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If you were to go solely by the tabloids, you might think that every celebrity’s baby boy was given the name of a New York borough or a Disney character or was his parents’ quirky Scrabble-letter invention.

Au contraire.

There is a very  healthy segment of show biz parents who are creating a major backlash to this trend–either that or they just like conservative, classic names.  Instead of screaming ‘Hey-look-at-me!’ (and my mama), these names  provide a sort of protective coating against that kind of often mocking attention, a layer of dignity and tradition.

Evidence?  Here, just looking at boys born since the Millenium, are some of the timeless classics, in their complete, traditional forms, that have been recent celebrity choices–not that they always succeeded in making their bearers paparazzi-proof.  (And, by the way, I’d be  interested to know if you think the preference for this kind of name relates to the celeb’s own personal or public image.)

ALEXANDERNaomi Watts & Liev Schreiber, Lauren Holly, Wolfgang Puck

CHARLESRussell Crowe, Chris O’Donnell, Cynthia Nixon, Emily Robison

CHRISTIANMarc Anthony, Pete Sampras

CHRISTOPHERChris O’Donnell

DAVID — Mo’Nique, J. K. Rowling

FRANKDiana Krall & Elvis Costello

FREDERICK — Mayim Bialik

GEORGEKristin Scott-Thomas, Eva Herzigova

HARRYDavid Letterman

HENRYHeidi Klum & Seal, Julia Roberts, Emily Robison, Rachel Weisz, Jack White & Karen Elson, Minnie Driver, Norah O’Donnell, Steve Zahn

JACKMatt Lauer, Joan London

JAMESSarah Jessica Parker & Matthew Broderick, Isaac Hanson, Colin Farrell, Kirk Cameron & Chelsea Noble

JOHNBono, Vanessa Paradis & Johnny Depp, Bridget Moynahan & Tom Brady, Julie Bowen, Nancy Grace, Lauryn Hill & Rohan Marley

JOSEPHTracy Lords, Cathy Moriarity

SAMUELNaomi Watts & Liev Schreiber, Jack Black, Elizabeth Vargas

THOMASJack Black, Dennis Quaid

WILLIAMKimberly Williams & Brad Paisley, Mary Louise Parker & Billy Cruddup, Clay Walker

In addition–though it’s not quite the same thing–there are the nickname versions, like Kate Winslet’s Joe and Charlie Sheen’s Bob, and the not-so-timeless semi-classics like Rainn Wilson’s Walter. And of course, there are the female equivalents–Amanda Peet’s Frances, Kelly Martin’s Margaret–but that’s for another time.

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Great Names from the New Testament

When we talk about the strong popularity of biblical names these days, what we’re really talking about are Old Testament names.  Looking at the popularity list, we see Jacob at #1, followed by Ethan, Joshua, Daniel, David, Joseph, Noah, Nathan, Samuel and Benjamin, while for girls, Hannah and Sarah are still in the Top 20.

Sure, thousands of babies each year are still named John and Thomas and Elizabeth, but these are seen as very conservative choices, often given to honor a family member.  And then there’s poor Mary.  We’ve been known to say to parents if you want a really unusual name, how about Mary?–the most widely used female name in the English-speaking world for centuries  has long been in steep decline.  The statistics are pretty dramatic: in 1925, more than 70,000 baby girls were christened Mary, in 1950 there were still over 65,000, while by last year the number had shrunk to less than 4,000.  Similar story with John: 57,000+ in 1950 to just over 4,000 in 2007.  Why?  For one thing, their massive long-term popularity robbed them of any individuality, and for another, so many of today’s parents carry around elderly images of a Great-Uncle Jim or a Grandma Betty that they don’t seem fitting for a baby.

But there are other New Testament names besides the old standards.  Rather than being strictly Hebrew names, as those in the New Testament, these have Greek, Roman and Aramaic elements, giving them quite a different flavor.  So, moving beyond Mary, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, here are a few possibilities:

GIRLS

DAMARIS

DRUSILLA

JUNIA

MAGDALA (place name)

MAGDALEN

PERSIS

PHOEBE

PRISCILLA

SAPPHIRA

TABITHA

And for boys:

BARNABUS

BARTHOLOMEW

CLEMENT

CRISPUS

ELIAS

GAIUS

JUSTUS

MATTHIAS

THADDEUS

ZACHARIUS

ZEBEDEE

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