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Column: What is in a name? Apparently plenty

Every year the United States Social Security Administration sends media outlets around the country a list of the past year's most popular baby names. In other words, in case you don't find it creepy enough that a single agency gives each of us, at birth, a number that will be used to identify us for the rest of our lives, keep in mind that same agency also keeps detailed records of how many other people born the same year as you share your name, how the popularity of your name has changed over the years and, I assume, why exactly more parents don't name their babies Englebert.

There doesn't seem to be much practical reason to have the database, other than to let kids know their parents weren't alone in their devotion to Hannah Montana.

Actually, according to the SSA, parents' obsession with that Disney show and it's star, Miley Cyrus, appears to be fading. Mylee, which is the name parents give their daughter when they want to be the same as anyone else while still claiming to a claim of being unique, had the second biggest drop in popularity among girls' names from 2008 to 2009. Miley, the name chosen by Disney Channel obsessives who lack the imagination to replace a Y with two Es, also had a big drop, apparently displaced by Maliyah and Malia, 2009s biggest gainers among new parents who prefer CSPAN to bubblegum pop.

Speaking of the First Family, there were 69 baby Baracks born in 2009, which moves the name from 2,242nd place to 1,992rd. That still places it behind Bo, the name of the Presidential dog, which is in 782nd place.

In at 663 for boys was Messiah, which I can only assume is a reference to the early-90s electronic music act.

The SSA's information isn't restricted to recent years, though. It government agency ranks the most popular baby names dating back as far as 1880, when new parents flocked to name their sons John and their daughters Mary. In fact, if you were born within two decades of the turn of the century and you weren't named John, Mary, William or Anna ... well, it was probably a lot easier for teachers to call on you. According to the site the top three names for both boys and girls remained steady from 1880 until 1887, when Elizabeth displaced Emma for third place among girls. It's not until 1900 that one of the top two changed (Helen gave Anna the boot) and it took until 1924 before Robert replaced John for the first change atop the name rankings. Taking attendance in those one-room school houses must have been a pain.

I'm not sure why there was such a lack of creative naming 100 years ago. Presumably if there had been a pioneer version of the Internet things would have been different.

Some of this information might seem trivial, but when the correct spelling of names is an important part of your job the fact that Marely is an increasingly popular name (for girls, apparently) takes on a new meaning.

Say what you will about the lack of variety among pioneer parents, but no newspaper reporter in 1885 had to worry about whether young Mary spelled her name with a Y, two Es or a silent S.

There is a more important question here, of course. A question that dominates my waking thoughts and many of those I have while I'm asleep: Just how popular is Nathan. The answer, I'm happy to say, is "Pretty darn popular." According to the SSA Nathan was the 24th most popular name for boys last year. Also worth noting: That's 29 places higher than it was when I was born in 1974.

I'm not saying that's all because of me, but I choose to take it as a good sign that the reading public loves me.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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