Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Name Post: Hot Off the German Press

Leipzig Street.

Current research in three parts. Bear with me.

Part I. 2011 Data

One of the advantages to meeting with the generous staff at the naming center at the University of Leipzig last month was that they provided me with the (very recently collected) data for German names in 2011. In fact, I got an officially stamped press copy and have been talking about it to anyone who will listen.

My own summary of the report follows:

Since 2006 the naming center at the University of Leipzig has been conducting research about the relationship of names to social and cultural phenomenon. They collect data about German names sing the lists from standesamts around the country. These lists are helpful for learning about given names in Germany, but it is difficult to find out from them from people are actually being called.

The most popular names for Germany in 2011 (according to these lists) are:

For Girls:
Marie, Sophie, Maria, Mia, Emma, Anna, Sophia, Johanna, Charlotte, Emilia, Leonie, Lea, Amelie, Lina, Lara, Luisa, Elisabeth, Laura, Emily, Lena, Luise, Katharina, Julia, Hannah/Hanna, Sarah, Clara, Helene, Lilly and Lisa.

For Boys:
Maximilian, Alexander, Paul, Leon, Elias, Ben, Felix, Luca, Jonas, David, Lukas/Lucas, Noah, Julian, Max, Moritz, Jakob/Jacob, Emil, Anton, Tim, Johannes, Finn/Fynn, Philipp, Louis/Luis, Simon, Benjamin, Jonathan, Samuel, Michael, and Daniel.

The names that
made the biggest rise in the ranks in 2011 were Mia (girls) and Ben (boys). In the north and east of Germany, in general, shorter names were given whereas longer names tended to be given in southern parts of Germany. Many old fashioned names rose in the charts this year, names like: Fredrich/Friedensreich, Fritz, Otto, Karl/Carl, Konrad/Conrad, Leopold, Richard, Wilhelm, Willy/Willi, Freimut and Emma, Ida, Freida/Frida, Klara/Clara, Karla/Carla and Greta.

More and more parents in Germany are choosing to give their child a second name (middle name). Also of note is that in the past year, one child was named “Adolf” for the first time in decades. Using the suffix of "son" in a first name was also a new trend this year (Richardson, Svens(s)on and Stefanson).

The following unusual names were eventually approved: Summer, Tyler, Blue, Peach(es), Apple, Phoenix, Smudo, Lennon, London, Hope, Magic, Godpower, Precious, Prince, Junior, Dakota, Sioux, Tecumseh, Cheyenne, Aragorn, Aragon, Legolas, Arwen, Tirumf, Adriatik, Topas, Wolke, Schokominza, Viktualia, Victualia, Sultan, Siebenstern, Bluna, Wasa, Laser and Klee.

The following names were rejected in the interest of the child: Rumpelstielchen, Waldmeister, Whisky, Yoghurt and Schnucki.

The longest name registered in the standesamt this year was a Nigerian surname for a baby girl: Esenosarumensemwonken.

(Report written by Gabriele Rodriguez).

Emma & Kemba in Leipzig last month.

Part II. An Interview with Jurgen Gerhards

On one of my first evenings in Berlin last week, I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Jurgen Gerhards at the Freie Universitat Berlin. From 2004-2006 he worked on a book called "Given Names as an Indicator for Measuring Social Change" and he proved to be an excellent contact on the subject.

He told me that his interest in names first arose from a conversation at a dinner party a few decades ago. His friend was pregnant with her first child and she and her husband were having a long conversation about what name to choose.* As they mused over possibilities, it hit him that a lot of what they were talking about directly applied to a lot of the sociological theories he was teaching. One example that I loved was how he brought together Pierre Bourdieu's ideas of taste and distinction to names. In other words, he feels that part of the reason many people are searching for unusual names is (subconsciously or consciously) to distinguish themselves from others, and that these choices are actually acts of social positioning. It seems a little harsh to accuse parents who want to choose unusual names for their kids as doing so to try to set themselves apart from the masses, but isn't that, in fact, what they're trying to do?

This isn't a bad thing, and in fact one of Dr. Gerhards major points is that in choosing names, people are quite unconsciously following a whole slew of macro level social phenomenons. (In other words, exactly what I'm studying). In his book, he shows how German history can directly be traced through the names people are choosing: he shows how the era of German nationalism in the 19th century is also reflected in the traditional German names people were choosing for their children, the divide between Catholics and Protestants in the names they were choosing, how after 1945, when Germany was embedded in the western hemisphere, there was an increase in foreign sounding names, and how globalization today is reflected in an increase of foreign names as well.

Dr. Gerhards' goal was to use quantitative data to show how these micro level decisions (discussing a name at a dinner party, for example), actually directly correlate to what is going on at a macro level (nationalism, war, globalization). What he found so interesting, is that people are following trends they seem unaware of. When he and his colleague interviewed parents about why they made the choices they did, they overwhelmingly responded it was because they "liked the name." It's interesting to think that as personal as these decisions seem, they're shaped by a lot that's beyond our control, and a lot that we're unaware of.

View from my Berlin apartment.

Part III. On Beyonce.

Red letter day: Beyonce's made the blog.

Part of what Dr. Gerhards pointed out was that names are, inherently, public goods. He thinks this might be part of why people seem so desperate to make them as unique as possible.

This is also why articles like this enrage me: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/09/blue-ivy-gets-trademarked_n_1266898.html

For those of you who don't want to click the link, this article is about how Jay-Z and Beyonce are trying to get the name of their 1 month old, Blue Ivy Carter, trademarked. Besides the uncomfortable idea that they're basically making their baby into a brand, I find it also kind of defeats the purpose of names. Think of the power that there is in sharing a name, and the number of parents who deliberately name their child after their grandmother, or favorite poet, or best friend. When someone is given a name, there is the inherent idea that there were people with that name before them, and people with that name who will come after them. They all are part of creating its definition. There is something special about this, I think, especially when you look at places like Bali, where a huge majority of the population shares the same name, or India, where names are shared among people, gods, goddesses and rivers. Perhaps this can be consolation for German parents who are reading Part I above and worrying about the number of Pauls who will be in their son's kindergarten.

I too am a fan of unusual names, and I too can't quite articulate why. I don't like to think it's a means of social positioning (a la Bourdieu), but maybe it is. Regardless, I think there's a line, and wanting to trademark your baby's name is definitely over it.

I can't help feeling a little sorry for Blue Ivy actually, who, it seems, will now share her name only with her own clothing line.

Marienkirche in the snow, earlier today.

*If you're curious, as I was, this couple eventually decided on "Stella."


  1. This is a fascinating post. For the record, I think that Yoghurt is at least as good a baby name as Apple.

    If I read the Beyonce article correctly, though (and I make it my business to give any article concerning Beyonce the attention and close reading that I would dedicate to a passage of Nietzsche), other babies can still be named Blue Ivy just not companies or products (just as babies worldwide can be named Apple, but not all computers or mp3 players can be). So while Baby Blue may be the only one in her kindergarten class with a line of cribs and beauty products named after her, she need not be the only Blue Ivy.

  2. this wa so interesting! you spelled two german names wrong though, i think it's Friedrich instead of Fredrich, and Frieda instead of Freida. But it might have been a mistake by the lady, who gave you the papers.
    I'd like to read a post about the names you like and dislike the most :D

  3. McFeels-Quite true. There may very well be other baby Blue Ivys (although probably not in Germany), but I'm guessing that with trademarking, names may come to stand 1st and foremost for products rather than people (take the name Coco Chanel, for example). Of course there's not really a problem with this, and there are plenty of brands/products with people's names on them, but if celebrities are getting their babies names' trademarked, and this pattern continues, then I think it's a fine line between that and "buying" a name. Even if other people can continue to use the name for their children, they may be hesitant to use it if it represents recognizable products. (Not that I'm a huge fan of the name, but as I mentioned in a previous post, the name "Mercedes" was supposedly a name BEFORE it was a car, but now I think most people's associations with it would be cars, which, in my rather old fashioned opinion, might take away from the people who wore it before).

    Anne-Thanks for the spelling corrections! I'd have to look back at the research to see if this is my mistake or her's (or simply different spellings becoming more popular!) Hope I'll get to see you and Chris in the next few days.

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