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

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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15 Responses to “Midwestern Baby Names: What’s heading north in North Dakota?”

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www.legitbabenames.wordpress.com Says:

May 24th, 2010 at 9:10 am

I grew up in the Chicago area, and these names are not all that common. Irish, Italian and Classic names seem to be more of the norm. Although I did go to a predominately Scandinavian-American University where a huge percentage of the student body hailed from Minnesota, North Dakota and sometimes even Alaska. Areas where there are large pockets of Swedish and Norwegian Americans. Many of them had die hard Scandinavian names, even though they are 5th-generation. There were several Annikas, several Linneas, Ericas and even a few Ingrids. Among males, every other guy was named Eric/Erik and they we had quite a few Bjorns, Leifs, Danes and Karls. My perception of name trends really changed once I had contact with this part of the United States. Many of them are married and have children now, and instead of names like Ingrid and Erik, Greta, Matilda and Gunnar seem to be all the rage. There were 3 Gunnars born among the alumni in one month!

Very interesting article and I am glad somebody pointed out this strong Scandinavian influence in the upper North Midwest.

jpruitt76 Says:

May 24th, 2010 at 10:21 am

I LOVE Marit for a little girl. Ditto Ingrid, Siri and Dagny…also Soren for a boy is a hit in my book.

Angela Says:

May 24th, 2010 at 10:27 am

I have always LOVED Dagny. So cute! My great aunt’s sister’s name and would be nice to use since my side of the family is Danish.

babynamesrule Says:

May 24th, 2010 at 11:15 am

Trayden and Grayden? Really? Yuck!

Bella Says:

May 24th, 2010 at 11:23 am

I’m super surprised that in the midst of all the ‘old country’ flair, you find Brooklyn, I can’t pin-point exactly why, but it just appears to be the odd one out.

Andrea Says:

May 24th, 2010 at 1:22 pm

I forgot Linnea and Annika. There are about three little girls or teenagers named Linnea enrolled in the school district in the town where I lived. I interviewed one of them last week. I also worked with a woman named Lynae, which is a variant spelling and pronounciation of the name. Linnea is currently at the top of the charts in the Scandinavian countries. I think it’s No. 1 or No. 2 in Sweden. Annika has also been a consistently used, if never highly popular, name for girls in this region. It’s No. 76 for Minnesota, much higher than in other states. I’ve also seen several boys named Gunnar/Gunner and in some cases it’s probably due to the Scandinavian influence and sometimes because of the gun connection or for both reasons.

You’ll sometimes come across rarer names that are distinctly Scandinavian. In the last few months in birth announcements I’ve spotted Trygve (a Norwegian male name that is also the name of a newspaper editorial cartoonist for one of the papers in the state), Svea (a girl’s name, refers to being Swedish) and Odin again. I’ve also seen Synnovea (a Norwegian name that is a variant of Sunniva or Synnove, an ancient saint’s name). Kristen/Kristin/Kirsten was extremely popular for girls when I was in school, maybe a little more than other parts of the country, and some of the Karis I knew pronounced it CAR-ee instead of CARE-ee. Liisa (the double i is Finnish) was one of the girls in school at the same time I was.

Some of the older-sounding Scandinavian or German ethnic names are still fairly common among older people. I remember a new reporter I worked with giggling when she heard the name of one of the revered state senators, who had just passed away: Brynhild Haugland. People were so used to the name and others of that ilk that it sounds ordinary. Eero (Finnish) was one of the plumbers in my town.

But most of the names used seem very new and trendy. The old-timey Scandinavian names are kind of a trendlet, but I’d guess it might be more common among college-educated Midwesterners.

MollyK Says:

May 24th, 2010 at 1:28 pm

I grew up in Minnesota and went to college in a small town in Wisconsin. I knew two Thor’s and one Anders in college. I went to high school with a guy named Hans who named his son Soren. One of my old friends from high school just named his daughter Svea, which is Scandinavian. My step-dad is pure Swedish, but not too many interesting names in his family.

I knew a female Jordan in college, the oldest Jordan I have ever met, she would be about 30 now. I haven’t known too many people with the “western sounding” names like Wyatt and Cooper though, maybe that is more of a North Dakota thing.

Great blog, thanks!

Andrea Says:

May 24th, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Now I’m on a roll. I forgot Hjalmar, a local government official and well-known businessman. People tend to refer to him by his first name. Anders and Annika were the names of a sibling pair here and I’ve definitely seen Anders used. Also Thea/Tea, which is very Norwegian. And I’ve seen Jorunn (meaning “love”) a couple of times for girls.

Sachiko Says:

May 24th, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Andrea, great post. I’ve really enjoyed reading about Scandy-land naming influences–I lived in the midwest when I was little, and in Utah, which is also well influenced by Scandinavian names. (I’m 3/4 Scandy myself)

Spanish Fork, UT is the largest cohesive Icelandic settlement in the US, and they still spoke Icelandic there until the 1950s. (I’m guessing TV was the language killer there)

I <3 Sunniva and Siri! They've been on my short list for years.

I think the Chippewa names are way cool. I've always wanted to ask Native Americans how they'd feel about me appropriating their culture by naming my kid with a native name, but I get the feeling asking that would be majorly rude. Ironic, considering I'd be asking in an effort to avoid said rudeness, but whatever.

Now that we've had a post about genuine Scandinavian influences, I'd love to hear what you think about the recent trend of people taking on Viking names. Didja hear about that guy in England who changed his name from "Richard Smith" to Stormhammer Deathclaw Firebrand?

I wonder how that kind of longship-steering name would be recieved in North Dakota, where they've got more of the real thang.

Andrea Says:

May 24th, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I think people would guffaw about Stormhammer Deathclaw Firebrand. He sounds like either he’s too into Renaissance Fairs or Wicca or whatever. If someone is named Thor here it’s usually because the family is over half Norwegian or it was the name of a grandfather or great-grandfather.

I don’t think American Indians would really like it if whites used native language names and didn’t have a connection to the tribe. Some of those names are given in religious ceremonies and belonged first to a grandmother or other relative who has passed on. They have great significance. There are a lot of people who have English names and a native name given in one of the tribal ceremonies. Some of the more traditional families give native language names or use an English translation. One of the girls who just graduated from an area school has the first name White Elk Woman, which is probably an English version of her native language name. Some of the other names I listed are elements in some of the longer Indian names. Mato means “bear,” for instance and “Mahpiya” means “cloud.” Some of the names seem to be more widely used among different tribes. I’ve seen Chenoa a few times and it means “dove” in one of the languages. Chaske is Sioux language for “first born son.” The Chippewa language names sound and look different than the Sioux or Three Affiliated Tribes names.

Sachiko Says:

May 24th, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Well, okey-dokey then. I can limit myself to appropriating from Japan (technically legal for me) and various European cultures. I could always squeeze in Tecumseh and pass myself off as a history buff, if I really get a yen for a non-Japanese name.

Chenoa is really appealing though. Forbidden fruit!

I love the idea of people here in the states using Thor and Hjalmar as names. It’s, like, proof that the TV monoculture CAN be avoided sometimes. There is hope! 😀

Andrea Says:

May 24th, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Chenoa might be one that’s used widely enough that it’s lost some of its significance. I’m not sure what tribe it’s from but I see it, sometimes with a lot of different spellings (Chenoah, Shanoah, etc.), on honor rolls sometimes from tribal schools. I think it’s listed in name books too.

Tara Says:

May 24th, 2010 at 5:25 pm

I live in Texas, where I hear Jayden so often its nauseating. It’s surprising and interesting to hear that Jaydens in your state are heading off to college.

Meredith Says:

May 25th, 2010 at 8:52 am

I would be interested in seeing how different urban areas are from non-urban areas in their naming trends. I live in Chicago, in the actual city, and none of these names are popular. We are technically in the Midwest, but I don’t know if this list is representative of the entire region. I haven’t heard one of them used in the past few years and I know A LOT of babies. I think it is definitely an accurate post about the upper midwest with western/Scandinavian/popular influences. Thanks for that aspect – I have always been feascinated by our neighbors up north and their naming!

iwillpraise Says:

June 17th, 2013 at 11:09 pm

This is incredible! I never knew that the mid-west had so much Scandinavian culture and influence! Its only been a few years since I realized that the Pennsylvania/Ohio region (my birthplace) is the most densely populated area in the entire US for Slavs. My maiden name is Toth, which is Hungarian, and extremely prevalent in the Cleveland Ohio/ central Pa areas. It’s really cool how particular people groups immigrated to specific areas that very much resembled their country in the new world; for instance Pennsylvania had many mining opportunities, the same as Hungary.

Thank you for sharing, Andrea! I do realize you wrote this 3 years ago, but it really is fascinating to see the kind of journey a name-interest will take you and what knowledge and history you gain from it!!

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