Names come in and out of fashion. The choice of a child’s first name also reflects culture and history. Family names passed down over generations speak to traditions borne of determination, if nothing else. Damn it, my great-grandfather was called Jan, his son was Jan, my Dad was Jan, I am a man named Jan and my son will be too, even though I spent most of my early childhood and teen years hiding in the school toilets because Jan is a girl’s name. It’s tradition.

An unusual tradition (well I think is) is handing down names and then calling someone the second, third, fourth or even 5th….John Smith the fifth, try saying that ten times quickly. It’s not as if these families are related to Royalty. The British royal family call people first and second etc., and look how many Henry’s there were, but they need to add the numbers because the reign of a monarch speaks to a specific time on the historical timeline. We know Elizabeth the first relates to the 16oo’s. No one meets someone called Roger Rutherford the 3rd and immediately thinks, “ah, then his grandfather was the Roger Rutherford who lived in Watford in 1920.

Choosing a name is a tricky business for a lot of parents. Grand parents often like to have a say. Even then, as the child grows up, they may no longer relate to that name and so want to change it. At my school there was a girl named Olga who changed her name to Sarah because Olga sounded ugly and old fashioned in her mind. Her parents came from a country where Olga was a fairly common name. There were 6 other Sarah’s in our year group. I thought the name Sarah was common and therefore invisible, but that was EXACTLY what she wanted. She was tired of the double take.

Added to that is the issue of nick-names and names that can be teased because of a set of initials or because of the blend made with a surname. Richard Dicks. A tricky one. Katrina Galore. Think about it. Fred Unsworth-Clarkson. Kelly Hunt. The list goes on. (I actually know someone with that name and she is actually a very lovely person).

But times change, and so does the fashion for names. Here are the top 3 boys and girls names from previous generations. Included here is data from The United states, whose social security department have been meticulous with their record keeping, and The UK, which for a number of factors, is a little patchier.

In 1900, the 3 most popular names for girls in the USA were- in order of rank- Mary, Helen and Margaret. In the UK at that same time the list was Mary, Florence and Annie. For boys in the US in 1900 it was John, William and James, whereas in the UK it was William, John and George.

By the 1920’s in the states, the most popular girls names were Mary, Dorothy and Helen, and in the UK Margaret, Mary and Joan were in the top 3 spots. For boys born in the same decade the US had Robert, John and James, the UK was sticking with John, William and George.

Then came the war. In the 1940’s in the USA girls were most likely to be called Mary, Linda and Barbara. In the UK Margaret, Patricia and Christine were all the fashion. For males in the US, a son would likely be called James, Robert or John, but in the UK he would be John, David or Michael.

Skip ahead to the swinging 60’s and in the States your daughter might been named Lisa, Mary or Susan but in the UK she is more likely to be Susan Julie or Karen. For the lads there was less change, boys in the USA were more likely to be named Michael, David or John but in the UK David Paul and Andrew held the top spots.

The 80’s (the decade fashion forgot) brought us a new set of names. Jessica, Jennifer and Amanda were the most popular girl’s names in America, but in the UK they were Sarah, Laura and Gemma. For boys in the States it was Michael, Christopher and Matthew, boys in the UK were being named Christopher, James and David.

From the year 2000, the top spots for girl’s names in the US were taken by Emily, Maddison and Emma. In The UK, Chloe, Emily and Ellie, and the boys were named Jacob, Michael and Joshua in America, but being most likely named Jack, Joshua or Thomas in the UK.

The latest reliable figures take us to the end of 2014. In the United States of America, the three most popular girl’s names given to new humans were Sophia, Emma and Olivia. In the United Kingdom they were Sophia, Emily and Lily. Boys names have also drifted well away from the Johns and Georges of older times (except for Prince George, of course) and in the US the top three spots for boys names were Jackson, Aiden and Liam and in the UK the top spot for boys was taken by Mohammed, and then Oliver and Jack .

Names tell us a lot about where society is within itself and a lot about who we are. These days meeting someone named ‘Stone’ or ‘Phoenix’ might not be that unusual. Of course, those born with non- anglicized names, may choose a western name that they like the sound of, or that has meaning to them. Which of us living in Asia hasn’t met a ‘Rainbow’, ‘Green’, ‘Cream’ or ‘Pond’. There are even websites dedicated to ‘funny chosen names’. In Thailand, I’ve met a number of Porn’s. Porn is a common name in Thailand. I’ve only even met one Kitty Porn though. Thankfully. Choosing our own names makes some sense, but most of us never do. What name would you choose for yourself if you could? Drop us a line here at My Grey Nomads and let us know.



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