The Unexpected Fluidity of Names

Lisa Radding, Director of ResearchEthnicTechnologiesLogo
Ethnic Technologies, New Jersey, United States

Eunice. Helen. Dorothy. Nora. Evelyn. Wilma. Gladys.

Characters from the Golden Girls? Not necessarily.

Eunice peaked in popularity in the United States in 1908 at #106 and for the next 30 years, it remained in the top 200 baby names given to girls. Many of Eunice’s contemporaries such as Nora and Evelyn are returning with the new generation of baby girls, but we don’t imagine a Eunice seated in a classroom of colorful plastic chairs. Names ebb and flow throughout time. But many transition between people in less intuitive ways.

The Younger Generation of Eunices

In fact, you might meet Eunice today at a college party or an early professionals networking event.

She is most likely to be Eunice Park or Eunice Choi or Eunice Yeung. She’s embarking on a successful career following a rigorous education. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Korea or China.

She might also be Eunice Washington or Eunice Thomas. She exists in the same cosmopolitan circles as Eunice Park, but her history­ or that of her parents or of generations before­ is African.

Onomastic Fluidity and Ethnicity

These Eunices exemplify the unexpected fluidity of names. A Eunice Park or Eunice Washington seems to be the exception, a girl unfortunately burdened with a name from another generation. But upon further reflection, in her own culture, her name isn’t an oddity but one of many similar names. Names move across age, education level, social sphere, geographies, and ethnicities.

These nuances contribute to the ethnic understanding inherent in names.

At Ethnic Technologies, we design a software product that relies on names to predict the ethnicities of individuals. The software algorithms combine all the name intelligence (first name, middle name, surname) with geographical intelligence from our Enhanced Neighborhood Analytics. But the research behind the names, name patterns, and software logic includes cross­cultural research. In order to predict ethnicity onomastically, we research how names move through time, geography, and culture.

Understanding the Diversity in Eunice

Chinese and Korean immigrants to the United States value education, advancement, family, and respect of elders. Many parents choose to give their new baby an American name to help her assimilate and achieve success. But they choose this American name from their successful or influential peers, or even a respected member of their parents’ generation. If Eunice is a respected, accomplished caucasian American woman of an older generation, it is name that embodies their hopes for this new baby girl.

African American parents also follow predictable patterns, although different ones from their Asian American counterparts. They conform to the prevalent sound patterns in their community while continually seeking individualism. We don’t blink an eye when introduced to a young African American woman named Shalice, LaTrice, or Chaneese. While the spelling and capitalization may differ, the harmonious sounds remain constant. It is irrelevant whether her parents saw Eunice as an entirely new name or as the novelty of established name of generations past. Eunice Washington has a name that is her own variation on a familiar theme.

Onomastics, Ethnicity and the Future

Each culture appropriates names from other cultures while conforming to its own trends, those derived from cultural values. In a country of immigrants as diverse as the United States, names reliably predict ethnicity, as long as we understand the diversity of contexts in which they may be situated. As the world shrinks, through improved communication and travel technologies, names will ebb and flow according to more complex patterns. Embracing multicultural diversity only enhances our understanding of individuals through their names and names through their bearers.

Is Gladys only a Golden Girl?

We wouldn’t lean too heavily on that assumption, given that the name peaked in 1901 at #11 and declined sharply after 1908. Instead we’ll rely on cultural insights to predict something else entirely. Gladys Fernandez and Gladys Torres are the contemporaries of Eunice Park and Eunice Washington. But they come from different values and different stories.

Ethnic Technologies is the leading provider of multicultural marketing data, ethnic identification software and ethnic data appending services. Ethnic Technologies provides invaluable tools to customers in numerous marketing verticals. 

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