Mommy, Why Did You Name Me Doja Cat?
Parents have gotten more experimental with naming their children in the last few decades. But how often does popular music influence those naming conventions?
“As the story goes,” my friend told me over text, “my parents couldn’t pick a name. Then the Boston song ‘Amanda’ came on at a party, and they agreed upon it.” This fateful party that determined my friend Amanda’s name occurred in 1995, nine years after Boston’s song topped the charts and during the height of the name’s popularity for newborn girls in the United States.
This popularity was not driven by an MTV-era hit, though. By the time Boston’s Tom Scholz set the name to music, it had been one of the top ten newborn girl names for almost a decade. Nevertheless, the actions of my friend’s parents got me thinking: Do people frequently name their children after popular songs and artists?
I’d Like to Introduce You to My Son, Biggie Smalls
When thinking about trends in baby names, there are a few things that you have to know. First, the number of births in the United States increased dramatically during the 20th century.
Secondly, parents have gotten more experimental with names over the last 150 years, meaning the most popular names now account for a smaller share of newborn names than ever before. Furthermore, there has always been more experimentation with newborn girl names than newborn boy names.
Finally, when names have gone from one gender to another in the last century, they typically drift from male to female rather than in the other direction. ‘Leslie’ proves a good example of this. The name started out as a handedly male name in the beginning of the 20th century. Then when newborn females named ‘Leslie’ began to surge between the 1940s and 1960s, the name quickly lost favor among newborn boys.
Though understanding these trends generally falls outside the scope of this essay, it is worth thinking about them for a moment. During the era of less naming experimentation (i.e., early-1900s), American society was both more patriarchal and religious. Because of this, names - especially for boys - were often passed down over generations. Many of those names were of Judeo-Christian origin. As society has become less patriarchal and less religious, we’ve seen naming experimentation increase.
But why have we always seen more experimentation among names for girls? Furthermore, why does the usage of a name for girls discourage parents from using it for boys (e.g., Leslie)? It comes back to some of the same reasons. In a patrilineal society, last names are inherited from men. First name inheritance shows a similar trend. In terms of religion, there are just fewer female names to choose from. A 2003 paper by Matthew Hahn and R. Alexander Bentley noted that “only ca. 6% of all the names in Judeo-Christian scriptures are female.”
Additionally, there seems to be a fear among parents that giving their son a feminine name could hurt them socially. Abby Sandel, the woman behind the baby name blog Appellation Mountain described this to the HuffPost in 2022: “[P]arents will sheepishly admit that they worry about their boys being teased for having an unconventional name.” Thus, parents won’t choose a name for their son that is becoming associated with girls or a name that might become associated with girls.
Now that we’re experts in the history of naming conventions in America, what can we learn about how popular music has influenced newborn names? I’ve noticed four noteworthy trends: Past Preference for Presidents Over Pop Stars, The Sharona-Aaliyah Divide, The Whitney Houston Gender Transition, and The Classic Rock Nostalgia-Industrial Complex.