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The Great Melting Pot of Names

As people from all over the world continued to come to the United States, they brought their names and their naming traditions with them. However, both given names and surnames were often “Americanized” in the immigration process, especially if their bearers weren't sure about the spelling. Sometimes names were changed to make them sound more English—such as Adolph becoming Arthur or Bridget becoming Bertha—and therefore more agreeable to American ears. In some cases, the immigrants themselves would elect to Americanize their names to make them easier to spell and understand.

During the decades that followed, the United States population grew more diverse; however, the vast majority of names given to its newest members continued to be of English derivation. Again, much of this was due to the continuing flow of immigrants from other countries who wanted to give their children the best possible start in America by assigning them names that would help them fit in. Over time, these names would come to be considered as American names, even though they were really anything but.

What's in a Name

Although many names were Americanized when their bearers came to the United States, those of Spanish derivation often escaped this practice as English-speaking people find Spanish names easier to pronounce than many names from other parts of the world. To this day, Spanish-given names and surnames are prevalent in many parts of the southwestern U.S. and in southern Florida, thanks to the immigrants from Cuba and South American countries who have settled there.

Today, the odds still favor a child who is born in the United States being given a name of English derivation, thanks to the long history behind these names and the long-standing dominance of the English language. But the continued blending of cultural and ethnic boundaries has created a pool of available names that has grown far beyond traditional naming patterns.

As parents, you have a broader range of names to choose from for your new baby today than at any other time in recorded history. You also have a virtually free rein over your selection, as there are almost no rules governing what name you select.

What is kind of fun to keep in mind is that whatever name you end up choosing or creating for your new little one will also take its rightful place in the compendium of naming history. Somewhere down the road, perhaps centuries from now, other expectant parents will be studying our naming trends and patterns as they search for the perfect name for their joyous arrival. The name you select today might even serve as inspiration to someone in those future generations. What a great legacy to leave!

More on: Choosing a Name


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Baby Names © 1999 by Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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