The modern joys of baby naming
When times are tough, we must make our own fun. And one of the best sources of free entertainment I know is a game called Thinking Up Imaginary Names of Anglo Baby Boomer Couples. Like Pamela and Roger, Judy and Simon, Kay and Malcolm.
Now you try. Maybe you will come up with Sue and Garry, Robyn and Paul, Alan and Jill. See, hours of fun. Even more hours can be wasted, especially at work, if you log onto the Baby Names Explorer on the NSW Government website, introduced in August.
This computer program tracks the rise and fall of baby names all the way back to 1900, making it easier to play a related game called Thinking Up Imaginary Names of Nursing Home Residents, such as Elsie and George, Albert and Mavis, Lorna and Harold. Trust me, it is more of a timesuck than the Bureau of Meteorology site and Google Street View combined.
Call it pointless trivia, call it sociology - in the interests of recouping some of those lost hours in the internet wilderness, I would like to share a random collection of my findings.
Speaking of things Anglo, baby names do not seem to be growing more multicultural as the population grows more diverse. In fact, many migrant names, particularly Greek and Italian names, are dying off.
Con, Giuseppe and Salvatore, all popular when migrants were arriving from Southern Europe in the middle of last century, have all but disappeared, a decline accelerated, perhaps, by the comic stylings of Con the Fruiterer and Papa Giuseppi with his frozen pizza and cartoon moustache.
In the 1960s Giuseppe was a name popular enough to just scrape into the 100 most-used boys' names in the state. Each year about 63 were born, dwindling to two a year by the 1990s.
Muslim families are among the few groups not blending into the Anglo wallpaper of Jack and Emily, Charlotte and Lachlan. And, no, it is not simply because they are all calling their boys Mohammed. Omar is on the rise, as is Ahmad, Ali, Ibrahim and the girl's name Fatima. In fact, 52 babies were named Fatima in 2005, making it more popular than Catherine, Jane or Louise.
Muslim names are still less popular here than in Britain. In NSW, Ali was the only Muslim name to make it into the top 100 boy names in 2007, whereas in England and Wales, Mohammed ranked at 17, Muhammad at 38 and Mohammad at 71.
The United States is also more multicultural than us in the sprog labelling department, with several Hispanic names in the most popular list. Jose was number 35 in 2007; Juan was 63. In Texas, Jose was the most popular boy's name - full stop.
Celebrity can boost a baby name, but notoriety can destroy it. At the turn of the millennium, Paris was rising in popularity in NSW. Then a certain heiress went and ruined it. The baby name plummeted in popularity as the fame of Paris Hilton rose, going from 93 babies a year at the beginning of the decade down to 15 a year in 2007.
Similarly, the name Lindy entirely dropped off the radar in the 1980s, at the time Lindy Chamberlain was falsely accused of murdering her baby, although the name Linda remained popular.
Letters move in and out of fashion. Garry, Geoffrey, Glen, Graham, Grant were all very popular during the middle of the century, before falling into disrepute. Now George and Gabriel are the only popular boys' names starting with G.
William, the second most popular boy's name with 660 namings last year, is the only W name that has not crashed and burnt: Winifred, Wendy, Warren, Warwick and Wayne have been obliterated.
In the unusual names category, Angel and Addison are common baby names in the United States, although you might be surprised by who is being given which name. Angel is the 34th most popular boy's name, and Addison is 11th most popular for girls. In Wales, Ffion was the sixth-most used girl's name in 2007.
But I have saved the most disturbing news, the most twee, evangelical, treacly news, for last. In that same year, according to the United States Social Security Administration, 32 American families decided it was perfectly fine, a good idea even, to call their twins Faith and Hope. Maybe next time round, in the wake of Obamamania, it will be Change and Hope?
Discuss baby names in the Essential Baby baby names forum.