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Maeve of Massachusetts, Meet Magnus of Minnesota

May 22, 2019 laurawattenberg 1 Comment

Maeve of Massachusetts, Meet Magnus of Minnesota

May 22, 2019 LauraWattenberg 1 Comment
Shamrock Green Massachusetts

In my teenage daughters’ generation, American girls named Madison outnumber Bridgets by nearly 20 to 1. Yet my kids have had plenty of classmates named Bridget, and they’ve never met a Madison. A statistical fluke? In part, yes, but the odds were stacked by geography. We live in Massachusetts.

This 21st-century style phenomenon has 19th-century roots. Back before today’s parents and even great-grandparents were born, a long wave of European immigration shaped America. Boston was a particular center of Irish immigration, and today more than 20% of Massachusetts residents claim Irish ethnic origins. You see those origins reflected in the popularity of Irish names of every stripe, from Bridget and Patrick to Saoirse and Eoin.

You can find similar echoes of immigrant heritage in baby names across the country. The Swedish immigrants who flocked to Minnesota are recalled in the modern popularity of names like Ingrid and Henrik, and the Italian immigrants who helped shape New Jersey in names like Francesca and Rocco. It’s not just a matter of parents naming from their own family trees. For many, the driving factor is a sense of heritage. Names are often chosen to honor general ethnic roots rather than specific family members. And of course, the choices are filtered through a contemporary fashion sense. American parents’ choices are influenced by the immigrant generations and by current global trends, but their preferences are born in the USA.

You might think of the process as “hyphenate” naming. Just as spaghetti and meatballs is an Italian-American rather than Italian dish, a name like Erin is an Irish-American baby name. (Erin is a form of the Irish word for Ireland, Éire, familiar from the patriotic phrase “Erin go bragh”—”Ireland forever.”) It may not be traditional as an Irish given name, but it’s 100% authentic as a reflection of Irish-American pride.

Even classic names from European cultures are adopted in American patterns. For instance, you’re much more likely to meet a young Valentina in New Jersey today than in Italy. The name Greta is hot in Minnesota, but the current Swedish smash hit Wilma is a non-starter. Shea is a masculine name in Ireland, but unisex and leaning female in Massachusetts. Beyond individual names, the collective style of immigrant heritage names helps shape local name cultures. For instance, New Jersey is also partial to non-Italian names like Arabella and Avianna that echo Italian style.

I’ve collected 20 names from each of the three states that showcase the effects of historical immigration patterns. You can see the local color for yourself, and contemplate how names like Giuliana and Vincenzo or Astrid and Anders might influence a state’s sense of style.

SWEDISH NAMES OF MINNESOTA
NAMESEXSTATE RANKUS RANK
GretaF63587
HenrikM141748
SorenM172559
AnnikaF206723
IngridF210988
AndersM223785
BjornM248869
MatildaF264489
MagnusM315782
LeifM3421008
AstridF388661
LinneaF3961430
AkselM5071025
FreyjaF5531084
ElsaF594888
HansM6001446
SigneF6245409
LarsM6731756
SonjaF6842385
SveaF6853891
IRISH NAMES OF MASSACHUSETTS
NAMESEXSTATE RANKUS RANK
MaeveF57334
DeclanM58101
PatrickM65189
ConorM161336
RoryM170368
BridgetF208718
BrendanM276564
SheaF3281208
EamonM3671196
AlannahF389869
CianM4151275
KathleenF454894
SeamusM4601107
CormacM4811302
SaoirseF498830
NiallM6161667
EoinM6512342
AoifeF6611776
AislingF8344213
RionaF9606160
ITALIAN NAMES OF NEW JERSEY
NAMESEXSTATE RANKUS RANK
ValentinaF1881
GiannaF3180
FrancescaF154467
GiulianaF155657
AntonellaF163468
AlessiaF174580
RoccoM212481
SalvatoreM242895
LucianoM282494
VincenzoM311755
GiovannaF335837
GiancarloM4371022
FrancescoM4911445
CarmineM5111393
GiuseppeM5461651
ChiaraF5511391
GinoM6631138
SerafinaF6991938
GiuliaF8581749
GiacomoM8913538
LauraWattenberg
LauraWattenberg

Namerology founder and "Baby Name Wizard" author Laura Wattenberg is a globally recognized name expert, known for her scientific approach to understanding name trends and culture.

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1 Comment

  • Becky May 28, 2019 at 5:13 pm

    I’m in Vermont (very similar to Massachusetts stylistically), and the day after I first read this post, I was in the grocery checkout line with two 15 year olds (they were discussing when they would be 16 while checking me out/bagging my groceries): Declan and Angus. Holy Scots-Irish naming traditions, Vermont!

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