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Utah Baby Names: What’s So Funny?

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Guest blogger Sachiko, an LDS church member and mother of going-on-seven children, enlightens us on the ins and outs of the strange baby naming practices of the state of Utah.

Utah Baby Names: It’s a naming culture people love to hate, or at least love to laugh at.

If you’re familiar with Utah baby naming, you know what I’m talking about.

If you aren’t, then here’s a link to the Utah Baby Namer.  I recommend you click on “The Cream of the Crop.”  I know you’re busy. You only need to read a few.

No, really. Go on. I’ll still be here when you get back.

Do you see what some of the laughing is about?

Some of the subsets of Utah names, and what makes them seem so ridiculous to outsiders:

Scriptural Names — This one’s a no-brainer. Utah culture is not always the same as, but is connected to, LDS church history.

Like other religiously informed baby namers, Utah and LDS people view books of Holy Writ as prime baby naming material.

Unlike other religiously informed baby namers, Utah and LDS people have scriptures other religions don’t have, most notably the Book of Mormon. Which means names you probably haven’t heard before, unless you’re familiar with Semetic and Egyptian names from the ancient world such as Nephi, Moroni, Mahonri, or Moriancumr.

Is Everybody Here Named Smith, Kimball or Young? Most of the early converts to the LDS church were from the British Isles. Add that to a few decades of polygamy, and you end up with huge amounts of descendents with the same English last name.

This can help explain why Utah baby namers sometimes choose wildly divergent names: to differentiate themselves from all the siblings, cousins, neighbors and strangers with the same last name. This is also where Utahns get historical names like Brigham, Parley and Heber.

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Biblical Names: From The Baby Name Bible

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When we finally finished researching and writing our encyclopedic name book, the day came when we had to decide what to call it. (The working title of Big Baby Name Book just wasn’t going to cut it.)

This turned out to be almost as laborious a task as writing the book. Dozens and dozens of lists of possibilities were emailed back and forth. Our book editor and even our agent entered the fray, offering their own suggestions. (We actually chronicled this painful process in an article we wrote for Publishers Weekly magazine, called Naming the Name Book.) We finally settled on The Baby Name Bible because, well, we hoped people would make it their baby naming bible.

It never entered our minds that some people would take it literally as a book of biblical names. But on our earlier, smaller website, before nameberry was born–babynamebible.com– many visitors did come to search solely for Old and New Testament names. And of course they found them, but a lot more besides.

Biblical names have a long history in this country. They came to colonial America with the early Puritans, who scrutinized the Good Book for names of righteous figures, believing that such names could shape the character of their offspring, and often using extreme examples, like Zelophehad and Zerubbabel. Over the centuries and decades since then, there has been a steady stream of biblical names: individual Old Testament examples, in particular, have drifted in and out of fashion, for both boys and girls.

Looking back at the more recent past. we see that boys’ names have been more consistent: Joseph has been in the Top 25 for the last century, usually accompanied by David and Daniel, and later Joshua, Jonathan, and Adam. Archangel Michael was in first place from the mid-fifties to the late nineties, and now Jacob has been on top since 1999. This past year has seen a record high for Old Testament boys’ names in modern times, with 10 of the Top 25.

Biblical girls’ names have not been as popular as the boys’–possibly because there are fewer of them. Ruth was the sole representative in the first several decades of the 20th century, until Deborah arrived in 1949. After that, the triumvirate of Sarah, Rachel and Rebecca remained in the Top 25 from the seventies until very recently, and the last big success stories were Hannah, which entered the Top 25 in 1993, and Abigail in 1997.

It’s still pretty much a boys’ story when it comes to OT names, with parents now reaching out for some of the less familiar: Nehemiah, Judah, Zachariah. Here are the ones that are currently growing in popularity:

ETHAN
NOAH
NATHAN
GABRIEL
ELIJAH
CALEB
ISAAC
ISAIAH
JEREMIAH
JOSIAH
MICAH
ELI
LEVI
EMMANUEL
MALACHI
JONAH
ABRAHAM
ASHER
EZEKIEL

But since there are so few biblical names on the girls’ list, we offer some possibilities to consider to replenish the supply:

ADAH
ADINA
ATARAH
DINAH
EVE
JAEL
JEMIMA
JERUSHA
KETURAH
KEZIAH
MARA
MICHAL
NAAMAH
SARAI
SHUA
TAMAR
ZIBIAH
ZILLAH

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