Sox help Boston literally make a name for itself
One-year-old Boston Hill walks down the street -- with a little help -- in Indianapolis. (Photo by Charlie Nye/Getty Images for The Boston Globe)
For his firstborn son, George Hill IV wanted the perfect name to capture the family's colorful legacy: His great-grandfather George was a banker who handled finances for the Red Sox. George Jr. witnessed Ted Williams's final game. And George III, who officiated at Keith Lockhart's second wedding, gave the conductor his first Red Sox jacket.
So Hill and his wife, who now live in Indiana, opted for a name that embodied the spirit of the George Hills - not "George V" but "Boston."
"It's definitely about bringing him into something bigger," Hill said of his chubby-cheeked son, now 1. "We're saying, 'Hey, this family, the Hill family, are diehard Sox fans.' "
Since the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, more and more families across the country are birthing their boys into Red Sox Nation with the name Boston. In 2004, for the first time in a century, Boston appeared on the government's list of the 1,000 most popular names. Rallying from virtual obscurity to 626th place, the name has made a comeback, spawning a modest bumper crop of baby "Bostons." According to the Social Security Administration, 856 boys named Boston were born in 2004, 2005, and 2006.
Though its newfound popularity cannot be definitively traced to the Sox's momentous win - some parents may simply like the sound of "Boston" - the link seems highly plausible. Take the name Damon in Massachusetts. After the Sox won the Series, center fielder Johnny Damon's surname jumped in popularity by 44 percent in Massachusetts; after he joined the Yankees, the name snapped back to its pre-Series level.
"What people name their kids is an expression of their personality and values," said Cleveland Evans, associate psychology professor at Bellevue University in Nebraska and former president of the American Name Society.
For families like the Hills, the World Series was a miracle moment to be passed down like dogma. George Hill IV attended Game 4 with his father (who in turn called his 88-year-old father from the stands) and hopes to share the experience again someday with Boston. Having heard Sox games from the womb, little Boston Hill seems to share their fervor already.
"When he's fussy at night, we'll turn on the game and sit him down," said his mother, Mindy. "He seems to recognize Jerry [Remy] and Don's [Orsillo] voices."
Despite its prevalent affiliation with the team, the name Boston actually dates as far back as colonial times, when it was more likely to be a negative.
"Names from places was just not something people did then," said Evans. "They were more likely for slaves who were unfortunately named with the same attitude people had with pets." (As a name for people, Boston does indeed come directly from the city, which itself was named for Boston, England.)
By the 19th century, the name had gained minor currency in mainstream America, and it made its last appearance before the current upswing on the top 1,000 list in 1901 - coincidentally the year the Red Sox were formed (then called the "Bostons" or "Boston Americans").
Today, Boston is part of a city-names trend popularized by celebrities like David and Victoria Beckham, who dubbed their son Brooklyn.
Matt and Raynie Hawes of Phoenix named their son Boston as part of a plan to name all their children after cities. Plus, it had that indefinable something.
"We named him Boston because Boston sounds boyish to us," said Raynie, a Red Sox fan by marriage.
Paradoxically, the new baby Bostons aren't likely to be found anywhere near their eponymous city. Parents are less apt to use the name of a nearby location because the associations are too complex, said Evans. Wisconsin has the fewest Madisons, for example.
Greg Jolley of Salt Lake City admits his reasons for naming his son Boston with a tinge of sheepishness. "For me, it was a combined thing. I liked the name Boston, and I liked the Red Sox," said Jolley, who has never visited Boston. "I just don't want him growing up saying my dad is such a sports fanatic he names his kids after teams he follows."
His wife, Lisa, finds it endearing. "It'll be a good father-son bonding thing when a game's on," said Lisa, who's already hunting down Sox gear too big for 1-month-old Boston. "Unless the team gets really bad, and he's embarrassed."
Experts predict there will only be more baby Bostons: With the Sox making it to the playoffs four of the last five years, the name will probably only gain in popularity.
Plus, Evans said, names ending in "n" - such as Camden, Ethan, and Jayden - and popular right now.
Damian Bradicich and Nicole Fjeld, of Penacook, N.H., have their eyes on the future, too. With their Boston precociously rolling onto his side at 10 weeks, his father imagines him of Red Sox caliber.
"He's a tough little guy; I picture him as the Jason Varitek type," Damian said. And he's already thinking about their next child, potentially a new trend in the making:
"If we have a girl, we're thinking of naming her Fenway."