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English/Welsh names, U.S. names - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
English/Welsh names, U.S. names
I looked at the Top 100 lists of names from Behind the Names (behindthename.com), from the U.S. and England/Wales (Scotland has its own list, which I didn't look at). I was trying to spot some patterns of difference, sine there seems in fanfic criticism to be a strong sense that some names are especially American-sounding.

Anyway, this is the data with ranking--the first is the shared names on the list (less than half of them) in the order of how big the difference is, from names more popular in the U.S. (by a difference of more than 70 ranking points) to names more popular in the UK (by a difference of more than 70 ranking points). The most popular name, Emily, is the same in both places. Under that list are the ones that only appear in one country or the other.


Only two of the U.S.-only names are in the top 10, while fully half of the top 10 in on the England/Wales list is exclusive (American girls may be called Katie, but they're more commonly Katherine on their birth certificates). Ellie, Lucy, Sophie, and Charlotte really don't have much commonality, though some of our Sophias and Sofias (15 and 69) may go by Sophie/Sofie. There are a lot of variants of the same name on the English/Welsh list as well.

This may contribute to the nicknaming issue, which I ranted about before somewhere. Obviously, what we consider nicknames are very common in the U.K., but it looks from the list like they actually are the birth names. If that's the most common practice, then it might explain some of the sense that "nicknaming" is American, and the sense that American writers may have that everyone has a shortened version of a birth name. Then again, canon gives us Bellatrix/Bella, Narcissa/Cissy, Ronald/Ron, and so on, so no, I still don't get how nicknaming--no matter how annoying--is Americanizing.

Americans apparently really love names that begin with "A" for girls. I sorted them alphabetically first, and the English/Welsh list was down to "Eleanor" before we ran out of "A" names on the American list. The British are fonder of "E" names.

There are no cross-gender names that I see on the British list (unless Courtney is, or unless I'm totally missing things that used to be masculine!), but we have Ashley, Jordan, and Leslie (two of which are exclusively feminine here now, but started out as men's names). I'd guess that androgyny might flag a name as being American. Would that be true of nicknames?

(On second thought, oops, just spotted "Charlie." But it does seem less common.)

Morgan and Madison appear on both lists, but on the single country lists, I don't see any surname-type names on the British lists, while we have Taylor, Riley, Bailey, and two variants of Haley. Are Americans more likely than Brits to think "Tonks Lupin" sounds like a perfectly reasonable name (unhyphenated with no "Nymphadora" involved anywhere)? (I know I think it sounds goofy, but I also know other people I've spoken to just assume that's how she'll style herself.)

I spot absolutely no other discernable patterns, and I know several people here with names on the British list (Bethany, Laura, Amy, Ruby, Alice, Alicia, off the top of my head; Bethany is thinking of naming a girl Georgia, if it's a girl). Anyone else spot anything you can put a finger on?
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greyathena From: greyathena Date: January 7th, 2006 09:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think Americans are more likely to make up the spelling of a name, whereas Brits are more likely to just stick with the original/classic spelling. Hence "Makayla," and "Katelyn," while you see almost none of those on the UK list (other than "Maddison").

that said, my name (spelled the way it is, with two Ls) at least used to be a man's name in Britain. I've still yet to meet any British girls called Allison, but many many Alisons.
alphabet26 From: alphabet26 Date: January 7th, 2006 10:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
American girls may be called Katie, but they're more commonly Katherine on their birth certificates

Related to that, and what Tonks would be called, I imagined that her legal name would be Nymphadora Middlename (well, I imagined "Weasley," I have to admit ;P) Lupin, with "Tonks" legally not a part of her name anymore. But she's gone by Tonks for a good part of her life, so I didn't think she'd change what people call her. So to people who met her after her marriage, it would seem very random at first, but what are they going to do--not call her that?

I'm still with you that nicknaming isn't Americanizing--just annoying. (Although I know some people would consider the two synonymous <--that is a joke)
of_polyhymnia From: of_polyhymnia Date: January 7th, 2006 10:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
She could also use Tonks as her middle name. I think that's fairly common with maiden names. Takes away some of the random. :-)
wychwood From: wychwood Date: January 7th, 2006 10:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Hailey" was a relatively common UK name twenty or thirty years ago, I think. I've known a few. The others, not so much. I'm surprised that "Maddison" came so high, for the UK, because I've never met or even heard of a "Maddison", a "Morgan" (female, anyway), or a Kaylee. The US-only list - about half are names which sound totally weird to me (Brianna, Kayla, Destiny, Mackenzie) and the other half are names which certainly do get used here, although maybe more often a couple of decades ago (Evelyn, Michelle, Claire, Caroline, Gabrielle - I know personally more than one person with each of these names).

The nickname thing - it's become a lot more common recently for people to be christened with nicknames. My sister is called "Kate", and people assume that her name is Katharine (which it isn't, she is just Kate). I knew a boy at university called "Jack" and I was surprised to find that he wasn't actually a John. But with small children, names like "Harry" or "Jack" or "Charlie" or "Nicki" or "Chris" are as likely to be the full name as the abbreviation, it seems. You also get interesting misspellings where, for instance, popular Irish or French names get spelt phonetically instead of traditionally. "Shawn" for "Sean", or "Shantell" for "Chantelle", that sort of thing.

I think the use of surnames as first names is definitely an American thing. In general people in the UK are less likely (I think) to have "innovative" first names. Especially middle-class Brits. And there aren't as many androgynous names. When there are, they tend to be abbreviations (Charlie for Charles or Charlotte, Chris for Christopher or Christine), or to have gender-specific spellings (Francis (male) / Frances (female, or Lesley (female) / Leslie (male), for example).
alphabet26 From: alphabet26 Date: January 7th, 2006 10:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
to have gender-specific spellings

It's a completely random pet peeve of mine that Americans don't really do that so much anymore. My first name is Randi, my father's name is Randy, so to me, "Randy" is a boy's name and that is not how my name is spelled, as I'm not male, thanksverymuch. And The Amazing Randi does not help the situation.

I do think Americans are more sensitive to spelling a boy's name like a girl's name. A girl could be Robin or Robyn, but a boy isn't going to have the name spelled Robyn.
(Deleted comment)
sixth_light From: sixth_light Date: January 7th, 2006 10:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
An important point about androgyny is that the names "Ashley" and "Jordan" are, if I'm not mistaken, still mostly male names in Britain, though I wouldn't be surprised if people were starting to use them for girls. Still, a girl called Ashley or Jordan would definitely sound more American.

As for surnames, "Lucy", one of the top ten British names, is also a surname, though it's been pulling double duty for the last few centuries and is far more common as a first name.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 7th, 2006 11:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's weird how firmly feminine "Ashley" is here. We have a classic movie known by everyone in which the dashing (male) Ashley Wilkes plays a major role (played by Leslie Howard, no less), but I've never heard of an American boy called Ashley (and if there were such a boy, he'd get beaten up for his lunch money every day of his life), while it's in the top ten girls' names. Hillary is also a complete and total write-off. So far, the only name that the girls have tried to appropriate but completely failed was "Michael," despite two actresses by that name and people assuming it was going to be the next "Jordan."
From: greenwoodside Date: January 7th, 2006 11:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think names in the UK are still partly dependent on class. My mum heads a school in a mostly deprived earlier, and so I've seen quite a few of the class lists. The children there tend to have names spelt pretty unusually, and quite a lot of them aren't traditional names. Quite a few are American-sounding e.g. Tyler. This is a big contrast to my own (private) education; the registers were full of Sarahs, Roberts, Johns and Lauras.

It's hard to make any universal statements about names in the UK - for instance, the catchment area of my mother's school was once a centre for Irish imigration. Consequently, there are a lot of Callums, Seans, Shannons and so on.
From: greenwoodside Date: January 7th, 2006 11:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Damn. That should be 'area' not 'earlier'.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 7th, 2006 11:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
An (American) Irish name purist tried to peddle the idea that "real" Irish naming would never include something like "Shannon" or "Erin," which were purely American. I got a kick out of finding them as high on the Irish lists as they were.

I forgot to put in what the source was; I assume something similar to ours, which came from Social Security rolls.
nomadicwriter From: nomadicwriter Date: January 7th, 2006 11:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
The two things that jump out to me as a Brit are, yes, cross-gender names and surname type names.

Ashley, Blaise, Jordan and so on would all be immediately assumed to be boys. (The Great Zabini Gender Controversy completely took me by surprise when I met it on the net, because I read "Blaise Zabini" and mentally tagged him 'boy' the same automatic way I would, say, Ronald Weasley.) It's not uncommon for girls to be called Charlie, although I would say it's almost always a nickname for Charlotte rather than given as a birth-name. Lesley (f) and Leslie (m) are used over here, but they're old-fashioned names, from my parents' generation.

Surname type names come across very American to me. (And if I did hear them, I'd be inclined to think Taylor, Riley and Bailey were all boys.) Other than that, it's hard to put your finger on what makes a name jump out as American; I guess it's just obvious to Brits because they're names that we never hear anywhere but on American TV shows. Which doesn't help you much.

Actually, many of the names on the UK list sound very American to me. (Morgan, Madison, Kaylee, Brooke, Maya, Paige...) I think it's a pretty recent cultural bleedover with the increased access to American TV in the last decade or two. If you go by the generally accepted timeline, I'm roughly of an age with the Harry Potter kids, and you wouldn't find most of those names in my generation.

As for the nickname issue, I don't think the problem is the use of nicknames, but rather something about the type of nicknames picked that doesn't feel right. (It's hard to define what it is, though.) That, plus fandom's collective loathing of nicknames, which I find equal parts understandable and exasperatingly intolerant. Yes, of course Snape would eviscerate anybody who called him "Sevvie", and Hermione does not naturally shorten in any way whatsoever; on the other hand, I find it a lot more implausible that nobody in the entire school ever calls Neville "Nev" in a pinch than vice versa. (Trust me. I spent sixteen years reciting "I only ever go by Elizabeth, I hate the name Liz, and I won't answer to it," to teachers and students alike, to no damn effect whatsoever.)

If anyone's interested, a very unscientific list (i.e., I looked at my old school photos) of popular names, and shortenings thereof, for English kids born circa 1982:

Boys: Aaron, Adam, Alex, Andrew, Anthony (Tony), Ben, Bradley, Christopher (Chris), Colin, Craig, Daniel (Dan, Danny), Darren, David (Dave), Dean, Gareth, Gary (Gaz), James (Jaz), Joe, John, Jonathan (Jon), Lee, Luke, Kevin (Kev), Mark, Matthew (Matt), Michael (Mike), Neil, Owen, Paul, Phillip (Phil), Richard (Rich), Robert (Rob), Ross, Sam, Scott, Stephen (Steve), Stuart (Stu), Terry, Tim, Wayne

Girls: Abbey, Alison, Amy, Bonnie, Carly, Cassie, Charlotte (Charlie, Shaz, Shazza), Claire, Debbie, Donna, Emma, Elizabeth (Liz), Hayley, Holly, Jemma (Jem), Jessica (Jess), Joanne (Jo), Jodie (Jo), Karen, Katherine (Kathy), Katy, Kelly (Kel), Kerry (Kel), Kimberley (Kim), Laura, Lindsey, Lisa (Lise), Louise (Lou), Maria, Melanie (Mel), Michelle (Chelle), Natalie, Natasha (Tash, Tasha), Nicola/Nicole (Nicki, Nick), Rebecca (Becky), Rachel, Samantha (Sam), Sarah, Stacy, Tara, Tracy, Victoria (Vic, Vicky)

...Wow, that took me back. (I grew up in Essex, BTW, which doubtless skews the distribution one way or another.)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 7th, 2006 11:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've never heard "Blaise" for a girl and definitely assumed he was a boy, but then again, we had a famous stripper named "Blaze Starr" (famous for having an affair with a politician) and they made a movie about her called Blaze about twenty years ago, so I could see people thinking of "Blaise" as an alternate spelling of it, if they weren't aware of "Blaise" as an actual name.

I was still surprised that the controversy lasted any length of time when people pointed out that Blaise is a boy's name, but then I should have realized here in the land of Ashley Simpson and Hillary Clinton, with a TV show about a female ME called Jordan, saying that Blaise was a boy's name probably wouldn't have any reason to settle it definitively. (I guess my default would be that if we have no reason to believe otherwise and a name is predominantly one gender, I'll assume that gender until told otherwise.)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 8th, 2006 12:05 am (UTC) (Link)
That, plus fandom's collective loathing of nicknames

I think it's the fact that the "collective loathing" is automatically translated to "must be an Americanism" that just makes me absolutely crazy on the subject. Sheesh! ;)

Do any of your Victorias go by Tori? That's the hot nickname for it here, though as its one of your political parties, it might not go over as well, come to think of it... :tries to imagine a girl named Democrat... and sadly looks at lists of American names and can:
chicleeblair From: chicleeblair Date: January 8th, 2006 12:15 am (UTC) (Link)
I know a Maya, whose family is Algerian, and really it's not an American name but one that's come over to both countries due to immigration.
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: January 8th, 2006 11:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, names in Britain have changed very rapidy. Your list does look very southern to me (I grew up in Scotland), though there's a certain amount of overlap: our class, born c 1981, had a lot of Stevens. The other really popular boys names were a lot more Scottish: Ross, Andrew (Scott, funnily enough, tends to be confined to the Scottish borders, and is usually given because the mother's maiden name was Scott. This method of preserving the mother's heritage, incidentaly, explains how Ross, Stewart and Douglas to name but a few got started as first names and why Lindsey started off as a boy's name)Of the girls, the commonest was either Kirsty (a very Scottish name, which started off as a nickname for "Christian'. And yes, that was a girl's name) or Lynsey (other spelling variants existed) and Vicky, which was a nickname for Victoria. On top of that, we had a Pamela, an Emma, a Kathy and a Kate (both were really Katherines) and a Joanna and a Johanna respectively. Didn't know any Sarahs growing up, though there was an older girl called Sarah-Jane (never shortened. Always wondered if her parents were Doctor Who fans)
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 7th, 2006 11:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm curious that some people think Tonks would discard Tonks when she got married. I would have thought her legal name would be Nymphadora [Possible Middle Name] Tonks Weasley. Granted, I would expect Remus to call her Dora rather than Tonks, but that's the same way I would expect the husband of a Lucy Melanthia Jones Smith to call her Lucy and not Melanthia, Jones, or Mrs. Smith. Wouldn't Tonks still be part of her legal name?

Ellen
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 7th, 2006 11:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Someone above suggested that the customary way to do it is to drop the maiden name altogether. I know it's not at all settled here--my grandmother dropped her middle name (Katherine) like a hot potato and kept her maiden name (Millington) as her middle name through all the subsequent husbands (we've joked that we're going to put "Katherine" on her gravestone just to spite her, but of course we won't). On the other hand, my aunt dropped her maiden name (which I share) and uses her middle name with her married name, and so do all of my male cousins' wives. I don't think my female cousin uses her maiden name for anything anymore, either, and I know my friend Jen never does. Then again, my colleague doesn't use her married name for everything. My other grandmother (the one I don't know) used her married name socially and her maiden name professionally. In all cases I personally know of, it's not used as a given name--no one calls my grandmother "Milli"!--though it's reasonable to think it would be available.
lilacsigil From: lilacsigil Date: January 8th, 2006 03:11 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm sure it's the same in the US, but here in Australia (which is about as British-influenced as you can find) there are plenty of children with surname-type first names. They're just considered tacky and cheap. The variant spellings of Madison/Maddison/Maddersyn and Taylor/Tailer/Taylyr are going to push them further down the rankings, too. But there's plenty of them from the mid-80's onwards. If I read about girl with a surname for a first name, or a boy with an altered-from-a-regular-name name (Brayden, Callan, Jaiden) my kneejerk reaction would be that they were from the welfare class and should be watched closely in shops.

I think the American nickname thing is that American nicknames (in fic, anyway) seem to be cute, shortened versions of the first name (Siri, Remmy etc.) whereas British nicknames seem to be more like Tonks or Madeye - a surname or a characteristic of the person. More like an injoke that stuck. Perhaps the "nicknames are American, ew" reaction is more to poor writing (which is hardly unique to Americans) where the author is taking a shortcut to intimacy by having characters use nicknames instead of showing us how that nickname developed along with the closeness.
From: bklyngrl77 Date: January 8th, 2006 03:26 am (UTC) (Link)
I think you put your finger on it in the second paragraph--there have been many fics I've decided against reading after running into Ron whining something to " 'Mione" early on, and not because his mouth was full. Worse and far more out of character is Harry saying it. AAaagagh.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 8th, 2006 07:48 am (UTC) (Link)
I think Lilacsigil has something about the type of nicknames used in the UK as compared to the USA. I was at school about the Marauders era and boys were officially known by their surnames. Nearly all of them had a nickname but it wasn't related to their first name, or very seldom. To call a boy by their first name, or a diminutive of it (eg Siri) would suggest an unusual degree of intimacy (not necesarily but possibly sexual in nature) but to just use a surname would be too formal for everyday use by friends. So we had a lot of nicknames based on appearance, surnames, home location, hobby or any other idiosynchronacy. Girls were more likely to use a diminutive, but we were officialy known by our first names so it wasn't so "off", but could have a nickname assigned on the same grounds as the boys. I must admit that the use of Siri or Remmy makes me cringe but I have no problem with Tonks, though I can't see her husband calling her that on all occassions.

On the use of maiden name as a middle name, it was quite unusual for women of my age: either we changed name or we didn't. I think this was a hang-up over class. Anything suggesting upper class pretentions, which included anything resembling a double-barrelled surname (very posh) was a definite no no. I wouldn't be surprised to find this has changed since the '70s and women are now cheerfully adding a second surname to their original one.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 8th, 2006 07:50 am (UTC) (Link)
As usual, I forgot to say who I am. The post about UK vs USA nicknames and double-barrelled surnames was from me, TDU (an acronym based on a self-appointed nickname based on my original and current home locations).
lannamichaels From: lannamichaels Date: January 8th, 2006 08:40 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't read extensively in HP fandom, so I'd never heard about people up in arms against nicknames. I mean, his name is "Harry", not Henry, so there's enough evidence there that nicknames are pervasive in the wizarding world to the extent that they knock off established names. On the other hand, I'm very willing, being American, to believe that the old wizarding families would give their kids surnames as first names, so you'd end up with a kid named Fletcher Malfoy or something like that.
castaliae From: castaliae Date: January 8th, 2006 07:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
To make it even more fun, Leslie is also a Scottish last name.
thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: January 9th, 2006 10:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Obviously, what we consider nicknames are very common in the U.K., but it looks from the list like they actually are the birth names.

Really? I should have thought it would be the other way about. I'd generally assume that a diminutive has the full name at the back of it somewhere on a birth certificate. I think perhaps people see a nickname like 'Remi' (ugh) as being American, whereas Jack or Harry or Jim or Kate or Sally or Becky or Liz aren't. English diminutives are more standardised, do you see what I mean? Perhaps that's why they've become names in their own right.

The giving surmanes as forenames is pretty much a Scottish thing over here (so something like Maddison seems a little off), and much more common for boys than girls, and more common as a middle name than a first name.

Unisex names—I've known a male Ashley, Lindsay and Leslie (also a female Leslie and a Lesley), and a female Christian, which is a Scottish thing I think. I think a girl with a boy's/unisex name is more likely to be seen as American than a boy with a unisex name; however, there's a fictional family created in the 1940s with girls named Gabriel, Anstruther (as middle names) Rowan, Nicola and Lawrence (as first names), and no-one could ever mistake them for anything put English.
From: vj85 Date: January 9th, 2006 02:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
I definitely agree with you about the nicknames. In fact, I was really surprised when I looked at this year's list of most popular names, and found so many which I would have assumed to be contractions of names like Katherine, James, etc.

I don't think we can really come up with a generalisation that can be applied to the whole country; in my experience, it's been more related to social class. At my Scottish private school (1989-2002), I didn't know anybody with surnames as forenames, unless they were very long-established ones like Ross, Douglas or Stewart. I've only ever met one person called Christian, an English boy.

What's that 1940s fictional family you mentioned? I quite like Rowan - I knew one (a girl) at school. Anstruther is definitely an odd choice of middle name, and I would immediately think a person called this was Scottish, since Anstruther is a place in Fife.
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