Naming a child can be a daunting task and for many Americans it entails a great deal of consideration. Will the name you choose honor a relative, and if so, which one? Will you pick a name that's unique or traditional? Will the name you select be easy or difficult to pronounce and spell? Recent polling by YouGov explores where Americans' first and middle names come from, how much they like them, and what factors they would consider when naming a child of their own.
Who chose Americans' names?
The largest share of Americans – 38% – say their parents jointly chose their name. One in four (27%) say their name was chosen solely by their mother, and fewer than half as many – 11% – say their father alone chose it. Men (42%) are more likely than women (34%) to say their name was chosen jointly by both parents, and less likely than women to say it was chosen by their mother exclusively (20% of men vs. 34% of women).
Who or what were Americans named after?
When asked whether their parents named them after someone or just liked the way their name sounded, nearly half (47%) say their first name comes from something or someone, while 30% say it was chosen because their parents liked the sound of it. When probed for more details as to who or what they were named after, one in four people (27%) say their first name comes from a family member. Much smaller shares say their first name was based on a family friend (6%), a religious reference (5%), or a celebrity (5%). Middle names are more likely to be chosen to honor a family member than first names. Almost half of people (43%) say their middle name is that of a family member, while just 24% say their parents selected it because they liked the sound of it.
Women (36%) are significantly more likely than men (23%) to say their first name was chosen because their parents liked the sound of it. Men (32%) are more likely than women (21%) to say they were named after a family member.
Which family members are American men named after? Half of men (52%) who say their first name was chosen to honor a family member were named after their father. One in four (23%) say they were named after their grandfather. Smaller shares were named after their mother (11%), uncle (10%), or great-grandfather (10%).
One big difference in how men and women are assigned names is that women are far less likely than men to be named after a parent. Among women who are given a family name as their first name, the largest share – 36% – say they were named after their grandmother; only 20% say they were named after their mother, only slightly more than say they were named after an aunt (16%). One in 10 (9%) were named after their father, similar to the share of men named after their mother (11%).
Which family names are most likely to be passed down? Fathers beat out any other family relation by a margin of at least two to one for first names; among Americans named after a family member for their first name, 35% say they were named after their father. Grandmothers (16%) and grandfathers (16%) tie for second place, followed closely behind by mothers (15%).
Most people (62%) given a first name honoring a family member say the person they were named after was alive at the time of their birth, while 25% say they were deceased.
One indication of why children may be more likely to be named after fathers than mothers is that men (34%) are twice as likely as women (17%) to say they would consider naming a child after themselves. Overall, one in four Americans (25%) say they'd consider naming a child after themselves, while 61% say they wouldn't.
Roughly half of people (47%) say their parents didn't know what their gender would be before they were born; 28% say their parents knew their gender and 26% aren't sure whether their parents knew.
Do Americans like their names?
Most Americans are fond of the names their parents chose for them: Three in five say they like their first name either a lot (41%) or somewhat (19%). Far fewer say they dislike it a lot (6%) or somewhat (9%). Similar shares have the same opinions on their middle name. People who like their first name tend to like their middle name as well; people who dislike their first name are divided on their middle name, with 41% saying they like it and 38% saying they don't.
Not everyone goes by the name they were assigned at birth. Around one in four Americans (23%) say they other people usually refer to them by a nickname for their first name. Far fewer say they go by a name based on their initials (4%), their middle name (4%), or a different name not assigned at birth (5%). A total of 63% of people say they go by the first name given to them at birth, including a similar share of men (61%) and women (64%).
People who don't like their first name are more likely than those who do to say others usually refer to them by a nickname or by their middle name. They're also more likely to have changed their name or to have considered doing so. Among people who dislike their given first name, 15% say they've changed their name, while an additional 44% say they've considered changing it. Among Americans overall, only 5% have changed their name and 7% have considered doing so.
How difficult do Americans say it is to spell and pronounce their names?
Far more say their first name is easy to spell than say it is difficult, and the same goes for pronunciation. Around one in four (23%) say their first name is very or somewhat difficult to spell, while slightly fewer – 15% – say it is very or somewhat difficult to pronounce. Men (57%) are significantly more likely than women (42%) to say their first name is very easy to spell, and slightly more likely than women to say their name is very easy to pronounce (69% vs. 63%).
What factors would Americans consider in naming a child of their own?
The poll asked Americans how important 18 factors would be to them when considering what to name a child of their own. Of the factors asked about, the ease of pronouncing (71%) and spelling (64%) a name are the two that the largest number of people said were either very or somewhat important to them. Many also care about how a name sounds paired with a certain last name (63%), how masculine or feminine a name is (61%), whether it honors someone important (58%), or whether it's confused with another word (57%). The factors that people say are least important are whether the name is trendy (19%), includes a religious reference (27%), is gender-neutral (28%), or is traditional (34%).
How do Americans feel about gender-non-traditional names?
While many names are traditionally given to only boys or only girls, a small but growing number of names are commonly given to both boys and girls. How do Americans feel about unisex names? While only one in five (19%) say they're "all for" gender-neutral names, the vast majority of people (70%) are at least OK with them. Nearly one in three people (30%) are not fans of gender-neutral names; men (40%) are twice as likely as women (20%) to say they're not a fan.
One growing trend is assigning girls names that are traditionally given to boys. Only 15% of Americans are in favor of this trend, while 39% are not fans of it; around half (46%) are OK with it. Names very rarely shift in the other direction – that is, go from traditionally female to being more common among men. Only 13% say they're all for giving boys names that have traditionally been given to girls, and half (52%) say they're not fans of doing so; 35% are just OK with it. Men are more likely than women to say they're "not fans" of giving girls traditionally boy names (46% of men vs. 32% of women) and of giving boys traditionally girl names (60% vs. 45%).
Younger adults are more accepting of gender-non-comforming names than older Americans are. People between the ages of 18 and 29 are at least five times as likely as Americans 65 and older to say they're all for gender-neutral names (35% vs. 5%), girls being given traditionally boy names (30% vs. 6%), and boys being given traditionally girl names (27% vs. 3%).
— Carl Bialik and Linley Sanders contributed to this article.
This poll was conducted on August 26 - 29, 2022, among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.
Image: Adobe Stock (Michael Flippo)