Barack a Hot Name for New Babies
Decontee Williams was so excited by Barack Obama’s victory on Tuesday night that she started jumping up and down — and went into labor. Twelve hours later, Barack Jeilah was born at Phoenix Baptist Hospital to Ms. Williams and Prince Jeilah. The baby was 8 pounds 9 ounces and had a full head of hair.
“I love Barack Obama, and I love the name,” said Ms. Williams, 31, who came to the United States as a refugee from Liberia in 2003. “In Africa, we call it a blessing. That is a good name.”
In the last week, Barack, Obama, Michelle, Malia and Sasha have become inspirations for first and middle names across the United States, according to news reports. But the Obama baby boom has been even more pronounced in Kenya, particularly in Kisumu, an area in the western part of the country where relatives of Mr. Obama live.
From Election Day through Saturday afternoon, 43 children born at the Nyanza Provincial Hospital in Kisumu were named after the Obamas, with 23 boys given the first and middle name Barack Obama and 20 girls named Michelle Obama.
Pamela Odhiambo, who gave birth to a girl during Mr. Obama’s victory speech in Chicago, named her Michelle Obama. “It’s a new start, a new beginning,” said Ms. Odhiambo, 18.
There have been other presidential naming trends in the past century, according to Social Security Administration data. Franklin jumped to No. 33 in 1933, up from No. 147 in 1931. Dwight surged in the 1950s and Lyndon in the 1960s. Theodore hit its peak in the first decade of the 20th century.
“Honoring new presidents with baby namesakes used to be an American tradition,” said Laura Wattenberg, author of “The Baby Name Wizard.” But she pointed out that the custom faded around the time of Watergate, in part because people became more cynical about the presidency.
Ms. Wattenberg said Barack and Obama might break that trend for a number of reasons. Blacks, particularly moved by Mr. Obama’s victory, tend to be more open to new names and to naming children after public figures. Also, Mr. Obama drew strong support from people of child-bearing age, and his name sounds fresh.
Mr. Obama has said that Barack has the same etymological roots as the Hebrew name Baruch, “one who is blessed.”
A shift away from traditional names has meant a decline in the prevalence of John, George, William and James, the popularity (or unpopularity) of presidents notwithstanding.
There is perhaps more hope for presidential surnames, as parents look for untraditional monikers with a classic flavor. Lincoln (for boys) and Kennedy and Reagan (for girls) jumped in popularity in the 1990s. But none of those can compare with the surge by Madison, which broke into the top 10 for girls in 1998 and peaked at No. 2. (Though that may have more to do with a mermaid in the movie “Splash” than a framer of the Constitution.)
And the names can also track the rise and fall of the public’s perception of presidents. Hoover came out of nowhere to land at No. 367 for boys’ names in 1928, the year Herbert Hoover was elected the 31st president. Then the Great Depression started, and it dropped to No. 945 in 1931. And Clinton, a top 200 baby name for boys in the 1970s and 1980s, still ranked No. 211 in 1992. By 1999, the year after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, it had sunk to No. 664.
Even the most tainted presidencies have left a nomenclature mark. The Watergate president inspired some parents, at least overseas. In Venezuela, Nixon Moreno was one of the leaders behind student protests two years ago.
Then again, his co-organizer was Stalin González.