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2008 Names of the Year

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What are the names that gained the most attention this year, symbolizing how far we’ve come and where we’re heading next?   The election, of course, figured heavily in deciding on the most influential names of 2008, as did popular culture and the economy.  Here are our top ten picks for the Names of the Year.

1.    BARACKHow did an obscure Hebrew/Arabic/Swahili name that means thunderbolt, lightning, and/or blessing come to inspire a wave of baby namesakes?  The same way a self-professed “skinny black kid with a funny name” came to be the 44th president of the United States.  Barack is exactly the kind of singular, ethnic, family name that the next generation of parents is bound to celebrate.

2.    MILEY – It may be Destiny (which was her original given name) that little Miley Cyrus adopted the nickname given to her by her father Billy Ray because she was so smiley, which, thanks to the stupendous success of Hannah Montana, has become one of the fastest rising girl’s names, debuting on the popularity charts at number 278.  Over 2,000 baby girls were named Miley, Mylee or Mylie in the last year counted, and boy cousins Milo and Miles are also climbing the charts.

3.    JOEJoe – the Plumber, Six-Pack, and Biden – was 2008′s Everyman, hailed and scorned by candidates on both sides of the election.  The ultimate good guy name, Joe is short for Joseph – an important figure in both the Old and New Testaments – which has been among the Top 15 Boy’s Names since the Social Security Administration started keeping records in 1880.  It was rarely mentioned that the real Joe the Plumber’s name was actually Sam.

4.    RUBY – A new generation of hip mamas and cool dads has given rise to a whole new class of Hipster Baby Names: quirky choices long dormant and only now revived by adventurous baby namers bent on making parenthood and babies stylish.  Tops on the hipster favorites list, along with Ruby, are such choices as Oscar, Matilda, Rufus, and Sadie.

5.    EDWARD – The alluring vampire hero of Stephenie Myers’ Twilight series has single-handedly turned the slightly awkward, old-fashioned classic Edward into an unlikely candidate for the hottest, edgiest name in town.

6.    TRIG — Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was a maverick baby namer, with the choices she made for her five children receiving nearly as much attention as her wardrobe and her televised gaffes.  Place names with personal meaning figured heavily in Palin‘s choices, with oldest son Track named for his parents’ love of running, daughters Bristol and Willow named for favorite Alaska places, and Piper chosen because, according to First Dude Todd Palin, “it was a cool name.” Infant son Trig‘s name is Norse for “strength” and middle name Paxson is another Alaska place name.

7.    JANUARY-  As Betty Draper, the heroine of the TV hit Mad Men set in the early 1960s,  gorgeous actress January Jones introduced her own thoroughly modern name that straddles old and new, a perfect choice as we enter a new age of Camelot.  January is also representative of a whole calendar-related genre of names, such as Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban’s little girl Sunday Rose and such newly-stylish choices as May, June, August, and Winter.

8.    BRONX- – The Crazy Starbaby Name of the Year Award goes to – no contest — Bronx Mowgli, newborn son of rockers Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz.  But Bronx—as opposed to the popular Brooklyn– is about as likely to catch on with non-celebrity baby namers as Kipling-Disney middle name Mowgli.

9.    SASHA- Everyone’s making a fuss over the names of older Obama daughter Malia and power-named mom Michelle, but we think Sasha is more worthy of being a Name of the Year.  In the second First Daughter’s case, Sasha is short for Natasha.  Russian names have quickly gone from heavy-footed to fashionable, thanks to the cadre of long-legged supermodels who’ve imported them to Western Europe and the U.S.  Usually a male nickname for Alexander, it was spelled Sascha by Jessica and Jerry Seinfeld, who used it for their daughter.

10.    CASH—The economy’s tanked and we’re cutting up our credit cards, so where should we turn but to Cash, the baby name choice of almost a thousand parents last year.  It has celebrity cred via Cash (real name) Warren, inamorata of Jessica Alba and baby-daddy of Honor Marie, and as son of actress Annabeth Gish.

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Barack: Name of the Future

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Our newly-elected President, Barack Obama, has famously called himself “a skinny black kid with a funny name.”  He’s the first one to admit how difficult it’s been living with such an unusual moniker.  In a video aired during the Democratic National Convention, he said Barry Obama might have been okay, or Barack Smith, but being named Barack Obama made everything doubly difficult.   And at the Alfred E. Smith roast, he humorously declared that Barack was Swahili for “That one” and that Steve and not Hussein was his real middle name.

But Barack Obama has obviously triumphed over any challenges presented by his name, symbolic of an American future in which diversity is not only tolerated but celebrated.  Many parents have already embraced a baby-naming ethic that champions ethnic names, distinctive names, and genuine if odd family choices.  One pro-Obama group even launched a campaign in defense of unusual names.

Barack Obama was named for his African father.  Called Barry as a child and young adult, he later reverted to the full, authentic, form of his name.  Barack, which means blessing in both Swahili and Arabic, is, when spelled Barak, an Old Testament name meaning lightning–fitting in view of the numbers of parents worldwide who have instantly started using it as a namesake for their babies.

Interestingly, Obama’s older daughter is named Malia, a Hawaiian name that celebrates that part of his heritage.  Under President Obama’s lead, the next four years should prove to be livelier and more forward-thinking in terms of baby names along with everything else.

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