08 June 2012

What’s in a Name?

Selected name plates, all “Warren.”
Welcome back. Did I ever mention that my name is Warren? I didn’t pick the name. Frankly, I’ve never liked it; it’s too difficult to pronounce. Growing up, I was envious of guys with single syllable names, like James; or no-doubt nicknames, like Jim or Tom or Ben; or just about any name other than Warren. I never had a nickname. Somehow, “War” didn’t catch on.
Since I struggled with my name, I was never offended when anyone tripped over it, especially non-native English speakers. In Puerto Rico, “Warren” often came out Wha-hen or even Juan. Some would trill the double R; a feat my tongue never mastered. In China, the R’s could become L’s.

My name came to mind when I saw the list of last year’s most popular baby names.

Naming Your Offspring

Reflecting the prescient naming ability of his father (me), our son’s name, “Noah,” capped a meteoric rise from a popularity ranking of far below 200 on the list when he was born to Number 5 in 2011.

When Noah was about kindergarten age, the popularity of his name rose as much as 50 places in a year. There is no breakdown on the extent to which the change in national ranking was directly attributable to our rather rambunctious son or to our shouting, “Noah!”

As we were enamored with N’s at the time, if Noah had been born a daughter, he…sorry…she would have been named Nora. “Nora,” low in popularity that year, went really low, then began its ascent. It may break the 100 threshold in Noah’s lifetime, though only the Noras will be watching.

“Rachel,” my daughter’s name, rose from a lowly ranking on her birth date to a popularity pinnacle of Number 9 in the mid-1990s. The name has been on a steady decline for the past decade, yet I can’t take full responsibility for its ups or downs.

When Rachel was born, we were still undecided. A nurse passing through the room asked the name of our newborn. “Probably Hannah,” I answered, and the nurse offered, “Oh, Anna is a lovely name.” That of course led to “Rachel.”

Much to my chagrin, “Hannah” advanced from a near basement popularity position, cracking the top 10 in the mid-1990s, and reaching Number 2 for three consecutive years. It’s been slipping lately, which may be why Rachel refuses to change.

Wrap Up

“Warren” hardly made the top 100 when I was born. As the years passed, its ranking plummeted. It has been on an upswing lately, from 528 in 2005 to 501 last year--be still my beating heart.

I shouldn’t place all the blame on my parents. My 98 year old aunt once told me they were going to name me after my grandfather, Wolf. She thought “Wolf” would make me stand out so much, she convinced them to pick something similar but more common: “Warren.” I had no say.

President Obama’s birth certificate.
Like “Wolf,” “Barack” hasn’t made the
top 1000 names for the last 100 years.

Although “Wolf” hasn’t ranked in the top 1000 for the last 100 years, it’s one syllable, I wouldn’t have needed a nickname, and a name that unpopular would have been cool, don’t you think?

How about you? Am I the only one who dislikes his or her name? Thanks for stopping by.


If you’d like to check the popularity of names you know and love, here’s a link to the Social Security Administration’s site: http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/index.html


  1. 08 06 12

    OK, now you've made me wonder; you showed a "certificate of live birth".

    That suggests there may also be a "certificate of dead birth".

    Is there?

    I'm wondering about some of the people I see in politics.


  2. Thank you, Carol.
    No comment, Luke.