B is for Beth (And Barack! And Bandana!)S

Today in "The Name Game," we focus on a name we think is all about sweetness and light: Beth.

Of course, the selection process for this week's name was a complicated one. Despite its reported popularity around election time, Barack failed to make the 2008 ranking of the top 1,000 baby names. We could have examined this news further, but we're currently biased towards female names. Even with this restriction, though, there were a lot of choices. A look at BabyNames.com reveals Bandana, Betelgeuse (say it three times and see what you get), and Beagan (is that Meagan with a B?). But ultimately, we decided to go with an old favorite.

Beth as a stand-alone name has declined in popularity from a peak in 1960, and it didn't make the top 1,000 in 2008. A variant on Elizabeth or Bethany, it doesn't always get a lot of respect on its own. It doesn't seem to have its own Wikipedia page, and a user on The Baby Name Wizard says, "Everyone assumes my real name is Elizabeth or Bethany, I don't mind." Which is just like a Beth!

Of all of the ways to shorten Elizabeth, Beth sounds the sweetest and the softest. It eliminates the 'z' that makes Lizzie sound sassy and Liz sound sharp, and it doesn't have the old-fashioned spark of Betty (which always make think of Betties Boop and Grable before I think of Cooper). And of course there's Beth from Little Women, the shy, saintly sister who dies of scarlet fever. All in all, Beth just sounds nice — the kind of unassuming girl who'd give you her fruit rollup if you forgot your lunch, or hold your hair while you vomit, and never ask for credit.

Celebrity Beths don't necessarily bear these assumptions out. Beth Ditto's far from unassuming, although according to Michelle Tea she is pretty nice. And model Beth Ostrosky either had to be super-sweet or not sweet at all to marry Howard Stern. Singer Beth Orton doesn't really seem to fit the profile either — or, frankly, any profile. So, maybe our image of the nice, quiet Beth is little simplistic. Beths and Beth-allies, what do you think? Feel free to chime in loudly and angrily.

Few Baby Baracks, But Emmas Abound [NYT]
Beth [The Baby Name Wizards]

Earlier: A Is For Anna: What My First Name Says About Me