American Baby Names: The Melting Pot

Filed under: Babies, Baby Names

American baby names span the globe. Credit: Corbis

Mirroring the diversity of America's melting pot society, American baby names often reflect the makeup of our nation. But, like a carnival fun house, some of those reflections often distort the true nature of the original image.

Of the five most popular American baby names for boys in the last five years -- Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew and Daniel -- four of them have Hebrew roots. Of the top five American baby names for girls in the last five years -- Emily, Madison, Emma, Olivia and Hannah -- four have decidedly European backgrounds. But that doesn't necessarily reflect the heritage of the babies receiving those names.

Some of the trendier American baby names that have shot up the popularity charts in recent years reflect a truer picture of America's diverse melting pot. Baby names for girls such as Isla (Scottish) and Kinley (Irish) are beginning to gain favor with modern parents. And baby boy names such as Matteo (Italian) and Xavier (Spanish) also are on the rise. Isabella (Spanish/Italian) cracked the top five, according to the Social Security Administration's most popular list in 2006, and gained the top spot in 2009. Genevieve (French/German) leapt from 49th on the list in 2008, to 24th in 2009.

Native American baby names such as Dakota (also Dakotah) and Cheyenne are not only blurring ethnic lines, but gender lines, as well. Both names have seen a drastic rise in popularity and are being used as baby names for both boys and girls.

American baby names for girls such as Hailey (English), Aaliyah (Arabic) and offshoot Aliyah (Hebrew) are among the most popular choices of parents from African-American descent. This is according to data from agencies in Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, Virginia and New York City, currently the only locations that break down American baby name data according to race. Caleb, Jeremiah and Josiah, all of Hebrew origins, are among the most popular African-American names for boys, as are the aforementioned Hebrew names of Jacob, Michael, Joshua and Daniel.

Purely American baby names have gained a foothold in recent trends, as many parents seek to come up with unique baby names that defy traditional national origins. Sookie, Kaylee (and its many offshoots) and Makayla are all purely American concoctions that have seen recent popularity among baby girls. Jaden (and its many offshoots), Colt and Zane are examples of American-born monikers for baby boys.

As America becomes even more integrated with cultures and traditions from around the world, the lines between familial heritage and national origins continue to be blurred by parents' desires to name their babies according to their individual preferences.


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