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February 09, 2005

What's in a Name When a Name Isn't In

We all know somebody named "Michelle." Most of us, in fact, have probably known more than a few. But I doubt anyone reading this paragraph is acquainted with a single human being who goes by "Bertha."

In 1930s America, you would have known plenty of lovely ladies named Bertha, and it's unlikely you'd have known a single Michelle. One of those names would have sounded attractive and familiar, the other strange and outlandish.

We've all seen those annual baby-name popularity lists. They're fun curiosity feeders, and each of us probably has a general sense where our own name lands on the scale. These folks, however, have taken it to the extreme, tracking American naming trends with a nifty visual presentation that shows the vast ebb and flow of the past century. Type in a name, and the graph zigs and zags across time.

Unless you enjoy the safety of being a Michael, William, Elizabeth or Katherine, the whole exercise can send a quick chill, once you see just how quickly common names can tumble into obscurity. You can't help but feel a little humbled upon realizing that your own name — your very identity, for heaven's sake! — is vulnerable to Berthafication.

And there's nothing you can do about it. Only time will unveil the trajectory of fashion, revealing whether the Zachs and Haileys of today are the Harrys and Dorises of 2060.

Posted by Semolina Pilchard on February 9, 2005 at 10:03 AM | Permalink

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