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Midwestern Baby Names: What’s heading north in North Dakota?

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Nameberry guest blogger Andrea, whom many of you may know for her intelligent and thoughtful advice on our message boards, and who most recently blogged for us on royal baby names, now focuses her attention closer to home, with this report on naming trends in the midwest.

On a recent Saturday somewhere in North Dakota, an athletic field was filled with fledgling 4-year-old soccer players, learning how to kick the ball and congratulate teammates when they did (or didn’t) make a goal. Behind them were their proud parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and volunteer coaches, all hollering at once:

Maddox, where’s your soccer ball?” “Yay, Logan. Yay, Logan!” “Hustle, Camden, hustle!” “Chloe, take a time out.” “Go, Ethan!”  After awhile the hard “C’s” and “an” ending names started to blend together. I could imagine next year’s preschool or kindergarten teacher mixing some of them up the way their soccer coach occasionally did.

The names of the kids on my nephew’s soccer team are a good example of some of the naming trends in North Dakota and elsewhere in the Midwest, which tend towards newer-sounding surnames, names with a western feel, and names that sound a lot like other names that are already popular. The differences seem more distinctive with boys than they do with names for girls. Many of the names are also common everywhere in the United States, but it seems like some of them are adopted here before they hit the southern or eastern U.S. William, at the top of the charts in much of the South, is far less common in North Dakota, where 60 little Ethans were born last year compared with 26 little Williams. Ryan, popular in the eastern U.S., was most popular in North Dakota well over a decade ago and has now lost steam. Likewise, Jayden and variants have been popular here for over a decade and some of the North Dakota Jaydens have started college. Now, even as the name hits the top of the charts in New York City, North Dakota parents seem bored with Jayden and have moved on to Brayden, ranked at No. 7; Aiden, ranked at No. 9, Caden, which probably doesn’t rank higher mainly because there are so many spelling variants, all listed separately on the popularity chart, and Hayden. Jayden itself is No. 51. All are used for girls occasionally as well as boys. Then there are the sound-alikes like Zayden, Tayden, Trayden, Grayden and others.

There are also distinctive trends that sometimes don’t show up on the top 100 charts. There are more Swedish or Norwegian names here, thanks to the Scandinavian-Americans who settled in the Midwest a century ago. Greta appears on the top 100 list for Minnesota in 2009 and is not as often used anywhere else in the country. Over the years I’ve interviewed young boys named Ole, Nels, Jens, Odin, Thor, Kjell, Christ, Haakon and Soren and young girls named Solveig, Signe, Dagny, Siri, Marit, Ingrid and Kaari. Some traditional Sioux, Chippewa or Three Affiliated Tribes parents give children native language names, like  Spotted Eagle or Chaske or Mato or Chenoa.

Western-sounding names for boys like Brody and Wyatt also seem more popular in the Midwest than in some other parts of the country.  I’ve seen more than one birth announcement for a little Rowdy or Maverick or Colt. It’s fun sometimes to see how often the roster of bull riders or barrel racers at a summer rodeo actually sound like they belong on a ranch roping cattle. The child sometimes grows up to fit the name.  I know that when one of my former colleagues named his son Cooper two years ago, he commented that it’s the kind of name he could imagine being called out by a basketball announcer 15 years from now when his son runs into a gym in front of a cheering crowd.  “Go, COOPER! COO-PER! COO-PER!” was echoing in his ears. Cooper, which is also coincidentally my newest nephew’s name,  ranked at No. 27 in North Dakota last year. Nationally it was ranked No. 84. In a state where nearly every small town kid plays multiple sports, there are probably a lot of parents dreaming of cheering crowds!

North Dakota top 20 for boys in 2009: Ethan, Logan, Jack, Carter, Jacob, Mason, Brayden, Gavin, Aiden, Jackson, Owen, Isaac, Lucas, Noah, Benjamin, Brody, Hunter, Wyatt, Liam, Parker.

North Dakota top 20 for girls in 2009: Olivia, Ava, Emma, Ella, Isabella, Chloe, Taylor, Abigail, Lily, Addison, Elizabeth, Emily, Brooklyn, Madison, Sophia, Alexis, Grace, Anna, Hailey, Aubrey.

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