Person will be the same no mater what name is chosen by parents. Well as long as it is not some form of vulgarity or common objects, like Soda or Dick. ;))
    I was raising this point more as a sociological observation. What interests me is to understand why Americans are apparently the only people in the world (as far as I know) who have come to use regularly (one quarter of the most popular baby names in the last few years) old traditional family names as given names. It is doubly interesting because:

    1) All the surnames used as given names originated in the British Isles, although only about one third of the American gene pool descends from that region. Why aren't there any Scandinavian, Dutch, German, Polish, French, Italian or Spanish surname used as given name, even though all these people represent a bigger part of the ancestry of American people than the British Isles ?

    2) British and Irish surnames rank among the world's oldest family names in continuous use. The British Isles are arguably the first region to use surnames among the whole population, as opposed to the elite only (like in Asia or ancient Rome). Celtic surnames are the oldest, and many originated in clans' names.


    Americans also differ from Europeans in the ease with which they change their names (both given and family names). It's extremely easy from a legal point of view to change identity in the USA, while it is nearly impossible in most European countries (the UK being in exception, although it is rarely done in practice). This attitude denotes a certain contempt for one's origins and familial heritage.

    Historically, a lot of migrants to the USA left their home country to start a new life, often cutting ties with the past. Many Europeans changed their names when they arrived in the USA, typically Anglicising it or choosing a brand new English-sounding surname.

    British and Irish settlers were the first to arrive in the original 13 colonies, and many of them lost all track of their ancestors' origin. So much is obvious from the US ancestry census, in which the majority of the white people in the Southeast USA described their ethnicity as 'American' because they didn't know or couldn't identify anymore with the country of origin of their ancestors (typically British and Irish settlers from the 17th and 18th centuries).

    It would be enlightening to see if the use of British/Irish surnames as given names is more widespread among those "ethnic Americans" who lost touch with their origins. It is easy to know this. I have checked the most popular baby names by states. According to the US ancestry census, the states with the highest percentages of people identifying as "ethnic Americans" are West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

    In the top 25 of boys names for 2012, I counted 14 surnames in West Virginia (56%), 13 in Kentucky (52%), and 4 in Tennessee. In other south-eastern states the average was 5 out of 25. The percentages of surnames used as baby names was also high in states where the population identified mainly as of English descent, such as Vernont (13/25), Maine (9/25), New Hampshire (7/25), Utah (7/25) and Idaho (7/25). In comparison, in more multicultural New York, California and Texas only one surname (Mason) was in the top 25. In Illinois and Pennsylvania, where German and other continental European ancestry is higher than British and Irish ancestry, there were only three surnames in the top 25.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    I was raising this point more as a sociological observation. What interests me is to understand why Americans are apparently the only people in the world (as far as I know) who have come to use regularly (one quarter of the most popular baby names in the last few years) old traditional family names as given names. It is doubly interesting because:

    1) All the surnames used as given names originated in the British Isles, although only about one third of the American gene pool descends from that region. Why aren't there any Scandinavian, Dutch, German, Polish, French, Italian or Spanish surname used as given name, even though all these people represent a bigger part of the ancestry of American people than the British Isles ?

    2) British and Irish surnames rank among the world's oldest family names in continuous use. The British Isles are arguably the first region to use surnames among the whole population, as opposed to the elite only (like in Asia or ancient Rome). Celtic surnames are the oldest, and many originated in clans' names.


    Americans also differ from Europeans in the ease with which they change their names (both given and family names). It's extremely easy from a legal point of view to change identity in the USA, while it is nearly impossible in most European countries (the UK being in exception, although it is rarely done in practice). This attitude denotes a certain contempt for one's origins and familial heritage.

    Historically, a lot of migrants to the USA left their home country to start a new life, often cutting ties with the past. Many Europeans changed their names when they arrived in the USA, typically Anglicising it or choosing a brand new English-sounding surname.

    British and Irish settlers were the first to arrive in the original 13 colonies, and many of them lost all track of their ancestors' origin. So much is obvious from the US ancestry census, in which the majority of the white people in the Southeast USA described their ethnicity as 'American' because they didn't know or couldn't identify anymore with the country of origin of their ancestors (typically British and Irish settlers from the 17th and 18th centuries).

    It would be enlightening to see if the use of British/Irish surnames as given names is more widespread among those "ethnic Americans" who lost touch with their origins, or if, on the contrary, it is more common among people of continental European origin who try to adopt more English-sounding names. I would guess the first.

    I know in my case that all of my progenitors were in America before the revolutionary war, having begun to arrive in the early 1600's en masse, and I would say this is mostly typical throughout much of the expanded South and middle bands of the U.S. Many of the European identity movements came long after early Americans immigrated.
    Many white Americans identify simply as "American" probably for being viewed as a distinct ethnicity and national pride. Also sometimes out of spite that so many immigrant "hyphenated Americans" refuse to assimilate and simply be "American". But all are generally proud of English, Irish, French ancestry that I've ever observed, and their ancestry is generally known.

    Many of the early American immigrants from the British islands were from the lower gentry or at least very old families. Naming a boy Dabney Minor after one of his ancestor families
    (De Aubney) was probably a sign of strength. Many of these family names that became first names could probably be found in the visitations of the English gentry.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tabaccus Maximus View Post
    In any case, the gaelic connection is valid as these types of naming conventions are typical in much of heavily scots-irish influenced middle-America.
    I've studied American onomastics a bit. It was popular among Americans in the mid-1700's to name a son after a noble family in his ancestry (ie. Dabney, Massey, Ewel, Clough, Pouncey, Shelton, etc.)

    In the early 1800's Southerners who were heavily mixed Scots-Irish/Anglo-Saxon tended to name the first or third son with a middle name of his mother's maiden name (ie. Richard Brackenridge Stokes, John Allen Stewart, Belton O'Neal Musgrave, Jefferson Davis, etc)
    That's a very good point. The American tradition of using surnames for middle names surely played an important role in turning surnames eventually into first names.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    The question is why is this happening ? What made Americans decide one day that it was okay to call one's child by a family name rather than a regular given name ? In some cultures it is very rude to address someone only by his/her surname (without being preceded of Mr/Ms). Americans also started the trend of calling most people, even in business situations, by their given name instead of saying Mr or Mrs something. This extreme informality may have been the factor that blew away the clear distinction between given names and family names.
    As much as I understand your frusteration in this matter not all of us Americans name our children after a surname, us Catholics traditionally name our children after saints; for example I was named after Simon Peter from the book of Luke; First name; Simon, Middle name; Luke. However I can't help but notice reconizing those names in the American History books.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    That's a very good point. The American tradition of using surnames for middle names surely played an important role in turning surnames eventually into first names.
    There appears to be a culture in the USA where the married woman, not ready to completely change her name to that of her husband, adopts her family name as a middle name, eg Betty Wilson SMITH. Boys are named often after an illustrious family member or the family name of a grandmother etc. But, as someone already said, "Does it matter?" NO.

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    Quote Originally Posted by toyomotor View Post
    There appears to be a culture in the USA where the married woman, not ready to completely change her name to that of her husband, adopts her family name as a middle name, eg Betty Wilson SMITH. Boys are named often after an illustrious family member or the family name of a grandmother etc. But, as someone already said, "Does it matter?" NO.
    This is true, though a minority. My maternal grandmother often spelled her named using her maiden name as her middle name, although this was not part of the official record. My aunt on my paternal side also does this. I believe it is because of pride in the strength of the family name. In in a subtle, subliminal way, this is probably a way to honor her father or take pride in her childhood family.

    You see this often in obituaries, however I doubt any names changes are ever formalized. They also don't replace her original middle name.

    This is entirely different situation from women who hyphenate their maiden and husband's surname name. This is a disgrace in my humble opinion, but you see this occasionally with feminists or careerist women.

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    1 members found this post helpful.
    Quote Originally Posted by toyomotor View Post
    There appears to be a culture in the USA where the married woman, not ready to completely change her name to that of her husband, adopts her family name as a middle name, eg Betty Wilson SMITH. Boys are named often after an illustrious family member or the family name of a grandmother etc.
    That's not really a middle name, but rather a dual surname. This is common in most European countries too. In Spain, rather than doing this, the children take both parents' surnames. Actually since the parents already have two surnames they take only the first one from each parent.

    As for middle names it is common in continental Europe to have many, although the number varies widely between families and between generations (there are decades where it is more fashionable to have x number of middle names in some countries). In noble families it is common to have at least three or four middle names, but as many as ten isn't unheard of.

    There is a huge variety of naming traditions in the various cultures of Europe, let alone in the whole world. However, as far as I know, it is only common in the US to use surnames as given names. Apparently, as I explained above, this phenomenon is especially common among Americans of British and Irish descent, and in particular among the descendants of the "early settlers" of the 13 colonies. For instance the relatively recent Irish immigrants of New York and Massachusetts don't seem to have adopted that naming tradition (much).

    Quote Originally Posted by toyomotor View Post
    But, as someone already said, "Does it matter?" NO.
    It wouldn't matter to someone who is not interested in history, linguistics or cultural comparisons. Personally I find those idiosyncrasies fascinating.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    I had a look at the top 100 baby names in the USA in 2012 and found 33 boy names that were based on family names - one third of the total !
    The link is actually inaccurate; it reflects babycenter.com's readers, not USSSA's 2012 data, that is available here. For example, Jackson is actually #22, not #2. It looks like babycenter.com also includes the USSSA data, but only after you click through to the names, so perhaps that is causing the confusion.

    Also, I dispute that Owen and Jordan in particular are borrowed from a surname; they have been given names for a very long time. I'm unsure about Miles as well, I know I've seen that name used during the early modern period.

    Otherwise, your points are valid. I think that there are three main reasons:
    1. A tradition of naming children after surnames from other branches of the family or family friends. This probably actually used to be more common than it is now, and was more likely to be reflected in middle names, but I think this is the origin of the trend.
    2. A modern drive to have every name be unique and fit the modern aesthetic, rather than to name children after family members. I think this has magnified the use of surname-origin names from (1), even those that are not related to the family doing the naming, because they are perceived as unique (even if they aren't particularly unique in fact).
    3. Popular culture reinforcement of (2) (see Aberdeen's remarks).

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    1 members found this post helpful.
    I liked Aberdeen's explanation too. Names are in realm of tradition, sentiment and fashion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by LeBrok View Post
    I liked Aberdeen's explanation too. Names are in realm of tradition, sentiment and fashion.
    yes, I agree. In fact I am naming my daughter Mercedes.......even though I've never driven one.

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    Ouuuuuu Mercedes; I feel ur gonna regret that one XD there's zero femininity in that name, yuck

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    By LeBrok:
    Adamo, do you really need 3 post to convey 3 sentences (one sentence each post) with same meaning? Please, keep it tidy. It goes for all the threads you post in.

    We all got your dislike to name Mercedes from first post. No reason to put down a man 3 times. Unless you take a lot of pleasure from acts of cruelty. In this case you found a wrong audience.

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    Quote Originally Posted by adamo View Post
    Ouuuuuu Mercedes; I feel ur gonna regret that one XD there's zero femininity in that name, yuck
    I was joking, of course. I would NEVER name my kids anything like that.......unless she grew up to be a stripper. (LOL)

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    Quote Originally Posted by adamo View Post
    Ouuuuuu Mercedes; I feel ur gonna regret that one XD there's zero femininity in that name, yuck
    Quite the contrary. Isn't/wasn't Mercedes a fairly common girls name, in Spain, I think? From Wikipedia-
    Mercedes is a feminine given name of Spanish origin, referring to a title for the Virgin Mary, "Our Lady of Mercy".

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    Maciamo: ....."It wouldn't matter to someone who is not interested in history, linguistics or cultural comparisons. Personally I find those idiosyncrasies fascinating. " Similarly, I'm interested in the derivation of family names. I find that the origins and meaning of family names, especially foreign names, very interesting.

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