Celebrity Names Blog

Typical American Name?

Here at NameCandy.com we've been riveted by the story unfolding over at alexlevy.net.  In yesterday's installment, 13-year-old Alex and his mother are aboard the  Cunard-White Star liner “Scythia,” headed for Canada, and Alex, who already  had some pre-conceived notions of American culture through contact with U.S. and British soldiers stationed in his neighborhood in Brussels as well as  frequent visits to the movies, writes about his first brush with American-style names.  

(If you haven't been following the story from the beginning, they were German refugees who managed to survive the war in Nazi-occupied Brussels; but eventually Alex's single mother finds herself pregnant and shamed, and scrapes together the cash to make a trans-Atlantic passage to start a new life America).

"...I also noticed that all these English-speaking people had very short names, names such as Bob, Joe, and Carl. And I also noticed a beautiful American girl with whom I instantly fell in love.  However, she was eighteen and I was thirteen (the age of stirring hormones), and that was doomed to go nowhere.  When we first met she introduced herself by one of those wonderful disyllabic names ending in “a” (unfortunately I don’t remember her name), and I introduced myself as A-lex-an-der, which then seemed the most embarrassingly long name in the world.  How I longed for one of those short, English names! Had I only known that I could have, without cheating, made myself into an Alex! How much better that would have been!"

This got us wondering: What could the "wonderful disyllabic" name of Alex's 1949 love interest have been?  Thelma? Norma? Linda? Myrna? 

And if you were a new immigrant today what would be your picks for quintessentially American-sounding names?



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January 29, 2011 12:24 PM
By Fritinancy (not verified)

Linda and Thelma seem like good guesses; Norma and Myrna (or Myra or Selma) might have seemed just European enough to escape young Alex's notice.

Also of possible interest to your readers is Alex's own name. Traditionally, "Alexander" and "Philip" have been the only Greek-origin names that Jews were allowed to bestow on boys. Why? Because Alexander the Great allowed his conquered Jewish subjects to be autonomous. The Jews' gratitude extended to Alexander's father, Philip of Macedon.

More on traditional Jewish baby-naming practices:

January 29, 2011 1:17 PM
By Megan (not verified)

Maybe Martha or Wanda?

January 29, 2011 5:39 PM
By Mom (not verified)

Maybe "Anna" or "Sandra"

January 30, 2011 12:00 AM
By Mandy (not verified)

I am going my mom's name (born in 1951):

New all-American names? Katie...Ryan...any name ending in "-ayla" or "-aden"

January 30, 2011 12:17 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My aunts born in the late 40's and 50's were Linda and Virginia. My mom and other aunt didn't have the "a" ending.

January 30, 2011 8:37 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Cute (in my opinion) immigrant naming story: a friend of mine, his parents immigrated from Korea shortly before he was born. They spoke very little English and knew very few American names, however they wanted their son to have a very American name. President at the time? Richard Nixon. So they named him Richard. Their next son was Albert (for Einstein).

January 31, 2011 11:13 AM
By Heartpriv (not verified)

Surprised no one has suggested Mary. It was the most popular name of its time and is bisyllabic.

January 31, 2011 2:29 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

The letter says the name ended in "a" though, so Mary doesn't work.

Martha and Norma sound good to me. She would have been born in 1931 which seems a bit too soon for Linda. Maybe Edna, Ida, Emma, or Clara?

January 31, 2011 10:52 PM
By mac (not verified)

I love this! I had never really thought of names being "American" until my husband and I lived overseas. We just returned to the US from Asia, and were often told, with a sigh, from European expats how American our names were. It killed me! I have a hard time believing they found our names as exotic as Sabine or Lawrence is to me. My husband's name? Douglas

February 1, 2011 1:04 PM
By Jenn (not verified)

I'm going to go with my daughter's name, Etta - it's short, ends in an 'a' and is very American - all things I loved about it. As for Alexander, if he wanted a short, American name, he could have gone with Al - my grandfather Alfin did!

Sweet story! Thanks for printing it -

February 1, 2011 1:14 PM
By Annee (not verified)

Norma, Anna, Martha, Donna, Rita? Probably not Linda as that was not very common for someone born in 1931.

February 1, 2011 2:04 PM
By Allison Margaret (not verified)

Could she have been Barbara, Donna, Clara, or Wilma? Those are the names that fit the bill from 1931's top 100 that haven't been mentioned yet (at least the way I say it, Barbara has two syllables). My husband's grandmother (born in the 1920s) has one of those American disyllabic names ending in a also -- Wilda -- but she hates it.

I'd say today's quintessential American names for women are names and nicknames ending in the ee -- Emily, Kaylee, Maddie, Gracie, Lily, Jenny, Jessie, Ashley, Katie, Patty, Sandy, Lori, Sherry, Judy, Dorothy, and Betty are all quintessential American feminine names to me and span the age range from babies born this year to their great-grandmothers.

For men, I'd say the standards of the past few decades -- Robert, Michael, John, William, Richard, James, Daniel, Joseph, Christopher.

February 1, 2011 4:08 PM
By Zoe (not verified)

Anna/Hannah, Barbara, Patrica, Clara, Rita, Edna or maybe Maria?

If I were asked to give the names of the quintessential American family, I'd guess the man's name was Michael, Christopher or Thomas, quite possibly called Mike, Chris or Tom. The wife would be Lisa, Michelle or Amy. The kids, girls- Hayley, Madison, Sarah or Grace. Boys- Jackson, Aiden, Ryan or Matthew.

February 1, 2011 4:49 PM
By Rawleigh (not verified)

What about Nina (not Nee-Nah, rather pronounced with a long 'I' in the middle and an 'ahhh" sound at the end). I had a great aunt with that name and it would be just the right era.

February 1, 2011 7:30 PM
By Anne-onymous (not verified)

I'm going with the name BOTH my grandmothers had... Rita. Sure, they would have been slightly older (22 and 21 instead of 18) but perhaps not so far off. My other guess (since I haven't seen it yet on this list, and I did see one respondent with Rita... How about Mona?

By the way, I always thought I hated the name Rita, but it has grown on me and is the middle name of my lovely three year old daughter.

February 3, 2011 4:45 AM
By Top 10 Name of the 70s (not verified)

Quintessential American name? Something androgynous that sounds like a surname!
You know - Sawyer or McKinley or, dare I say it, that dreadful name heard nowhere else in the Western world - Nevaeh!!

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