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NYC Babies Have More Traditional Names Than in Other States, Expert Says

By Meredith Hoffman | January 22, 2013 7:12am

WILLIAMSBURG — Clothes, hairdos and apartment decor aren't the only ways New Yorkers convey their distinct flare — they also use baby names as "style statements."

New Yorkers have recently tended toward more traditional sounding baby names — like Thomas, Matthew, Anthony and Catherine — than in other parts of the country, baby name expert Laura Wattenberg found during a comprehensive analysis of the nation's top choices.

They have also chosen more "romantic" sounding female names — such as Valentina and Giana — than in most other states, she found.

"At this point the normal, traditional sounding name is not what's most popular [in the rest of the country] — it's a style statement," Wattenberg said of national baby-naming trends.

"So naming your son Thomas or Matthew might sound conformist but you're actually making your own statement."

Wattenberg, a former Manhattan resident who now lives in Massachusetts and has studied baby names for the past 10 years, said she used 2011 data and broke male and female names into 12 categories each to study state-by-state trends for a new edition of her 2005 book, "The Baby Name Wizard." 

"These are names that share similar historical patterns, geographical patterns and origins," she said of her categories, which include the popular Midwestern "preppy cowboys" genre for boys who are named after country music stars.

In New York the "classic ladies" — names prevalent in the early 20th century like Caroline and Eleanor — and "romantic flourish" females — "smooth sounding" names like Giana and Valentina with Spanish and Italian roots — stood out more than in other states, Wattenberg found.

And more New York male babies were given "Saintly classic" titles (non-Irish saint names like Vincent and Joseph) and "steady guy" tags (traditional, "neutral sounding" names like Thomas and Matthew) than in other states, she said.

"The classic ladies are names that disappeared to greater or lesser extents... and now they're making a comeback," Wattenberg explained, noting that Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland and other states with major urban centers and "relatively affluent parents" also trended toward those names.

"They're old fashioned, but not aggressively so, so they have a classic stately manner."

The "romantic flourish" female names, also including Adriana and Juliana, were more newly popular, Wattenberg said, and were "perceived as elegant with no hard consonants, nothing to stop the tongue."

And while some romantic flourish names showed obvious Puerto Rican and Italian influences, the names were used across cultures and found in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Florida — but not the Latino-heavy states of Texas or Arizona.

"These names have an Italian and Spanish spin but they're very different from the male equivalent, like Vincent and Joseph," Wattenberg said. "There's a lot more flourish to the girls' names."

She said the most popular New York City names overall were highly popular throughout the country as well.

"Jayden is the most popular boys' name in New York [City], and Isabella is the most popular girls' name — but you'll find those everywhere you go — it doesn't define anything special about New York," she said. "I was more interested in names that defined local style."

The next edition of Wattenberg's book "The Baby Name Wizard" is slated for spring publication. More information on the book and access to her name maps can be found on her website.