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Midwestern Names

What's in a Name

There is a strong potential for a ripple to form in the Minnesota name pool. Don't be at all surprised if you see a lot of little Jesses (and Jessies) up there before too long. Their former pro-wrestler governor is a pretty hot item, even though he traded his given name of James Janos for Jesse “The Body” Ventura.

Name Dropping

Another name fashion making a strong impact on parts of the Midwest (and in other areas of the U.S., for that matter), is the increased used of names from Asian countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and others. These names aren't necessarily off-limits to you, even if you aren't a member of these ethnic groups, and they're definitely ones to keep in mind should you adopt a baby from one of them.

The Midwest has the reputation (rightfully earned) for being conservative, and the names preferred by parents in this region confirm this. However, this part of the country is also home to the descendents of the large populations of immigrants who came to the U.S. during the 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s. For this reason, German, Irish, Polish, and even Dutch names can still be found in the name pools in the Midwest and the central U.S., especially in cities like Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Chicago.

The folks who settled the Midwest also brought some naming traditions that still exert some influence even today. The earlier generations tended to carry more traditional Scandinavian and Slavic names such as Aksel, Anders, Are (pronounced ar-eh), Carl, Einar, Inge, Niels, Kiersten, Sven, and Heidi, but these names are also still used by families in this part of the country. Another name form that was adopted by more recent generations was to preserve the traditional -son surnames, like Anderson, Johnson, and Carlson, and combine them with more English-sounding given names, like Steve, Dave, or Jim.

Following are a few Midwesterners with names that underscore the ethnic heritages found there:

  • Karen Black. The actress's first name is a Danish form of Katherine. She's from Park Ridge, Illinois.
  • Walter Annenberg. The noted publisher and philantropist hails from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His German name means “powerful warrior.”
  • Peter Graves. The Mission Impossible actor is from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Although he uses the Anglicized version of his given name, it has Swedish, Norwegian, and Dutch forms as well.
  • Aidan Quinn. The actor's name is the Anglicized form of the Irish name Aodhán, meaning “little fiery one.” He hails from Chicago, a city with a large Irish-American population.
  • Carl Sandburg. The revered American poet was from Chicago. Carl is German and means “a freeman” or “peasant.”

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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