How parents choose their children’s names

WWhy does the well-known SPD politician Kevin Kühnert actually have this first name? Very simple: When he was born in Berlin in 1989, he landed right in the middle of the Kevin trend. The first name became modern at the time for a number of reasons: Actor Kevin Costner appeared in many films at the time; English footballer Kevin Keegan had led Hamburger SV to his greatest successes around 1980; and then in 1990 the movie Home Alone was released. And already Kevin was a very popular first name in Germany.

Alphonse Kaiser

Editor-in-Chief of the “Germany and the World” section and Frankfurter Allgemeine Magazin.

Kevin Kühnert’s mother loved football, even Hamburger SV, who appear in the second division today and have not been promoted this year either. At any rate, she wanted her son to be named as the great Kevin Keegan. And really, the first name seems to have a magical effect: Kevin Kühnert is a big football fan who visits as many stadiums as possible. From Tanzania to Scotland, from Spain to Berlin, he has watched hundreds of matches in dozens of stadiums. His name says it all! It was not enough to become a professional player. So he became a politician.

Apparently, many parents believe in the magical effect of names. Because they worry more and more about their children’s first names. There have never been so many guidebooks. And never before has there been such a big variation: In 2020, more than 65,000 different first names were given in Germany. This makes the decision difficult for the parents.

Image: FAZ

It used to be completely different, one did not have to make a long decision. The newborn was named after his godfather, for example Friedrich. And the little one got the name of his grandmother, for example Maria. It shows the fashion designer Karl Otto Lagerfeld quite well: Karl was called his grandfather’s name, Otto his father’s name, so the matter was clear. In this way, not much changed over time: most names were German and Christian. There were so many Heinrichs that they were given different names in order to distinguish them from each other: some Heinrichs were simply called Henner or Heinz or Hinnerk or Heino.

It’s very different today. Most children no longer have the same name as their parents, grandparents or godparents. When the Germans made more money after World War II, they often traveled to other countries and brought new names home: for example, Nicole and Nathalie are French, John and James are English. Since the 1960s, many people have come to Germany with their families from other countries to work, and they have taken names like José, Mohammed and Chiara with them. This also led to misunderstandings: Andrea is a male name in Italian; but because names ending in -a are considered feminine in Germany, Andrea became a maiden name in Germany.

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There are people who, for each year, find out which of the 65,000 different first names are particularly popular and often given. Such a list is always published in early May. It shows that another trend has emerged in recent years: names should sound neat. You can see this when you read aloud the ten girl names that were given most frequently in 2020: Emilia, Hanna (h), Emma, ​​Sophia / Sofia, Mia, Lina, Mila, Ella, Lea (h), Clara / Klara. They sound soft and delicate, are easy to pronounce and all end with the vowel -a. Even with the boys, it’s like that. Noah tops the list. This is followed by Leon, Paul, Mat

Only Kevin is home alone. He can no longer be found on the list of the most popular names. Most Kevins are now about 30 years old. And many make fun of the name – perhaps also because it was one of the early international first names in Germany. The newspaper “Bild” even provocatively asked for a picture of the future young politician Kevin Kühnert: “Can Kevin become chancellor?” We will say: Kevin would become chancellor sooner than Hamburger SV was promoted to the first Bundesliga.

Even more answers to curious children's questions

Even more answers to curious children’s questions

An illustrated selection of articles from our column “How Do I Explain It to My Child?” is published by Reclam.

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