For parents-to-be the world over, choosing a name for a new child can be a fun but daunting task.
Names can tell a lot about a family's past, its cultural heritage, or its aspirations for a newborn. And names can say a lot about television and the economy.
Giving children traditional Irish names was long a way to stress a separate national identity under British rule.
But when the country's national statistics agency recently produced its first analysis of the 100 most popular baby names, it found the No. 1 for newborn girls last year was "Chloe."
The name, of Greek origin, means "blooming." Its current popularity in Ireland, however, is due to a character in an Australian-produced soap opera, "Home and Away."
Of 12 babies born during a recent weekend in Dublin's main maternity hospital, four were called "Chloe."
No. 7 on the boys' list, Dylan, may be due to the popularity of the American TV series "Beverly Hills 90210."
Examining the names list, genealogist Fiona (51st in girls' top 100) Hyland found that less than half of the top 100 are actually of Irish origin. Down the list are traditional favorites like Seamus, Donal, Cillian, and Ciaran for boys, and Sorcha, Elaine, and Grainne for girls. And while nearly every family once had either a Patrick or a Bridget, for Ireland's two patron saints, in 1998, Patrick ranked only 17th for boys and Brigid didn't even make the list.
The average size of Irish families has been falling over the past generation, from eight or nine children 30 years ago to two last year. While they are having fewer children, Irish parents are choosing from a wider selection of names for them.
According to Prof. John (13th in the boys' top 100) Brewer, head of the School of Sociology and Social Policy at Queen's University in Belfast, the list of names fits "with what we know about Irish society: the growing secularization, growing urbanization, and increased confidence in identity."
This newfound cultural security may be rooted in the recent strong performance of Ireland's economy after years of stagnation, high unemployment, and emigration. This year will mark the fourth consecutive year of double-digit economic growth.
The turnaround is attributed to a combination of generosity by Ireland's partners in the European Union and fiscal responsibility in Dublin. In this more confident environment, parents seem less constrained by the name choices of the past.
Apart from Chloe, the other top five for girls were Ciara, Sarah, Aoife, and Emma. For boys, the top five names were Conor, Sean, Jack, James, and Adam.
Sociologist Brewer argues that "because people have more confidence in their ethnic identity, there is not the same need to express it in an Irish name."
There are exceptions: Ciara (pronounced KEY-ara), the name of a lesser-known 7th-century saint, has grown in popularity. And the Irish are reaching further back in history. The top boys' name, Conor, comes from the Gaelic for "desire" and recalls a mythical warrior king.
The sixth most popular girls name, Niamh (Pronounced NEEV) is found in a story about a goddess who lived in a magical place called Tir na nOg, where everyone stays young forever. Just above Niamh in the popularity list is Aoife (pronounced EE-fa), the name of a queen from an ancient Irish kingdom.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society