The latest baby-name trend? A lot of new mamas are lovin’ Obama.
I am a self-professed “name nerd.” I love thinking about names and giving people advice on baby names. I especially love when things happen in the world to make name trends change. And on November 4, something big happened: Someone with the unusual name Barack Obama was elected as the 44th president of the United States.
All across the nation, from California to New York, there has been a rash of newborns being named Barack, Obama, Michelle, Sasha and Malia in just the first week of Mr. Obama’s historic presidential victory. And this hot naming trend has gone global, especially in Obama’s father’s homeland of Kenya, where more than half of all babies born in the local hospital were named either Barack or Michelle in the days after the election. In fact, one Kenyan mother of twins scored the daily double: She named her babies Barack AND Michelle, saying that she wanted her son to “have the same values as the man he’s named after” and her daughter to have the “strong character” of the first lady to-be.
So what’s up with this Barack baby boom? Well, it’s nothing too new: I’ve done a little research: Apparently, presidential and first family monikers for babies born in election years have historically been a pop culture phenomenon. After Franklin Roosevelt was elected in 1933, his name leapt to the 33rd spot from 147 in just two short years. President Eisenhower’s popularity in the 1950s caused the name Dwight to soar up the charts. Regarding the Kennedys, John has always been in the top 20 names, but there was a huge surge of girls named Jacqueline in the 1960s after the first lady. After Watergate, the presidential-naming trend cooled due to the public’s disenchantment with politicians (Who’d wanna be named Tricky Dick?) But the Obamas are definitely bringing yet another mini-message of change.
For all you avid name buffs like me, here’s how the names of the future first family break down:
Obama: fairly common among the Luo tribe of Kenya, derived from “Obam” meaning “leaning”, although it’s such an ancient name that its origin isn’t totally clear.
Barack: from the Hebrew name Baruch meaning “blessing,” will actually crack the top 1,000 most popular baby names this year. Pretty remarkable, considering that Barack wasn’t even on the radar a few months ago.
So while the Obamas get ready to move to D.C., their remarkable journey is inspiring new parents to have their kids Be Like Barack. And so, the self-described “skinny kid with a funny name” doesn’t seem like such an unlikely hero anymore. Suddenly, the name Barack Obama sounds … downright presidential. For a dedicated onomastician (Betcha didn’t know there was a fancy name for us name people, huh?), this baby-name phenomenon is thrilling to watch. Now, I wonder if this will do anything for the name Hussein…