Why do English-speaking people often have strange first names?

By: | Post date: September 13, 2016 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Culture

The respondents so far have not given a satisfactory answer. How’s it feel when your culture is exoticised, eh?

I share Anon’s attitude towards Anglo nomenclature. Let’s try to unpack it.

Traditional societies have traditional approaches to naming people. If you’re a Roman, there’s only a dozen praenomina, some clan names, and a nickname cognomen that ends up being a surname itself. If you’re Ancient Greek or a Germanic tribesperson, there’s a fixed pattern of compounds. If you’re a Christian in Europe up until a century ago, there’s a fixed repertoire of saint names.

That’s not primarily about religion and books of fairy tales. That’s about having roots and a community and a cultural context.

One respondent found that horrifying. You know what I find horrifying? Running out and getting a random name for your kid just because. Saddling someone with Dweezil or Thursday. Dweezil dealt with it, sure (EDIT: he insisted on making it official when he was 5); but Dweezil was born in the Anglosphere.

(EDIT: And he was 5.)

And here’s the thing. The outlier isn’t OP, with his distaste of creative nomenclature. The outlier is the Anglosphere. Coming up with names with unfettered creativity, without any attention to community norms, is not the normal course of affairs.

And it wasn’t the normal course of affairs in the Anglosphere either, until the 20th century. There are fads and perturbations from the ’20s on, but the massive shakeup in most popular names in the US seems to date from the 1970s: Top 10 Baby Names by Decade

What changed around then? More and more individualism. Less sway of traditional structures, including religion and extended families. Hippie stuff. Social mobility. After that, it just snowballs in those particular communities: if noone calls their kid John or Mary any more, you don’t either. (In fact, Mary’s now are a retro thing.)

But that’s started as an Anglosphere thing. It’s been much slower to happen in Europe, and in fact parents wanting to emulate Anglosphere name creativity often bump into legal barriers.

The legal barriers aren’t to kill your buzz, man. They’re codifications of what was long presumed to be the normal way of doing things.

… And yes, were I to have kids, this would be a major issue of contention in our household…

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