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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

What's in a name?

I love names – perhaps because I’m terrible at faces, perhaps just because I’m a verbal person in all respects. Whatever the reason, I adore news items like the Social Security Administration’s recent release of its annual survey of the most popular baby names of the year.

And 2014's list provides a bounty of Jane Austen-related names – four of the top ten girls’ names and two of the top ten boys’ names figure prominently in at least one Austen work.

As follows:

#1: Emma (Woodhouse, Watson)

#3: Sophia (from Love and Freindship)

#4: Isabella (Thorpe, Knightley)

#10: Charlotte (Lucas, Heywood)


#5: William (Price, Elliot)

#9: James (Morland, Benwick)

Thirty percent representation isn’t bad for a far-from-prolific writer like Austen. As for the remaining names on the lists, I may well have spaced out some minor Austen characters named Emily, Abigail, Michael, or Daniel – though I feel quite confident that I haven’t forgotten anyone named Ava, Mia, Madison, Noah, Liam, Mason, or Ethan.

I’m not going to claim that all these American parents are secret Janeites, much as I wish this were true. No, this crop of Austen names is clearly just a sign of the times – we’re in the midst of a mini-renaissance of nineteenth-century names. The Karens, Julies, and Lisas I grew up with in the 1970s have been replaced by an army of Rubys, Olivias, and Sadies.

No matter how hard parents try to be original, they can’t escape the zeitgeist, as the utterly fascinating Baby Name Voyager shows. My parents didn’t set out to give me a name that would inexorably date me to the twelve years or so before 1970 – but they did. Chances are, yours did too – as all those middle-aged Isabellas and Charlottes will discover, around about 2055.


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