Monday, August 13, 2012

British Baby Names: Daring to Be Diminutive

The U.K. Office for National Statistics has released its list of top English baby names for 2011 (I guess they're three months behind the U.S.), with Harry and Amelia leading the charts.

Harry (the name) casts a spell on England.

As Gawker notes, the Brits aren't on board with many of the American naming trends:
The list for England and Wales — purportedly fancy places, rich in history — is absolutely devoid of all the -aiden/-ayden/-aidon names that make America's kindergarten teachers sound like ancient Celtic bards whenever they take class roll, singing tales of fearless warrior, sons of So-and-So The So-and-So, who died on the battlefield drenched in blood and valor. 
And where are the occupational names? The tributes to celebrated and lucrative modern professions? The Masons, the Tanners, the Parkers, the Chandlers?

For me, the most striking thing about English baby names is the preference for diminutives. The No. 1 boys' name is Harry. Not Henry or Harrison, just Harry.

The third-ranked name is Jack. Not John or Jackson, just Jack. Fourth is Alfie. Yep, Alfie. Charlie rounds out the top five.

Americans have a love affair with Sophia, but the English prefer Sophie. We like Eva; they go for Evie.

For U.S. parents, the general trend is to pick a nickname they like (say, Jack) and then reverse-engineer a long-form name out of it (Jackson). The preference for surnames as first names (Mason, Hunter, etc.) also stems from our desire as Americans to seem sophisticated.

Many Americans would probably worry it was low-class to give their kid the nickname they liked all along. (Despite the popularity of Harry Potter books and movies here, the name Harry isn't even in the top 500 in the U.S.).

I guess the question is, can something be low-class if English people do it?