Naming in the United States

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The United States has very few laws governing given names. This freedom has given rise to a wide variety of names and naming trends. Naming traditions play a role in the cohesion and communication within American cultures. Cultural diversity in the U.S. has led to great variations in names and naming traditions and names have been used to express creativity, personality, cultural identity, and values. [1] [2]

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe, which is 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Cultural diversity Quality of diverse or different cultures

Cultural diversity is the quality of diverse or different cultures, as opposed to monoculture, the global monoculture, or a homogenization of cultures, akin to cultural decay. The phrase cultural diversity can also refer to having different cultures respect each other's differences. The phrase "cultural diversity" is also sometimes used to mean the variety of human societies or cultures in a specific region, or in the world as a whole. Globalization is often said to have a negative effect on the world's cultural diversity.


Naming laws

Traditionally, the right to name one's child or oneself as one chooses has been upheld by court rulings and is rooted in the Due Process Clause of the fourteenth Amendment and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, but a few restrictions do exist. Restrictions vary by state, but most are for the sake of practicality. For example, several states limit the number of characters that can be used due to the limitations of the software used for official record keeping. For similar reasons, some states ban the use of numerical digits or pictograms. A few states ban the use of obscenity. There are also a few states, Kentucky for instance, that have no naming laws whatsoever. [1] [3]

Due Process Clause Clauses in the 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution each contain a due process clause. Due process deals with the administration of justice and thus the due process clause acts as a safeguard from arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by the government outside the sanction of law. The Supreme Court of the United States interprets the clauses broadly, concluding that these clauses provide four protections: procedural due process, substantive due process, a prohibition against vague laws, and as the vehicle for the incorporation of the Bill of Rights.

Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution Amendment which grants citizenship to everyone born in the US and subject to its jurisdiction and protects civil and political liberties

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments. Arguably one of the most consequential amendments to this day, the amendment addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws and was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves following the American Civil War. The amendment was bitterly contested, particularly by the states of the defeated Confederacy, which were forced to ratify it in order to regain representation in Congress. The amendment, particularly its first section, is one of the most litigated parts of the Constitution, forming the basis for landmark decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954) regarding racial segregation, Roe v. Wade (1973) regarding abortion, Bush v. Gore (2000) regarding the 2000 presidential election, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) regarding same-sex marriage. The amendment limits the actions of all state and local officials, including those acting on behalf of such an official.

A numerical digit is a single symbol used alone, or in combinations, to represent numbers according to some positional numeral systems. The single digits and their combinations are the numerals of the numeral system they belong to. The name "digit" comes from the fact that the ten digits of the hands correspond to the ten symbols of the common base 10 numeral system, i.e. the decimal digits.

Despite the freedom that Americans have regarding names, controversies do exist. In 2013, Tennessee judge Lu Ann Ballew ruled that a baby boy named Messiah must change his name to Martin stating "it's a title that has only been earned by one person … Jesus Christ." The decision was overturned in chancery court a month later and the child retained his birth name. Ballew was fired and a disciplinary hearing was scheduled on the basis that the name change order violated Tennessee's code of Judicial Conduct. No laws exist banning the use of religious names and judges are required to perform their duties without regard to religious bias. [4] [5]

Tennessee U.S. state in the United States

Tennessee is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. Tennessee is the 36th largest and the 16th most populous of the 50 United States. Tennessee is bordered by eight states, with Kentucky to the north, Virginia to the northeast, North Carolina to the east, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi to the south, Arkansas to the west, and Missouri to the northwest. The Appalachian Mountains dominate the eastern part of the state, and the Mississippi River forms the state's western border. Nashville is the state's capital and largest city, with a 2017 population of 667,560 and a 2017 metro population of 1,903,045. Tennessee's second largest city is Memphis, which had a population of 652,236 in 2017.

Courts of Tennessee include:

Names with accents and/or non-English letters

One naming law that some [6] find restrictive is California's ban on diacritical marks, such as in José , a common Spanish name. The Office of Vital Records in California requires that names contain only the 26 alphabetical characters of the English language [ citation needed ].

José is a predominantly Spanish and Portuguese form of the given name Joseph. While spelled alike, this name is pronounced differently in each language: in Spanish [xoˈse], and in Portuguese [ʒuˈzɛ].

California U.S. state in the United States

California is a state in the Pacific Region of the United States. With 39.6 million residents across a total area of about 163,696 square miles (423,970 km2), California is the most populous U.S. state and the third-largest by area. The state capital is Sacramento. The Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation's second- and fifth-most populous urban regions, with 18.7 million and 9.7 million residents respectively. Los Angeles is California's most populous city, and the country's second-most populous, after New York City. California also has the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles County, and its largest county by area, San Bernardino County. The City and County of San Francisco is both the country's second-most densely populated major city after New York City and the fifth-most densely populated county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs.

Alphabet A standard set of letters that represent phonemes of a spoken language

An alphabet is a standard set of letters that represent the phonemes of any spoken language it is used to write. This is in contrast to other types of writing systems, such as syllabaries and logographic systems.

Some states (for example, Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon) allow accents and some (not always all) non-English letters in birth certificates and other documents. There can be problems for persons with such names when moving to a state where such characters are banned and they have to renew their documents.

There is no law restricting the use of diacritical marks informally and many parents get around the restrictions by doing so. [1]

Some Americans use names with accents, e.g. Mädchen Amick, Beyoncé Knowles and Renée Zellweger.
Some city names contain diacritics, even in US states that forbid diacritics in person names (see List of U.S. cities with diacritics.)

Foreigners whose last name (which must always be spelled out and cannot be abbreviated like a given name, e.g. Jürgen → J., Ramón → R.) contains accents and/or non-English letters (e.g. Muñoz, Gößmann) may experience problems, since their names in their passports and in other documents are spelled differently (e.g., Gößmann → Goessmann or Gossmann; the letter ö becomes oe or o, the letter ß becomes ss), so people not familiar with the foreign orthography may get the impression the ID is fake. (In the passport, the name is already spelled in two different ways: in the non-machine-readable zone the correct way [Gößmann], but in the machine-readable zone, the non-English letters are mapped [GOESSMANN].)

Names with symbols and capital letters in the middle

In many U.S. states, hyphens and apostrophe are the only two symbols personal names can officially contain. In some computer systems and in the machine-readable zone of a passport, they are omitted (Mary-Kate O'Neill → Mary Kate ONeill)

Some artists also use other symbols in their stage names, e.g. P!nk, Curren$y, and 21 Savage.

Some names are spelled with a capital letter in the middle (LeVar Burton, LaToya Jackson, Richard McMillan). In the machine-readable zone of a passport, the name is spelled only in capitals (LEVAR, LATOYA, MCMILLAN). In some computer systems, the users are asked to enter the name with the middle capital replaced by a minuscule (LeVar → Levar) or as two words (LaToya → La Toya).

African-American names

The names in the Jackson family show the variety within African-American culture. La Toya is of Spanish origin, Jermaine is French, and both Michael and Janet derive from Hebrew. Jackson 5 tv special 1972.JPG
The names in the Jackson family show the variety within African-American culture. La Toya is of Spanish origin, Jermaine is French, and both Michael and Janet derive from Hebrew.

Many African Americans use their own or their children's names as a symbol of solidarity within their culture. Prior to the 1950s and 1960s, most African-American names closely resembled those used within European American culture. With the rise of the mid-century civil rights movement, there was a dramatic rise in names of various origins. One very notable influence on African-American names is the Muslim religion. Islamic names entered the popular culture with the rise of The Nation of Islam among Black Americans with its focus on civil rights. The popular name "Aisha" has origins in the Koran. Other Arabic names such as Jamal and Malik are now commonly used by African Americans regardless of religion. [2]

Many names of French origin entered the picture at this time as well. Historically French names such as Monique, Chantal, André, and Antoine became common within African American culture. Names of African origin began to crop up as well. Names like Ashanti, Tanisha, Aaliyah, and Malaika have origins in the continent of Africa. [2]

By the 1970s and 1980s, it had become common within the culture to invent new names, although many of the invented names took elements from popular existing names. Prefixes such as La/Le, Da/De, Ra/Re, or Ja/Je and suffixes such as -ique/iqua, -isha, and -aun/-awn are common, as well as inventive spellings for common names. The name LaKeisha is typically considered American in origin, but has elements pulled from both French and African roots. Other names like LaTanisha, JaMarcus, DeAndre, and Shaniqua were created in the same way. Punctuation marks are seen more often within African-American names than other American names, such as the names Mo'nique and D'Andre. [2] [7]

Even with the rise of creative names, it is also still common for African Americans to use biblical, historic, or European names. Daniel, Christopher, Michael, David, James, Joseph, and Matthew were among the most common names for African-American boys in 2013. [2] [8] [9]

Surname names

Using surnames as a first name is increasingly popular in the United States, although the origin of this practice is unclear. In one of her books about Southern culture, Marlyn Schwartz reports that it has long been common for southern families to use family surnames as first names. [10] The Baby Name Wizard author Laura Wattenberg explains that the practice became popular in the early 20th century as poor immigrants chose names they associated with the sophistication of English aristocracy and literature, many of them surnames. Example: Landis Kulp is also a combination of two surnames.

Regardless of origins, many names that are now considered first names in the U.S. have origins as surnames. Names like Riley, Parker, Cooper, Madison, Morgan, Cameron, and Harper originated as surnames. Names that originate as surnames typically start out their lifespan as androgynous names before developing a common usage as either a masculine name or a feminine name. Tyler and Taylor had approximately the same usage for both boys and girls when they came onto the charts before diverging. Tyler is now typically given to boys while Taylor is more often given to girls. [2]

Without laws governing name usage, many American names pop up following the name's usage in movies, television, or in the media. Children may be named after their parents' favorite fictional characters. [11] [12] [13]

Samantha was a rare name in the United States until the 1870s, after the publication of a novel series by Marietta Holley with Samantha as main character. The name became popular again in the 1960s, as the comedy television show Bewitched had a lead character named Samantha.

Prior to the 1984 movie Splash , Madison was almost solely heard as a surname, with occasional usage as a masculine name. The name entered the top 1000 list for girls in 1985 and has been a top 10 name since 1997. [2]

In 2014, the name Arya, the name of a character on the popular series Game of Thrones , saw a dramatic rise to the 216th most popular girls name. [14] [15]

Names in popular culture fare better as inspiration if they fit in with current naming trends. When Barack Obama was inaugurated as president in 2009, his name had a surge in popularity, but still has not made it into the top 1000 names in the United States. His daughter Malia, on the other hand, jumped over 200 spots to the 191st spot that year. While Barack is much more influential than his daughter, Barack is a name with a sound unlike other top American names. Malia is Hawaiian, but sounds similar to top names like Amelia and Sophia. Names that fit current naming trends and have prestige attached to them fare especially well. The name Blair surfaced as a girl's name in the mid-1980s after being featured on The Facts of Life as the name of the wealthy character Blair Warner. Blair had previously been used infrequently and mostly as a masculine name. When the series aired, the perceived prestige of the name escalated and fit into the surname name trend. [2] [14] [16]

A number of names have entered common American usage following the popularity of a luxury brand. The name Tiffany began its lifespan solely as a surname. It was popularized as a given name in the late 1960s and 70s because of the success of the luxury jewelry store Tiffany & co. A few examples of luxury brand inspired names have had usage throughout the socioeconomic spectrum. Lauren was relatively uncommon until Ralph Lauren became a popular clothier.[ citation needed ] At the height of its popularity, it was used widely. Tiffany also had widespread usage. [2] [16]

Some names have a variety of factors that inspire their popularity. The name Bentley was inspired by the luxury car brand, but got a further boost by the show Teen Mom when reality star Maci Bookout used the name for her son. The already popular name Tiffany had a rise in usage following the popularity of the singer Tiffany in the mid-1980s. [2] [16]


Religious names are extremely popular in the United States. Most of the popular names are rooted in the Christian Bible, but other religions are represented, such as in the popular name Mohammed. Names like Jacob, Noah, Elijah, John, Elizabeth, Leah, and Jesus consistently rank very high. Some parents choose names for their religious significance, but there are also many parents who choose names based in religion because they are family names or simply because they are culturally popular. Other popular names are inspired by religion in other ways such as Nevaeh, which is Heaven spelled backwards. Christian, Faith, Angel, Trinity, Genesis, Jordan, Zion, and Eden are names which reference religion. [2] [14] [16]


Research suggests that American parents are more likely to use established, historical names for boys and are much more likely to name boys after relatives and ancestors. Boys' names, on average, are more traditional than girls' names, and are less likely to be currently fashionable. This trend holds true across racial lines. There is a much quicker turnover within girls' names than boys'. Parents of girls are much more likely to demonstrate their creativity in the naming of their daughters than their sons. In Alice Rossi's 1965 study of naming conventions, she theorizes that the gender differences in naming strategies exist because of the perceived roles of men and women in society. "Women play the more crucial role in family and kin activities, while men are the symbolic carriers of temporal continuity of the family." [17]

Gender name usage also plays a role in the way parents view names. It is not uncommon for American parents to give girls names that have traditionally been used for boys. Boys, on the other hand, are almost never given feminine names. Names like Ashley, Sidney, Aubrey, and Avery originated as boys' names. Traditionally masculine or androgynous names that are used widely for girls have a tendency to be abandoned by the parents of boys and develop an almost entirely female usage. [2]

Other factors

Research has demonstrated that a number of factors come into play when it comes to naming strategies. Families with the most education are more likely to use traditional names or family names than families with less education. This seems to be true across racial lines. Also, higher socioeconomic status (SES) families tend to choose different names than lower SES families. Over time, the lower SES families gravitate toward those names. As those names catch on with the lower SES families, higher SES families abandon them. The name Ashley was popular among higher SES families in the early 1980s, but by the late 1980s was most popular with lower SES families. The name Madison, which was in top 10 from 1996-2014, [18] is used largely by lower socioeconomic status families. [16]

Political status also seems to impact naming strategies. A study on babies born in 2004 in California found that conservatives were less likely to give their children unusual names than liberals. This holds true even across racial and socioeconomic lines. Among families who had less than a college education, political leanings made no major difference in naming trends, however, the study found that the less education the parents had, the more likely they were to use an uncommon name or spelling. But among caucasian families with a college education, conservative families chose different names than liberal families. College educated liberals were more likely to choose unusual names than college educated conservatives. [19]

While they both were more likely to choose unusual names, high SES college-educated liberals had different naming strategies than low SES families. Low SES families tended to choose invented names or invented spellings, while high SES liberals chose established names that are simply culturally obscure like "Finnegan" or "Archimedes." In contrast, high SES conservatives tended to choose common historical names. [20]

The research found that the sounds chosen by liberals and conservatives varied as well. Liberals "favor birth names with 'softer, feminine' sounds while conservatives favor names with 'harder, masculine' phonemes." [21]

Baby name trends change frequently for girls and somewhat less frequently for boys. [ citation needed ] Boys' names tend to be more traditional, but Liam, Aiden, Logan, Mason and Jayden, are currently[ when? ] seeing a spike in popularity. One recent trend is place names. Names like London, Brooklyn, Sydney, Alexandria, Paris, and Phoenix are all seeing a spike in popularity as of the 2012 report by the Social Security Administration. Most place names are used for girls, but some are used for boys as well, such as Dallas. Other place names like Kenya, China, and Asia have been used by African Americans for years. [2] [14] [16] [22]

Names containing "belle" or "bella" are very common, such as Isabella or Annabelle. Names that end in an "a" like Sophia, Mia, Olivia, and Ava are also very common for baby girls. [23] Popular names inspired by nature include Luna (moon in some Romance languages), Autumn, Willow. [24] Parents who desire more traditional names for girls choose names such as Elizabeth and Eleanor, both in top 50 (as of 2017). [24] With regard to boys names, traditional names such as William, James, Benjamin, Jacob, Michael, Daniel, Matthew, Henry, Joseph are very popular, and so are names strongly associated with religion, such as Noah. [24]

Diversity among American names also seems to be increasing. In the 1950s, most babies were given a few very common names with children using nicknames to distinguish the various people with the same name. In the decades since, the number of names being used has increased dramatically. [25] It is also more common for minorities to use traditional cultural names for their children and for themselves that are obscure in the United States. It used to be common to choose names that were likely to fit in with the larger American culture. This applied to both given names and surnames. Research suggests that fewer immigrants change their names today upon moving to America than they once did. Princeton University sociologist Douglas Massey believes that immigrants felt less pressure to change their names "during the 1970s and 1980s, as immigration became more a part of American life and the civil rights movement legitimated in-group pride as something to be cultivated". [25] [26]

San Diego State University professor Jean Twenge believes that the shift toward unique baby names is one facet of the cultural shift in America that values individuality over conformity. [25]

See also

Related Research Articles

A surname, family name, or last name is the portion of a personal name that indicates a person's family. Depending on the culture, all members of a family unit may have identical surnames or there may be variations based on the cultural rules.

Korean name Naming customs of Korean culture

A Korean name consists of a family name followed by a given name, as used by the Korean people in both South Korea and North Korea. In the Korean language, ireum or seongmyeong usually refers to the family name (seong) and given name together.

Chinese personal names are names used by those from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and the Chinese diaspora overseas. Due to China's historical dominance of East Asian culture, many names used in Korea and Vietnam are adaptations of Chinese names, or have historical roots in Chinese, with appropriate adaptation to accommodate linguistic differences.

Japanese names in modern times usually consist of a family name (surname), followed by a given name. More than one given name is not generally used. Japanese names are usually written in kanji, which are characters usually Chinese in origin but Japanese in pronunciation. The kanji for a name may have a variety of possible Japanese pronunciations, hence parents might use hiragana or katakana when giving a birth name to their newborn child. Names written in hiragana or katakana are phonetic renderings, and so lack the visual meaning of names expressed in the logographic kanji.

A personal name or full name is the set of names by which an individual is known and that can be recited as a word-group, with the understanding that, taken together, they all relate to that one individual. In many cultures, the term is synonymous with the birth name or legal name of the individual. The academic study of personal names is called anthroponymy.

Given name name typically used to differentiate people from the same family, clan, or other social group who have a common last name

A given name is a part of a person's personal name. It identifies a person, and differentiates that person from the other members of a group who have a common surname. The term given name refers to a name bestowed at or close to the time of birth, usually by the parents of the newborn. A Christian name, a first name which historically was given at baptism, is now also typically given by the parents at birth.

In several cultures, a middle name is a portion of a personal name that is written between the person's given name and their surname. A person may be given a middle name regardless of whether it's necessary to distinguish them from other people with the same given name and surname. In cultures where a given name is expected to precede the surname, additional names are likely to be placed after the given name and before the surname, and thus called middle names. In English-speaking American culture, that term is often applied to names occupying that position even if the bearer would insist that that name is being mistakenly called a "middle name", and is actually :

Chinese given names are the given names adopted by native speakers of the Chinese language, both in majority-Sinophone countries and among the Chinese diaspora.

Girl young female human

A girl is a young female human, usually a child or an adolescent. When she becomes an adult, she is described as a woman. The term girl may also be used to mean a young woman, and is sometimes used as a synonym for daughter. Girl may also be a term of endearment used by an adult, usually a woman, to designate adult female friends.

Vietnamese personal names generally consist of three parts: one patrilineal family name, one or more middle name(s), and one given name, used in that order. The "family name first" order follows the system of Chinese names and is common throughout the Chinese cultural sphere. However, it is different from Chinese, Korean, and Japanese names in the usage of "middle names", as they are less common in China and Korea and do not exist in Japan. Persons can be referred to by the whole name, the given name or a hierarchic pronoun, which usually connotes a degree of family relationship or kinship, in normal usage.

A Portuguese name is typically composed of one or two given names, and a number of family names. The first additional names are usually the mother's family surname(s) and the father's family surname(s). For practicality, usually only the last surname is used in formal greetings.

Robin (name) Name list

Robin is originally a diminutive masculine given name or nickname of Robert, derived from the prefix Rob-, and the suffix -in. The name Robin is a masculine given name, feminine given name, and a surname. In Europe, although it is sometimes regarded as a feminine name, it is generally given to boys. In 2014, 88% of babies named Robin in England were boys. In United States, it used to be more popular as a feminine name—during the 1990s, for example, it was the 325th most popular name for girls and the 693rd most popular name for boys. However the gap has been narrowing and recently the number of baby boys and baby girls named Robin in United States has been roughly similar. In 2014 46% of babies named Robin in United States were boys, which is about 3 times that figure in 1990.

Megan is a Welsh female given name, originally a pet form of Meg or Meggie, which is itself a short form of Margaret. Margaret is from the Greek μαργαριτης (margarites) for "pearl". Megan is one of the most popular Welsh names in Wales and England; it is commonly truncated to Meg. Nowadays, it is generally used as an independent name rather than as a nickname.

A Lithuanian personal name, like in most European cultures, consists of two main elements: the given name followed by family name. The usage of personal names in Lithuania is generally governed by three major factors: civil law, canon law, and tradition. Lithuanian names always follow the rules of the Lithuanian language. Lithuanian male names, as well as the rest of words, have preserved the Indo-European masculine endings, although the rules are not as rigid as Latvian names, which preserve gendered endings even for foreign names.

In India, the child sex ratio is defined as the number of females per thousand males in the age group 0–6 years in a human population. Thus it is equal to 1000 x the reciprocal of the sex ratio in the same age group, i.e. under age seven. An imbalance in this age group will extend to older age groups in future years. Currently, the ratio of males to females is generally significantly greater than 1, i.e. there are more boys than girls.

English names are names used in, or originating in, England. In England as elsewhere in the English-speaking world, a complete name usually consists of a given name, commonly referred to as a first name or Christian name, and a family name or surname, also referred to as a last name. There can be several given names, some of these being often referred to as a second name, or middle name(s).

Andrew Name list

Andrew is the English form of a given name common in many countries. In the 1990s, it was among the top ten most popular names given to boys in English-speaking countries. In Italian, the equivalent to "Andrew" is "Andrea", though "Andrea" is feminine in most other languages. "Andrew" is frequently shortened to "Andy" or "Drew". The word is derived from the Greek: Ἀνδρέας, Andreas, itself related to Ancient Greek: ἀνήρ/ἀνδρός aner/andros, "man", thus meaning "manly" and, as consequence, "brave", "strong", "courageous", and "warrior". In the King James Bible, the Greek "Ἀνδρέας" is translated as Andrew.

Brandon is a masculine given name which originates from two or possibly three separate sources, two Celtic, the other, Anglo-Saxon, and has historically been used by these different cultures independently. Today, most people with the name do not have any connection or lineage with any of these sources and use them as if they were the same name. In the instances of the Celtic origins, it is either a variant of the Irish masculine given name, Breandán, or descended from the Old Welsh name Brân, meaning "crow". The Anglo-Saxon origin is the surname Brandon.

A name in Romanian consists of a given name (prenume) and a family name (surname). In official documents, surnames usually appear before given names.

African-American names are an integral part of the traditions of the African-American community. While many Black Americans use names that are popular with wider American culture, a number of specific naming trends have emerged within African-American culture. Sources include French names, Arabic names and Muslim names, as well as other European and Biblical names.


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