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JACK SMITH

Name Dropping : Why Are Little Girls Called Brandy and Ashley Choosing Traditional Names for Their Dolls?

July 06, 1986|JACK SMITH

The people who make Mattel toys recently packed a flyer with their My Child dolls asking the dolls' new owners what names they planned to give them.

Despite lawsuits against stores that have sections for "boys' toys" and "girls' toys," I am assuming that most children who receive My Child dolls as gifts are girls.

Lawsuits can't change the fact that little girls like to play with dolls and little boys, as a rule, don't.

Curiously, Mattel found that today's little girls, who mostly have names like Krista, Missy and Brandy, have swung back to traditional names for their dolls, and we may guess that the children of the early 21st Century will be named Jennifer, Susan, Jessica, Mary, Jane, Sarah and Rebecca--all old-time favorites.

Of all names chosen, Jennifer was first. It is curious that in his book "First Names First," Leslie Alan Dunkling notes that Jennifer was the most popular girl's name in the United States in the most recent survey (1975).

He points out that names come into vogue and go out--that the few that have survived the centuries are Ann or Anne, Catherine or Katharine, Elizabeth, Laura, Mary and Sarah.

Helen, Margaret and Martha have already left that select group, and he predicts that Mary will be the next to go, being replaced by names like Jennifer and Michelle.

"But Jennifer and Michelle are unlikely to become permanent replacements," he observes. "The mood of the times is not in favor of longstanding favorites, but of names which reflect the fashion of a particular period."

Jennifer was originally the Cornish form of Guinevere. "The name has done amazingly well since 1945, sweeping through Britain and Australia and currently taking the U.S.A. and Canada by storm."

What could have caused Jennifer to become so popular in 1945? Well, for one thing, in 1943 the movie actress Jennifer Jones became an international star as Bernadette in "The Song of Bernadette."

If that movie caused the sudden popularity of Jennifer, though, it seems that it would also have popularized Bernadette. Yet Bernadette was not among the 50 most popular names for girls in 1945.

The first 10 were Jennifer, Amy, Sarah, Michelle, Kimberly, Heather, Rebecca, Catherine, Kelly and Elizabeth, which was tied with Julie, Lisa and Melissa.

It is quite interesting to note that of all the most popular names in 1900--Mary, Ruth, Helen, Margaret, Elizabeth, Dorothy, Catherine, Mildred, Frances, and Alice and Marion (tied)--only Catherine and Elizabeth remained.

I'm afraid I was in high school before the advent of such exotic names as Jennifer, Michelle, Kimberly and Heather. The names I find in my class yearbook are Betty, Jane, Ruth, Constance, Mary, Thelma, Emily, Virginia, Faye, Helen, Harriet, Edith, Vera, Muriel, Alice, Mabel, Maxine, Elizabeth, Emma and Mary. Right out of Jane Austen.

Nothing much had changed in girls' names, evidently, since my mother's generation. Her name was Anna Mary, and her sisters were named Betty, Amanda and Effie. No Michelles, Jennifers, Kellys or Kimberlys in the Hughes family.

Following Jennifer in Mattel's popularity poll were Susan and its variations (Sue, Susannah, Suzi and Suzette), Katy, Jessica, Mary, Jane and the biblical favorites, Sarah and Rebecca. It is interesting that girls named Kellee, Aimee, Kasie and Julee have chosen such old-fashioned spellings as Linda, Cynthia and Ann for their dolls.

There is also some influence, evidently, from shows on television--several Krystles, from "Dynasty"; Jennas, from "Dallas," and Abbys, from "Knots Landing."

I wonder if an exotic name enhances a girl's sex appeal. I doubt it. I found the girls of my day no less appealing because their names were Emily, Jane and Helen. My wife, indeed, had a name I had never heard before: Denise. It seemed romantic, but she could have been named Alice or Gretchen. It wouldn't have many any difference. Today the name is common.

Dunkling himself conducted a study in London to find out what women's names young men found most sexually appealing. Nothing else was to be considered.

The top 10, in order, were Susan, Samantha, Carol, Linda, Jennifer, Catherine, Amanda, Kerry, Claire and Natalie.

It is not germane to this study, but just in case you're curious, young women in London said the names that they thought had most sex appeal were David, Stephen, Paul, Mark, Adam, Robert, Richard, Michael, Christopher and Philip.

The number of biblical names in that group is overwhelming, which suggests that the biblical virtues, after all, may be the way to a woman's heart.

One thing about the Mattel survey worries me. It is evident, from the results, that My Child dolls are invariably female.

Isn't that rather an ominous trend for the species?

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