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First Person/Laura Wattenberg

What’s in a baby name?

Baby Name Wizard’s Laura Wattenberg’s 2011 pick

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

> How did you become a baby name authority? I was [at a park]; my 1-year-old was in the sandbox. Someone called out “Sophia,” and three girls stood up. I wanted to know how it happened, how everyone had chosen the same name.

> How had it? Names are a fossil record of parents’ hopes, dreams, and obsessions . . . from generation to generation. You see a lot of the American psyche in the names we choose.

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> What are parents picking today? Parents increasingly think name choice positions their children for success. I can take two completely opposite names – Margaret and Kylie – ask parents why they like it, and they give the same reason: It’s strong.

> On your blog, you pick a “Name of the Year.” Past winners include Renesmee, from Twilight, and Barack. What’s this year’s? Siri – Apple’s “intelligent agent” for the iPhone. It’s Scandinavian, a descendant of Sigrid, a traditional Norse girl’s name. Siri is cool, a little unfamiliar, and reflects the idea of technology as something chic.

> You live in Winchester. What names do Boston-area parents favor? We’re the land of Henry and Margaret, not Kylie and Dakota. I think the key difference is when parents have kids. In Cambridge, a new mom is 30, on average; in Provo, Utah, she’d be 21.

> Can you explain the rise in alternate spellings, like Megyn? Everyone today wants their name to be distinctive, to stand out. But our tastes are similar; the only way to make that work is make tiny differences.

> You have a theory that Americans no longer name kids after our heroes, but after victims. Why? It’s where we find our ideas. People feel an attachment to Caylee Anthony or Natalee Holloway and want to do something. If a hurricane, even a killer one, has a stylish name, it will launch a fad, like Katrina. It’s the pure-exposure effect.

> Any thoughts on candidates’ names: Mitt, Newt? There’s been this movement toward aggressive populism. Everyone has to show they’re the guy next door: Mike [Dukakis], Bill [Clinton]. Ronald Reagan was Ronald, but today he’d be Ron.  

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