Reading the newspapers of a century ago, we find that many news are carried out by people with imposing names: that if Domicio has killed his brother Emeterio in an argument, that if the Victorian widower has married Raimunda and has received a bell. If the Police have arrested Melitona for acting as a fortune-teller, if the children Brígido and Bernardino have been admitted to the hospital due to domestic accidents … (and yes, they are all real examples taken from old newspapers). If we take a look at the saints for this month, we will gather more names of those that are both familiar and foreign to us: still
It is possible that many of us have known some Celestino, Pantaleón, Eufrasia, Práxedes, Apolinar, Abundio, Pancracio, Ciriaca, Bonifacio, Modesto or Heliodoro, although with them we are going to run into other characters of almost fabulous baptism, such as Monegunda, Carilefo, Mustiola, Nanfanión, Disibodo, Optaciano, Plequelmo or Glodesindis.
But it is clear that, no matter how much our great-grandparents were Filomena or Ulpiano, we do not usually take those options into account when registering our children. There are hundreds and hundreds of names that were once relatively common and are no longer used today:
Six years ago, for example, the team from the National Institute of Statistics detected that there were no longer any Magpies in Spain, despite its illustrious past as a royal name (there is the exciting example of Urraca I of León, the Reckless) and also of a popular comic book character (the evil Doña Urraca). Many other anthroponyms, to use the technical word for personal names, are gradually following the same path towards extinction. The most extreme cases, according to the query to its databases that the INE has made for this newspaper, are
those of Irundina (there are twenty-two left, with an average age of 80.5 years), Exiquia (twenty and 81.4 years on average), Parmenia (twenty-one and 81.9 years) and, among the men, Vítores, Euquerio and Artesino (There are twenty of each, with average age above 75).
The INE tool that allows you to check the frequency of each name and its distribution by provinces and decades of birth, in addition to being a great source of family entertainment, shows the extent to which names are subject to what is now called trends. “The influence of fashion is exaggerated,” confirms a spokesman for the institute. If we check the twenty most representative names from a century ago and the twenty most common today, we will find that in some provinces (Bizkaia, for example) not one is repeated. Some have been overwhelmingly popular but have been losing steam:
There are 133,000 Antonios born in the 50s and 132,000 born in the 60s (in those two decades, it was the ‘top’ among men), but only 40,000 who have come to the world in the two decades that we have been in this century. Among women, María del Carmen reigned for forty years: there are 647,000 in Spain, but only 9% have been born since 1980. The name whose presence is decreasing at the fastest rate is José, with 14,500 fewer in a period of time. anus.
Today the simple and short names are carried (the ones that increased the most in 2020 were Hugo, Martín, Lucas, Lucía, Sofía and Martina) and those splendid names of the past are remaining for the historical novel.
Why were Modesta, Maximina, Balbina, Secundino or Cipriano seen as attractive possibilities eighty years ago and no longer today? “It is true that we are struck by the fact that many older people bear names that today seem bizarre to us, and that is because in Spain there was a very widespread custom of baptizing children with the name of the saint who appeared that day in the saints. Catholic. This practice dates back to the year 1570, when the Catholic Church, after the provisions taken at the Council of Trent, made it mandatory to baptize children with names taken from their saints, and
This rule was strictly adhered to by applying the name of the saint of the day to the child, even though there was no such obligation as such. Many of the names that appear in the saints correspond to characters of Greek and Latin origin who lived between the 1st and 3rd centuries and who were executed during the great persecutions of the Roman emperors, which is why we find so many names formed by Greek roots or Latinas that today sound very strange to us and that, nevertheless, were commonly worn by our grandparents. If we look at the Catholic saints of July 12,
we meet Clemente, Felix, Fortunato, Hermágoras, Hilarión, Paterniano, Proclo or Vivenciolo, so let’s imagine our grandfather or grandmother being baptized that day and their parents having to choose », explains Roberto Faure, author of the ‘Dictionary of proper names’ (Espasa).
From Robustiano to Daenerys
Since 1977 there is no longer any reason to conform to the saints. That has brought us, for example, 169 girls named Daenerys, born after the success of ‘Game of Thrones’. But the passing fashions is not a new thing, far from it: “That a name becomes fashionable is essentially due to the fact that it has been worn by a famous person of the moment – points out Faure -. In the Middle Ages, names became fashionable for being of highly revered saints or of knights, heroes, kings and famous people: for example,
Rodrigo became fashionable in the 12th century for the ‘Cantar de Mío Cid’. In the 16th century it happened with Carlos, by Emperor Carlos V, and in the 70s the Juan Carlos by Juan Carlos I proliferated. Today, the phenomenon has not changed and names are popularized by famous actors, singers, models, television characters or athletes.
The onomastics expert adds that these changes in trend allow us to date the decade of birth of those who bear certain names quite accurately: «Raquel became very popular in Spain in the 60s and 70s by the actress Raquel Welch,
Pamela’s proliferated in the 80’s due to the character of Pamela Ewing in the series ‘Dallas’, the Tamara also spread in the 80s for the daughter of Isabel Preysler and the Vanessa for the daughter of Manolo Escobar and for the song that he dedicated to her. We can also be almost sure that in Spain the Jessica, the Jennifer, the Kevin or the Christian were born in the 80s. And, on the contrary, most of the people who are called Telesforo, Robustiano or Desiderio are around 80 years old » .
It seems unlikely that it will happen with Telesforo or Filomena, but there are also names that somehow ‘resurrect’. In some cases, this regained popularity is due to profound changes in society. A good example is
Anastasia, which shows two peaks separated by a very deep valley: There are 770 Anastasias born in the 30s, there are only 289 from the 60s and 281 from the 70s, but again it amounts to 796 in the first decade of this century, largely driven by immigration from countries like Russia, Ukraine or Moldova, in which it is tremendously common. Other times, the spring that drives a name is the same one that sank it, the whim of fashions. An emblematic case is that of Martina, which for years was typical of older ladies (it was one of those that in the villages used to say with the article in front of it) but this century has become one of the most popular among girls:
“To find out why, you just have to look for the famous people of the moment who may be behind”, says Faure, who cites examples such as the model, actress and presenter Martina Klein or the actress Martina Cariddi. Surely a young and successful Magpie would suffice for us to see his name in a more flattering light.
“Today the repertoire is much broader”
Among students of onomastics, two opposing tendencies are usually detected. One has some nostalgia for those formidable baptisms of other times: the late lexicographer Josep María Albaigés, for example, advocated “making the Mainario, Edelberto, Esdras, Teófanes and many others sound again.” The other position, in which Roberto Faure stands, emphasizes that we are dealing with a phenomenon that has always occurred: «The repertoire, sources of inspiration, trends and tastes simply change – he argues -. And, in fact, one cannot speak of impoverishment with respect to the past, but quite the opposite, since the repertoire is much broader. Without the restrictions of yesteryear, parents can continue to use the ‘traditional’ names of the Catholic saints and the ‘Spanish heritage’, or they can use the ‘vernacular’ names of the different cultures of Spain, such as Galician, Canarian, Catalan, Basque or Aragonese, or they can choose the names of historical, literary, cinematographic characters, of other cultures and languages … Cultural permeability is increasing every day ».