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Baby Naming State of Mind

It’s always interesting–and fun–to compare the popularity lists of different states because there are inevitably  a few unexpected surprises.  Some name will pop up at #3 in one state when it’s 30 or 40 across the country.  And often a sort of state personality profile will emerge–be it trendy, traditional, or stuck in the past–and regional similarities as well.  In the current roster, one thing that’s noteworthy is that most of the names to step out from the crowd are in the boys’ column–with the girls there is a remarkable uniformity of choices across the country.

Regionally, the Northeast presents the most conservative picture, with Michael–long displaced in most other areas–still tops in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.  But move north to New England and the picture changes, with names like Logan and Ethan making their way to the top.  In the South–and nowhere else–William rules, at the head of the list in seven states, with Anthony in first place in Florida.

The Midwest is split between Jacob and Ethan, but shares one oddity: the name Gavin is in the Top 20 in just about every state–as high as #3 in Wyoming–whereas it’s #32 nationally.  So why Gavin in the heartland?  I wish I knew.  The West is more idiosyncratic, with a large spattering of Hispanic names (3 of the Top 10 in California and Arizona), and a state like Wyoming that presents a laid-back, cowboyish image via  top-ranked  Ethan, Logan, Wyatt, Brayden, and Hunter.

But what I find especially intriguing are the names that pop in one particular place.  Here are some examples of such male and female names,  with their national ratings in parenthesis:

BRAYDEN (34)          #8 in Wyoming

BRODY (105)           #10 in North Dakota

BROOKLYN-f(57)     #7 in Utah

CARTER (80)            #9 in South Dakota

EVAN (40)               #9 in Maine

GIANNA (90)           #10 in Rhode Island

ISAAC (41)              #4 in Idaho

JOCELYN (50)          #10 in California

LANDON (49)          #7 in Louisiana

NEVAEH (31)           #4 in New Mexico

OWEN (56)              #6 in Wisconsin

WYATT (69)             #7 in Wyoming

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6 Responses to “Baby Naming State of Mind”

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Andrea Says:

November 24th, 2008 at 9:31 pm

If you added the different spellings of these names, you’d get a lot higher rating for Brayden, Jayden, Kaden, Hayden and Aidan in every state. All are very popular in North Dakota, where I live, and surrounding states. Brody and other similar sounding names like Brady and Brayden have been quite popular here for years. The trendier, cowboy-rodeo sounding names are all very big in North Dakota for boys — Wyatt, Cody, Colton, Holden, Logan — along with Biblical names like Caleb, Isaac, Isaiah, Ethan. Gavin is also common too, probably because it fits the general pattern. People make up names as well, but they sound like all of the other names that are big for boys — Tayson, Trayton, Tayten, Dayton, Trysden, Tarson, etc. Waylon is not uncommon. I’ve also seen a few boys named Rowdy and Maverick. The head of the state teacher’s association is a 50-something man named Dakota Draper and there is a female 50-something teacher in the school district where I live named Dacotah (nickname Coty) . The female teacher was named after a female rodeo star from the 1940s that her father liked. I have no idea about the man. A place name I see occasionally for girls is Medora, after a very pretty tourist town in the western part of the state that was a favorite spot of Theodore Roosevelt. There’s a girl named Medora in the high school here, another elementary age Medora, and I just saw a birth announcement for a Medora Apple, daughter of North Dakota natives who are modern-age hippies and named her older twin brother and sister Jasper and Juniper. I doubt anyone here associates Medora with the poem by Byron or his illegitimate daughter by his half-sister. The town of Medora was named after Medora, daughter of a New York banker and wife of the Marquis de Mores, who ran a failed meat packing plant in the town in the early 1900s. I’d definitely consider Medora a name that is, if not unique to North Dakota, at least pretty strongly associated with it.

If you combined the spellings of the girls’ names, you’d see that Haley, Kaylee, Kaitlyn, and Alexis are all still very popular, probably in the top 10 or 20. Sarah Palin’s kids would fit right in in a high school in North Dakota. I’ve seen several girls named Piper on elementary school rosters.

Linda Rosenkrantz Says:

November 24th, 2008 at 10:32 pm

Andrea, thanks for that GREAT blogworthy post!! There’s nothing like getting an in-depth on-the-spot report.

Andrea Says:

November 25th, 2008 at 8:07 am

I like name trends, but I’m also a newspaper reporter who covers education, so I’ve typed more than my fair share of awards lists filled with “creatively” spelled names. It is interesting to see the difference in names from other states or countries, too. I’d guess that Gianna is big in Rhode Island because there are more Italians there. It’s not used much here, if at all, but there are some really old-sounding Norwegian names in elementaries here on the elementary lists: Solveig, Signe, Siri, Ingrid, Marit, Synnove, Annika, Trygve, Hans, Jens, Anders, Kjell, etc. But then North Dakota is predominantly Scandinavian and German-American.

Rachel Says:

November 25th, 2008 at 2:25 pm

As someone who hails from the Midwest, I think I have a theory as to Gavin’s popularity.

Midwesterners often have a drawl of sorts–it’s not Southern, but it’s not identifiably anything else. When we say Gavin in the Midwestern drawl, it fits our mouths perfectly, similar to Jackson. We stress the vowels in words (Gaaaaaaaa-vin) and tend to cut words short at the end (-vin is similar to the sound of present participles ending in -ing, with the ‘silent g’ some of us love to hate).

Combine its linguistic qualities with its somewhat exotic qualities (so French, yet pronounceable) and you have a winner.

linda Says:

November 26th, 2008 at 11:28 pm

That’s a very interesting explanation–and yet it still gnaws at me that there might be some reason for that specific name–some celebrity or character–that accounts for its local popularity. But maybe not.

susan Says:

November 27th, 2008 at 3:20 am

My husband and I are from the L.A. area and we named our children Peter and Laura. As they have been growing up, we have met very few kids named Peter and Laura that are their age. But then we went back to N.Y. for Peter’s graduation and the program was filled with many graduates named Peter and Laura. I kind of felt like I had finally discovered my community. Then I flew back to L.A., to the land of Ryan and Kaitlyn.

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