Luca and Nathan are the favourite names for Swiss baby boys, with Lara ranking high once again in all four national language regions.This content was published on August 10, 2010 - 08:02
Pop culture continues to be a big influence on Swiss parents, according to the First name hit parade 2007-2009, published by the Federal Statistics Office on Monday.
Last year 78,286 births were registered – just under one every seven minutes – up from 76,691 the year before.
Of these, 40,407 were male and 37,879 female. This works out at a sex ratio of 106 boys to 100 girls, which corresponds to the international average.
In German-speaking Switzerland, Luca – “bringer of light” – finally did it. Two years ago he was in third position, last year in second – this year he beat off Leon and Nico to take the top spot. Tim, whom he dethroned, plummeted to sixth.
Among the ladies, Lara – “cheerful one” – kept Laura and Mia at a chubby arm’s length.
The girls' top ten was rounded off by Leonie, Sara, Lea, Lena, Anna, Julia and Nina. Swiss parents are obviously taking the advice of US comedian Bill Cosby: “Always end the name of your child with a vowel so that when you yell, the name will carry.”
In French-speaking Switzerland there was no change at the top for either sex. Emma saw off Lara and Chloé, with Nathan followed by Luca and Noah.
In the Italian-speaking part of the country Leonardo, Matteo, Giulia and Sofia were most popular.
The small number of births among Switzerland's 35,000 Romansh speakers results in large fluctuations, with 2009 seeing a four-way tie at the top: three Leandros, Livios, Nandos and Nicos appeared on the scene. Lara was the most popular girl’s name.
The sustained and widespread popularity of Lara – not to be confused with Sara, Mara or Yara, who also feature in the list – could well be down to the success of Lara Gut, Switzerland’s photogenic young alpine skier who exploded onto the scene in 2007 and won two silver medals at the 2009 World Championships.
Sport could also explain the biggest male climber: Lionel. World Footballer of the Year in 2009 was Lionel Messi, the Argentinian who plays for Barcelona. Either that or Lionel Richie is enjoying a low-profile Swiss comeback.
The beautiful game could be responsible for the rise of Diego from 40th to 26th. Ottmar Hitzfeld, who became Switzerland’s coach last year, has yet to see his name in the baby lists.
"Pop culture definitely plays a role," Marcel Heiniger from the demographics section of the Federal Statistics Office told swissinfo.ch.
"Another example from a couple of years ago was the girl's name Fiona – after a former Miss Switzerland – which suddenly appeared in the top ten."
This year however Fiona dropped from 20th to 25th, possibly as her name is associated less with a former beauty queen and more with the ogress in the Shrek films.
Heiniger said celebrity babies or characters in films often played a role, giving the example of Kevin, which was one of the top names in Switzerland in the 1990s and also Macaulay Culkin’s character in the Home Alone films.
Kevin has now had his day and in 2009 fell off the chart. As British-Indian writer Salman Rushdie once put it: “Names, once they are in common use, quickly become mere sounds, their etymology being buried, like so many of the earth's marvels, beneath the dust of habit.”
But baby names is obviously not an exact science, and swissinfo.ch’s prediction last year that Michael Jackson’s death would trigger a wave of Michaels moonwalking around Swiss nurseries didn’t materialise: neither Michael, Mike, Micky – or indeed Jackson – appeared in the top 50.
Nor did Myla or Charlene, the one-year-old twin daughters of tennis star Roger Federer. Indeed, one counterexample to the sport-as-influence argument is “Roger”, which is still nowhere to be seen.
Heiniger said there was a tendency away from “long, older names such as Hans-Peter and Elisabeth towards shorter international names of three or four letters like Lara and Anna that are being used all over the world”.
Whether that’s because shorter names are easier to SMS remains to be seen, but while Mohamed has become the most popular boy's name in other parts of Europe, Heiniger says immigration doesn't appear to be a large influence on names in Switzerland.
“If you look at the number of children being born in Switzerland, the large majority are still Swiss and that’s why Mohamed will never crack the top 50.
"But obviously that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We do have a lot of foreign names, but there’s a wide variety – names that appear only once or twice because they might be a Tamil name for example.”
Swiss parents have traditionally opted for relatively traditional, often biblical names.
One of the reasons why they didn't in the past go for unusual names was that they couldn't: local registry offices would veto any names deemed inappropriate. Objects are banned, although flowers are allowed.
In one relatively high-profile case a decade or so ago, Christine Lauterburg, a famous-within-Switzerland musician, was told she couldn't call her daughter "Lexikon".
Nowadays however all local registries agree with the line taken by Zurich's civil registrar that "parents are basically free to choose their child's name as long as it is not likely to damage the interests of the child".
What would the Swiss authorities make of chef Jamie Oliver? The British celebrity has millions of fans when it comes to preparing a roast, but fortunately fewer people follow his choice of baby names. A brother or sister is due next month for his three daughters Poppy Honey, Daisy Boo and Petal Blossom.
Thomas Stephens, swissinfo.ch
The Federal Statistics Office has been publishing a list of the most popular names in Switzerland since 1987.
The figures are based on data provided by the official register offices in the 26 cantons.
In 2009, 78,286 births were registered: 37,879 girls and 40,407 boys.
Of Switzerland's 7.8 million inhabitants, 63.7% speak German, 20.3% French, 6.5% Italian and 0.5% Romansh.
Lara and Luca were the most popular names in the German-speaking part of Switzerland in 2009.
Emma and Nathan were top of the list in the French-speaking region.
Giulia and Leonardo were top in the Italian-speaking regions.
What's in a name?
In June 2009 a campaign was launched by a cantonal organisation for people in Switzerland with a migration background. They want people to be able to change their name without any problem as part of the naturalisation process.
Studies show it's harder finding somewhere to live in Switzerland if you have a foreign name – especially one from the Balkans. The same is often the case when applying for a job.
In the United States officially changing one's name is simple; in Switzerland it is anything but.
First of all there must be "important reasons", according to the civil code (article 30). What counts as important is decided by the relevant cantonal government.
The Federal Court adds that you can't change your name to cover your tracks, but "ridiculous, ugly or offensive names" or those "which are always being mangled" have a good chance.
The fear of not being able to make any progress because of your name is not considered a satisfactory reason.
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