According to the widely accepted stereotype, young adults in the United States tend to disregard traditional gender roles and minimize distinctions between male and female. But when it comes to naming their babies—one of the bigger decisions any couple is likely to make—official reports show that today's child-bearing generation affirms age-old distinctions between boys and girls in a way their grandparents would have understood and, most likely, applauded.
The top ten male names in 2010 (the last year with complete figures) emphasize tradition, consistency and a connection to the past. Half of the favored designations, including the top three, are Biblical (Jacob, Ethan, Michael, Noah, Daniel). Another leading selection (Anthony) honors a revered Catholic saint. Two more evoke two of history’s most fierce, famous rulers-- Alexander (the Great) and William (the Conqueror). Only two choices on the list for little boys (Jayden and Aiden) seem to reflect today’s celebrity culture of novelty and quirkiness.
The list of fashionable names for baby girls, on the other hand, clearly emphasizes trendiness and stylish exoticism. Only one of the top ten (Abigail) comes from the Bible. The others (Isabella, Sophia, Emma, Olivia, Ava, Emily, Madison, Chloe and Michelle) would have struck our more conservative grandparents as sounding vaguely foreign, even odd. Few Isabellas, Sophias, Olivias or Chloes have played major roles in American history. Jacobs, Williams and Daniels, on the other hand, appear prominently in the chronicles of our past, going all the way back to colonial days.
A generation ago, male names displayed a similar traditionalist flavor, with the most popular choices of the 1980s (Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua, David, James, Daniel, Robert, John and Joseph) even more solid, stolid and predictable than favorite boys’ names today. On the feminine side of the ledger, however, not one of the leading names of the ‘80s has survived as a top-ten contender today, with the thirty-year old list featuring such passing fancies as Ashley, Melissa, Nicole and Heather.
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