Saturday, March 21, 2009

What's in a Name?

In 19th century America, parents often named their children after famous people. This fact becomes quite apparent if you study many Civil War soldier rosters. There are numbers of George Washington so-and-so, Thomas Jefferson whoever, and Benjamin Franklin anybody.

Sometimes these names are sectional. For example, one doesn't find many Francis Marion whoevers, in the northeast, but for obvious reasons they proliferate in the South, especially in South Carolina. Many times though people just named their children for famous Americans they admired. There are John Adams Smiths, James Madison Joneses, Patrick Henry so-and-sos, Alexander Hamilton ______ (fill in the blank). People in the 19th century were greatly influenced by the Revolutionary generation and sought to honor those heroes by bequeathing their posterity such renowned names. Even those figures of the early 19th century made famous for their statesmanship or military prowess made their way into families; men such as Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, John Marshall, Andrew Jackson, Winfield Scott, and for whatever reason I have found some Albert Gallatin so-and sos (that's probably unfair, Gallatin after all did scrounge up the funds for the Louisiana Purchase). But interestingly enough the naming was not solely limited to American figures. I have also run across a number of Napoleaon Bonaparts, Layfettes, and Pulaskis as well.

In the late 19th century and during the 20th century one runs into even more famous naming. In African American communities first names such as Sherman, Grant, and Lincoln became quite popular, and even later, Roosevelt was a common first name. So why don't parents name their children after famous Americans as often today? Do we have a lack of statesmen, politicians, and generals whom we wish our children to view as role models? Do parents want more original names now-a-days? I am not sure, but its interesting to think about. You don't hear of too many Richard Nixon so-and-sos, or Jimmy Carter so-and-sos. Malcolm has been a popular African American name for a number of years, but its strange that there aren't more Martin Luther King whoevers. However, I do believe we will experience an explosion of Baraks in the next few years.

Maybe today's media has changed the way we view our present-day national figureheads. Every move they make and every gaffe they speak is reported nightly on the news, which may in turn have a negative impression on citizens in many instances. I am not sure, but as I mentioned earlier, its fun to think about.

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