"The Name Game"
News from Oct 26, 2007
The Name Game
Cultural Modernization & First Names.
"This is Durkheimian scholarship in all its glory, simple, straightforward prose, systematic empirical data, and compelling sociological interpretation. With this book, Gerhards contributes to the growing literature on "naming" while simultaneously enriching the best in the Durkheimian tradition."
"Using a systematic analysis of data on changing patterns of naming children, Gerhards illuminates a broad range of issues in the sociology of cultural including nationalism, secularization, and globalization."
From decade to decade, significant changes occur in the choice of first names for children. One-time favorites are perceived as old fashioned and replaced by new choices. In The Name Game, Jürgen Gerhards shows that shifts in the choice of names are based on more than arbitrary trends of fashion. Instead, he demonstrates, they are determined by larger currents in cultural modernization.
Using classic tools of sociology, Gerhards focuses on changing atterns of first names in Germany from the end of the nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth, using these as an indicator of cultural change. Among the influences he considers are religion, and he notes a trend toward greater secularization in first names. He considers the extent to which Christian names have been displaced, and whether the process is similar for Catholics and Protestants. He traces the impact of different political regimes (Second Empire, Weimar Republic, Third Reich, West Germany, East Germany) and the accompanying rise and fall of German nationalist sentiment. He also investigates the dissolution of the family as a unit of production, and its impact on the naming of children. He shows that the weakening of traditional ties of religion, nation, and family has led to greater individuation and greater receptivity toward foreign first names. Gerhards concludes with a discussion of whether the blurring of gender and sex roles is reflected in the decrease of gender-specific names.
Written in a lucid, approachable style, The Name Game will be of interest not only to sociologists and cultural studies specialists, but also non-professionals, especially parents who are interested in reflecting on the process of name giving.
Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey.