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Last time we went mythbusting, we looked at whether Australian names are becoming increasingly Americanised, and didn’t find a lot of evidence. This is the flip side to that myth – the one that comforts us that we are essentially more British in our ways than American, and so are our baby names. That despite an increasing tendency to call our children Jett and Harlow, most of us will trustingly follow dear old Mother England, and choose something like Archie, Evie, Callum or Isla.

Again, this myth sounded quite plausible to me. But we have to look and make sure, so once more I prepared myself to examine the Top 100 from each nation. The first hurdle is that both of us are slightly data-challenged, so I was forced to rely on data from Victoria only (the only state with stats going back to 1929), while the data from the UK would include both England and Wales, but not Scotland or Northern Ireland. I did feel that already the waters were getting slightly muddied, only to find that England/Wales doesn’t publicise historical Top 100s.

I express my heartfelt gratitude to Elea at British Baby Names, who has provided on her blog, through her own labours, Top 100s for England/Wales for each decade from 1904 to 1984. Upon e-mailing her to enquire where I might find the one for 1994, she very kindly sent me a copy of her own personal spreadsheets so I could have that one as well.

Now I acknowledge this leaves me with some flaws in my methodology before even starting. I only had data from one state of Australia; furthermore this state has a reputation of being slightly more “English” than average. I only had data from England/Wales, and only had access to years ending in a 4. As I had already examined the earlier myth using data from the United States in years ending with a 0, it was possible I wasn’t going to be comparing apples to oranges so much as bananas to hedgehogs to timeshare villas in Spain.

However, we won’t get too gloomy, but show a bit of British pluck and press on. No, this won’t be the most statistically persuasive thing you’ll read all year, but we’re not doing a study, not trying to prove anything, just having a keen yet amateurish look around us to see if anything obvious shows up. And after all, if the myth is clearly and inarguably true, then broad trends should be pretty obvious even through a fog of slightly dodgy data.

1934

Boys – 82% the same (17% higher than US)

Girls – 69% the same (18% higher than US)

1954

Boys – 75% the same (16% higher than US) – down 7% overall, down 1% relative to US

Girls – 68% the same (21% higher than US) – down 1% overall, up 3% relative to US

1974

Boys – 72% the same (16% higher than US) – down 3% overall, no change relative to US

Girls – 62% the same (11% higher than US) – down 6% overall, down 10% relative to US

1994

Boys – 67% the same (11% higher than US) – down 10% overall, down 3% relative to US

Girls – 61% the same (5% higher than US) – down 1% overall, down 6% relative to US

2011

Boys – 63% the same (4% higher than US) – down 4% overall, down 7% relative to US

Girls – 63% the same (16% higher than US) – up 2% overall, up 11% relative to US

Based on these numbers, I would say that’s a MYTH CONFIRMED – at no time in history did the the amount of popular names shared with the US overtake the amount of popular names shared with England/Wales.

However, you can clearly see that while the number of shared girls names went down only very slightly between 1934 and 2011, the number of shared boys names sunk by almost 20%. In fact, yes, we still share more boys names with England/Wales than with the United States, but only by 4% – four names! Statistically, that’s what I call a big-whooping-deal difference, and if this trend continues, future Australian boy’s names are going to look much more like those in the US than the Top 100 for England/Wales.

Girl’s name did not show this steady decline, and in fact last year had a slight increase since the 1990s, while also showing a significant gain relative to the US data. This makes me think that when we say that our names are more English than American, we are primarily thinking of our names for girls.

GENTLE MUSINGS

Last time I ended the article with “conclusions”; this now seems far too definite and perhaps arrogant considering that we are left with far more questions than answers. So I will not reach any conclusions, but merely gently muse on some of the issues that have been raised.

Questions

  • Many names are shared by the Top 100s of all three countries. Therefore, can you really label names such as Olivia, Jacob, Ella and Liam as “English” or “American”, or are they more properly “international trends”?
  • If determined to designate a name as “English” or “American”, do you rely upon the place which provided the cultural impetus for the name, or the place where it became popular first, or the place where it reached the highest levels of popularity? If the first, then many popular names could be classed as American; if the second or third, a large number would be classed as Australian more than anything else.
  • I used the example of Scarlett as an “American-style” name in the preceding article (I admit without much forethought), and Sebastiane from Legitimate Baby Names quite correctly pointed out that Scarlett was more popular in England than in the United States. Now, it cannot be disputed that Scarlett hails from the United States, because the name became known through Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Gone with the Wind, and was popularised by American actress, Scarlett Johansson. However, the name is #19 in Victoria, #25 in England/Wales, and #80 in the USA. It reached the Top 100 of both Victoria and England/Wales in the same year, 2004, New South Wales in 2005, but only became Top 100 in the USA last year. So which country, if any, claims it?
  • Sometimes my blog entries end up being copied and discussed in some odd places, so my Referrer stats tell me; occasionally they end up somewhere rather disturbing. I found the Mythbuster on Australian and US trends on a not-very-nice forum (not baby name or parenting related), where the poster claimed that supposedly “trashy” American names that were popular in Australia but not the USA (eg Beau) were in fact, not American, but “Southern” names. Did the Civil War not end? I wondered. Is the lower portion of America not part of the United States, but a separate nation? It does raise the issue, what qualifies as an “American” name? Must it be in the Top 100 of every state in the USA to be called American? In which case, I have a feeling that “American” names would end up being those that are popular internationally, like Michael and Emily.

Observations

  • Immigration made a difference between the Top 100s of England/Wales and Victoria. Mohammed and Abdul have been popular names since the 1930s in the UK, while post-war immigration saw names such as Antonio and Ioannis reach the Top 100 in Victoria during the 1970s.
  • Although Australia has a history of being very keen on Welsh-inspired names such as Mervyn and Gweneth, I was amused to notice that not only were these not popular in England/Wales, but they had Welsh names, presumably used by actual Welsh people, which we didn’t, such as Ivor and Glynis.
  • While we all are influenced by each other’s name trends, each country had its names that the others were seemingly oblivious to. The name Gillian seems to be a quintessentially English name, appearing decade after decade on their Top 100, whilst never making the Top 100 in Australia, or the Top 1000 of the US. Meanwhile the US had quite a thing for Melvin – a name which still ranks on their Top 1000. In turn, we had a long-standing fascination with the name Bronwyn.
  • Each country also had their own favourite names. Adrian was a name we took to early – it was Top 100 by the 1930s and stayed there until quite recently. In England/Wales, it took a bit longer to reach the Top 100 and they tired of it sooner. In the US, Adrian only reached the Top 100 in 1989. England/Wales had an inordinate passion for the name Derek, which continued for decades – a name that has never been Top 100 in Australia, and only reached the Top 100 of the USA in 1970, a good half-century after England/Wales. In the US, Douglas seemed to enjoy favour much longer than elsewhere, being still Top 100 as late as the 1980s.
  • In other words, we might all be influenced by international trends, but we also have our own tastes in names, and don’t necessarily abandon a favoured name just because everyone else is doing so.
  • I have noticed that some people, amongst them many Australians I’m sorry to say, assume that a name which becomes popular in England/Wales is somehow more “classy” or “stylish” that one whose popularity originated in the United States or Australia. Granted, whether a name is stylish or not is completely subjective, but I did not feel that this assumption stood up to even casual investigation. From my perusal of popular names from three places across seven decades, it seemed to me that all were capable of being inspired by names that have been considered stylish, and its opposite.
  • For example, the name Isabella became popular in Australia much earlier than elsewhere, and I think most people would say Isabella is a pretty, stylish name. Yet we were also the first (by many years) to jump aboard the Hayden/Aidan/Jayden/Brayden craze. While I don’t consider this the black hole of name taste that others do, I acknowledge it’s not generally thought of as a stylish trend. While England has some lovely aristocratic names on its Top 100s, such as Constance and Daphne, can a land which adored the name Derek really take the title of Stylemeister? America has brought us no end of cool names, from glamourpuss Marilyn to zippy Jett. There’s a freshness and vigour to American name trends which I love, and a world without their names would be a far less interesting one. However, sometimes they’re a trifle overenthusiastic – and besides, Derek was on their Top 100 for 15 years, so they forfeit the style crown too.
  • Oh, and Barry and Sheila? Barry was Top 100 in England/Wales for longer than it was here, and Sheila, although popular in both England/Wales and the United States, didn’t show up in the Australian data, because by the 1930s it had already peaked and dropped off our Top 100. Who’d have thunk it?
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