The Last Living Person of the 1900s: What Will Her Name Be?

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Emma Morano in 1900
A couple of weeks ago, Italian supercentenarian Emma Morano (b. November 29, 1899) passed away at the age of 117. She was both the world’s oldest living person and the last living person born in the 1800s.

My question for you today is: What will be the name of the last living person born in the 1900s?

We won’t know the answer to this question until well into the 22nd century, of course, but it’s a fun one to ponder.

This person was probably born in 1999 or 1998 and, based on what we know about longevity, this person is also probably female. But what type of name will she have? It’s much harder to make speculations about location and language.

The current list of the 100 oldest people ever contains folks from the U.S., Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, Spain, and a few other places. This mix could change drastically in the future, though.

What name/names would you guess? Feel free to list several, each representing a potential location. Here’s the U.S. top 2,000 for the year 2000, which could be helpful for English-speaking areas.

(Wouldn’t it be funny if this person were another Emma? I don’t know how probable this is, but the name’s usage had already started rebounding in several places in the late ’90s, so it’s not impossible. Emma ranked 17th in the U.S. in 1999, for instance. Now it’s #1.)


Early Recognition of the “Great-Grandparent Rule”

grandmotherA baby name becomes trendy for one generation. For the next two generations, while those initial babies are parent-aged and grandparent-aged, you can expect the name to go out of style. But during the third generation, once the cohort reaches great-grandparent age, the name is free to come back into fashion.

Evelyn is a name with a usage pattern that fits this description well.

I’ve seen it described elsewhere as the 100-Year Rule, but I prefer to call it the Great-Grandparent Rule, as it makes more sense to me to frame it in terms of generations.

Essentially, the pattern has to do with a name’s main generational association shifting from “a name that belongs to real-life old people” to “a name that sounds pleasantly old-fashioned.”

I used to think the pattern was one we’d only recently discovered — something we needed the data to see — but it turns out that at least one observant person noticed this trend and wrote about it in The San Francisco Call more than 100 years ago (boldface mine):

Time was — and that not very long ago — when old fashioned names, as old fashioned furniture, crockery and hand embroideries, were declared out of date. The progress of the ages that replaced the slower work of hand by the speed of machines cast a blight on everything that betokened age.

Spinning wheels were stowed away in attics, grandmothers’ gowns were tucked into cedar chests, old porcelain of plain design was replaced by more gaudy utensils and machine made and embroidered dresses and lingerie lined the closets where formerly only handwork was hung.

So with given names. Mary, Elizabeth, Jane, Sarah, Hannah and Anne, one and all, were declared old fashioned and were relegated to past ages to be succeeded by Gladys, Helen, Delphine, Gwendolyn, Geraldine and Lillian and a host of other more showy appellations.

Two generations of these, and woman exercised her time honored privilege and changed her mind.

She woke suddenly to the value of history, hustled from their hiding places the ancient robes and furnishings that were her insignia of culture, discarded the work of the modern machine for the finer output of her own fair hands, and, as a finishing touch, christened her children after their great-grandparents.

Old fashioned names revived with fervor and those once despised are now termed quaint and pretty and “quite the style, my dear.”

Pretty cool that this every-third-generation pattern was already an observable phenomenon three generations ago.

The article went on to list society babies with names like Barbara, Betsy, Bridget, Dorcas (“decidedly Puritan”), Dorothea, Frances, Henrietta, Jane, Josephine, Lucy, Margaret, Mary, Olivia, and Sarah (“much in vogue a century ago”).

Have you see the 100-Year Rule/Great-Grandparent Rule at play in your own family tree? If so, what was the name and what were the birth years?

Source: “Society” [Editorial]. San Francisco Call 17 Aug. 1913: 19.
Image: Frances Marie via Morguefile

Nomenclator: Ancient Roman Name Remember-er

In ancient times, well-to-do Romans didn’t have to worry about remembering people’s names. Why? Because they had special name-remembering slaves to do the job for them.

These slaves were called nomenclators, from the Latin words nōmen, meaning “name,” and calō, meaning, “call together, summon.”

Essentially, a nomenclator was a social secretary. He accompanied his master in public and reminded him of the names and details of important individuals, such as business acquaintances. Nomenclators were particularly useful to politicians soliciting a votes in elections to public office.

The Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum owns a 1st century epitaph for a guy named Aristarchus who worked as a nomenclator. (The name Aristarchus is based on the ancient Greek words aristos, meaning “best,” and archos, meaning “master.”)

Are you good at remembering names? Would you have made an efficient nomenclator?

Sources: nomenclator – Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary, Nomenclator – Wiktionary, ‘Working IX to V’ in Ancient Rome and Greece

P.S. I learned about this interesting ancient job from episode 51 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast.

Will Japan’s Next “Era Name” Influence Baby Names?

heisei, 1989, japan, era name
“Heisei” announced, 1989
© Kyodo
Japan has been using a system of “era names” continuously since the 8th century. Each era name “is said to represent an ideal of an era and in principle consists of two auspicious kanji, including hei (peace), ei (eternal), ten (heaven) and an (safety).”

In modern times, each era name has corresponded to the rule of a single emperor. Here are the four most recent era names and their meanings:

  • Meiji (1868-1912) – “enlightened rule”
  • Taishō (1912-1926) – “great righteousness”
  • Shōwa (1926-1989) – “radiant peace”
  • Heisei (1989-) – “peace everywhere”

The current emperor, 83-year-old Akihito, hinted last summer that he wanted to step down from the throne. (He would be succeeded by his son, Prince Naruhito.)

If he does, Japan will transition to a new era name. And this could have an impact on baby names.

Data released by Japan’s Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Company (est. 1881) indicates that during the early Taisho era, the most popular names for baby boys (e.g., Shoichi, Shoji, Shozo) all started with Taishō’s shō character, which means “right” or “just.”

And during the early Shōwa era, there was strong usage of Shōwa’s (different) shō character, which means “bright” or “calm.”

These days Japanese parents are less tradition-bound and more influenced by “look and sound,” said a Meiji Yasuda Life spokesperson. But if Japan’s next era name includes an attractive kanji character, who knows — Japanese parents might just start using it and kick off a new baby name trend…

Sources: Imperial abdication talk poses question of Japan’s next era, What to call baby?, Businesses await Japan’s new era name as Emperor’s abdication looms

Update, 6/18/2017: On June 10, Japan passed a law allowing Emperor Akihito to abdicate (within the next three years specifically).

Names in the News: Jedi, Ahmed, Kadri

Here are three Canadian baby name stories leftover from 2016:

  • Jedi: The first baby born in Terrace, British Columbia, in 2016 was a boy named Jedi. His other brothers are Jared and Jade.
  • Ahmed: In August of 2016, a baby boy born to Syrian refugees in Canada was named Ahmed in honor of Ahmed Nasir, “a physics student from Egypt who has been volunteering his time as a translator for the family.” The name was chosen by the baby’s 6-year-old brother, Moa’ath.
  • Kadri: In October of 2016, a baby girl born in Ontario was named Kadri after Maple Leafs hockey player Nazem Kadri, whose family came from Lebanon. Her four older siblings are also named for Maple Leafs players. (The shared names are Tucker, McCabe, Domi, and Colton Orr.)

One source reporting on baby Kadri ended with this interesting fact: “Leaf great Ron Ellis still exchanges Christmas cards with a man who was named Ron Ellis Lucas in his honour for his play during the 1960s.”

Sources: Star Wars baby named Jedi by Terrace parents, In a maple-leaf onesie, baby Ahmed is a ‘proud Canadian’ born to Syrian refugee family, Kingston couple name all 5 of their kids after Maple Leafs players, Family names newborn after Maple Leafs’ Nazem Kadri