Naming Names.

(by Cindy Mosqueda, x-posted from at Loteria Chicana)

The emotional complexity of that cultural changeover means that parents don’t just switch from Latin names to English ones in a single go. Rather, says Jasso, they may pass through a three-stage process, “with bilingual names becoming popular for a while. Those are names like Hector and Daniel for boys and Sandra and Cecilia for girls.” [Time Magazine, Adios Juan and Juanita: Latina names trend down]

When my parents, Carlos and Luz, chose baby names, they picked names that would sound good in English and Spanish. It made sense to them. They were born in Mexico, but emigrated as school-age children. Although they are fluent in their native and adopted tongues, their parents barely spoke English. Thus, they avoided names that would be mangled by their parents and chose Daniel (well, Grandma chose that name), Cynthia, Laura and Adrian.

I like their approach. I’m not sure mom and dad saw themselves in some sort of “cultural changeover,” but their names as well as the names they chose for their children fit into the three-stage process.

As I read Jeffrey Kluger’s article on Latino names trending downward I wondered about the general premise: distinctly Latino names are dying out as the percentage of foreign born Latinos diminishes and those who are here become more assimilated. Kluger cites data from the Social Security Administration on changes in popularity for baby names.

He has a point. I know few people with old-school names like Refugio, Bartolo (my grandpa!), Antonia (that would be my Mamá Toní) and Herminia in my parents’ generation, let alone in my generation. I’m sure those names are becoming less and less popular in Mexico just as names like Edith, Gertrude and Charles become less popular in the US.

I doubt his claim that the rise in names like Sandra and Daniel (which has been popular since the 70s, the earliest I checked) comes from Latino parents seeking bilingual names for their babies. There’s no evidence that all these Sandras, Daniels and Cecilias were born to Latino parents (or parent).

Moreover, Kluger ignores the rising rates of intermarriage between Latinos and non-Latinos (another measure of assimilation). Could this make a difference in naming? Of course. In my family, cousins who married non-Mexicans chose non-Spanish names for their children. Also, we don’t know which Latinos are choosing Anglicized names. Is there a difference between native-born and foreign-born Latinos? And if so, what is it?

I don’t have the data to answer these questions. Instead, I checked the popularity of names for newborns in 2008 in states with larger numbers of Mexicans (there I go being Mexican-centric) on the Social Security Administration website.

In California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico bilingual boys’ names are very popular (e.g., Daniel is consistently in the top 5, as is Angel). There were several Latino names in the top 100 for boys born in 2008. In California, names like Luis, Juan, Ricardo, and Jorge were more popular than their English counterparts. Other Latino names, such as Alejandro (51) and Miguel (44), were much less popular than Alexander (6) and Michael (14), respectively. And then there is José, the top boys’ name in Texas, #8 in Arizona and #10 in Calfornia. In case you’re wondering, it’s more popular than Joseph in each of these states.

Of course, I checked out the popular girls’ names in these states. Kluger’s argument makes a lot more sense if you consider girls. In the top 100 names, it was much more difficult to find the Latino names except in obvious cases like María. Bilingual names were more popular than more traditional Latino names and fit the “three-stage” process. In California Sophia/Sofia (3/17), Olivia (11), Valeria (14), Victoria (20), Andrea (21) and Camila (22) were all more popular than María (42).

I don’t know what this means. Why do boys names like José, Jesús, Juan, and Manuel continue to be popular (all in the top 100)? Why are girls’ names less Latino, more bilingual in nature (e.g. Isabel, Natalia, and Angelina). Could it do with the common practice of naming boys after their fathers? Maybe. Or maybe not.

I can just imagine the family of kids named Jesús, Manuel, Ashley and Emily born to a José y María. I’m sure they’re out there. And they’ll come up with a whole new slew of nicknames.

4 thoughts on “Naming Names.

  1. Scipio Africanus October 8, 2009 at 12:33 pm Reply

    “Why are girls’ names less Latino, more bilingual in nature (e.g. Isabel, Natalia, and Angelina). Could it do with the common practice of naming boys after their fathers? Maybe. Or maybe not.”

    I read an article maybe 10 years ago dealing with how new babies’ names are spelled, and analyzing it via gender. Some study found that parents vary girls’ names’ spelling alot more than boys. The guess that some analyst made was that people feel that boys’ names have to hew much closer to the historical spellings because boys are considered more valuable by their parents, and that folks feel the opposite way about girls’ names.

    That’s certainly intuitive, at the very least, and it could be one explanation for what you mention above.

    One note and a question, though. Here in New York, the Mexican adn Central American populations seems to be skyrocketing. Matter of fact, it seems like most or all of the areas not traditionally associated with Mexicans and Central Americans (I’ll throw Peruvians into that, too) – the East Coast, the South and the Midwest – seem to have high immigration rates from those countries. I wonder if the babies being born to these recent arrivals are still further back in the progression you mention.

  2. quadmoniker October 8, 2009 at 7:36 pm Reply

    In your girls names, though, Valeria and and Camila are pretty different from the way the would be pronounced and spelled in English (Valerie and Camille). To me, that seems comparable to the difference between Ricardo/Richard or Luis/Louis. Also, really Latin-based, traditional names like Olivia and Victoria have seen a resurgence in popularity since the 90s for white Americans. I wonder if that’s screwing up the data?

  3. cindylu October 9, 2009 at 2:27 am Reply

    Scipio,
    The big growth in Mexican immigration is not to the traditional Southwestern states and Illinois. Instead, the biggest growth is going to the south and to some midwestern states. I’ve heard a lot of reports on the tensions in these small towns and the ensuing problems. I’m not sure what happens when it comes to naming babies, but I’d guess the boys’ names would be similar to the popular boys’ names in CA/AZ/TX and the girls’ names would be all over the place.

    Quadmoniker,
    Well, there’s no way to tell WHO is naming these kids, at least not from the SSA website. Ricardo could have been born to Asian American parents and Olivia could be born to white folks.

  4. Michael in LA October 9, 2009 at 7:38 pm Reply

    Interesting… I work in a mostly Chinese community and I’m starting to see just the opposite, young people abandoning their westernized nick-names and wanting to be referred to by their actual Chinese name. I’m also meeting young children who were born in the US that are being given Chinese names with no western middle name. Chinese pride movement bubbling up?

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