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12/24/2012 11:48:00 AM
Sophia, Jacob top names for Arizona newborns

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Remember all the Jessicas, Ashleys, Amandas and Jennifers born in the mid 1980s?

Well, these girls are all grown up and having their own babies now. But if their choices this year are any indication, they see no reason to keep those names popular.

New figures today from the Arizona Department of Health Services show Sophia was the top name for girls born this year, followed by Isabella, Emma and Mia.

Yes, there were some babies born this year named Jessica -- but just barely enough to crack the Top 100 list of names, coming in at 98th.

Ashley fared somewhat better at No. 30.

Names that parents give to their newborn boys have proven to be not quite as volatile.

Consider: Michael was the top name chosen by parents for their male offspring for much of the 1960s through the 1990s. It remains somewhat popular, though it slid this year to 10th place.

What tops the list for 2012 is Jacob.

But it's not like that name came out of nowhere: It has pretty much been somewhere in the Top 20 for the approximately four decades the state has readily available lists. And that was long before swooning teen girls were dividing between "Team Jacob' or "Team Edward.'

Ethan, however, the second most popular name for boys this year, is a relative newcomer to that Top 20 list, going back only about a decade.

And Liam, the No. 3 most popular name for boys in 2012 was nowhere in sight even five years ago.

Still a review of the most-selected names for boys this year would not be a total shock to those who were choosing names for their parents more than 20 years ago. Names like Alexander, Anthony and Noah, while they varied in popularity, were not unheard of at the time.

And, as has been the practice, at least half the names for boys in the Top 20 come straight from the Bible

There are some girls' names that have managed to remain popular over the years, names like Abigail, Emily, Victoria and even Madison which popped onto the list in the 1990s.

Still, many of the names near the top of the list now might have been considered unthinkable by those who are now their grandparents.

Consider Brooklyn, a relatively recent entry anywhere in the Top 100. This year it logged in at No. 20.

And Nevaeh, a name that was virtually unknown 15 years ago, made a meteoric rise to the Top 20 several years ago after Sonny Sandoval, frontman for the Christian rock group P.O.D. -- Payable On Death -- chose that name for his newborn daughter and took her on MTV in 2000.

It continues to hang in at No. 26.

State Health Director Will Humble, whose agency has been keeping track of these names since statehood, said perhaps the most striking trend for girls has been toward more unusual names.

A century ago the list was topped by Mary, Maria, Helen, Dorothy and Margaret.

Even 50 years ago, Humble said, while some of those old standbys fell off the list, Arizona parents were selecting names like Lisa, Mary, Susan, Karen and Linda.

"They were pretty straightforward names,' Humble said. "Pretty classic names.'

And far different than Sophia, Isabella and Emma.

Humble said the Bible was as much an influence in naming boys in the first days of statehood as it is now. What's changed, though, is which parts of the Good Book parents are consulting.

In 1912, he said, top names included John, Jose, James and Joseph. And now?

"You see a lot more of the Old Testament names these days,' he said. Aside from Jacob, the Top 20 list includes Noah, Elijah, Isaac, Gabriel and Joshua.

Humble said he can only guess at why the recent names are so different than those from decades earlier. One factor, he said, may be the maturity of those choosing the names.

"People are having kids older than they used to,' he said.

"If you're older, do you pick a different kind of name?' Humble said, perhaps choosing something a little less traditional. "Or does it just have to do with popular culture or the way people think today?'

Or maybe it's something as innocent as a movie.

Consider Humble's own experience as he and his wife, Julie, were expecting their first child.

"I was watching a cowboy movie and one of the characters was Luke,' he recalled, saying he asked his wife what she thinks of that name. "She said, 'Yeah, I kind of like that.' '

But Humble said that, having decided he likes the name, he would find a deeper justification before the baby was born 19 years ago. It turns out, he said, that there was a Luke Humble, the first of that line to make it out West.

"He made it as far as Kansas,' the health director said.

According to family lore, that Luke Humble, having run into winter, turned his wagon over and lived there, with the local Indians bringing him food to survive. In the spring, Luke Humble decided to settle there and plant wheat.

"At least that's the way the story's told,' Will Humble said.

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