Jewish World Review Nov. 9, 1999 /28 Mar-Cheshvan 5760
Today he would
probably be called Kyle
WHITEHALL, Ohio --- We were driving past the
place where Ralph used to work.
"When was the last time you thought about that?"
my oldest friend said.
"The place?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Forget about the place," I said. "When was the last
Ralph you met?"
This was the other night. He and I have each passed
Ralph's old place a million times in our lives, but
most of those times were when we were kids, in the
1950s. By then, Ralph himself was probably 50 or 60
The place is something else now, and Ralph is long
gone. Which happens -- places of business change,
their proprietors retire and eventually die.
But Ralph itself -- the name, not the person. . . .
Well, Ralph appears to be in a decline from which
there may be no coming back.
Ralph was a fine name for American males -- solid,
no-nonsense, workmanlike, clear-eyed. There was
no name more earnest than Ralph -- except, of
Ralphs owned groceries, edited national magazines,
were famous photographers and heads of local
chambers of commerce -- Ralph, the name, was
right up there in the middle of the mainstream, as
ubiquitous as Main Street.
Yet it seems to have all but disappeared. You run
into any baby Ralphs lately? Didn't think so.
Because I apparently don't have anything better to
do with my spare time, I got hold of some lists of the
most popular names for males -- lists that are usually
put together from registrations of baby boys.
In the last several years, the No. 1 most popular
name for boys has been Michael. Others currently
favorite boy names include Jacob, Matthew, Joshua,
Christopher, Brandon, Tyler, Zachary, Ryan, Kevin.
. . .
But in the current top 100 names for boys, Ralph is
nowhere to be found. Not even bringing up the rear.
Ralph just isn't there.
Would you like to know some of the names that are
there? That are currently in greater favor than
Dylan. Tristan. Kyle. Adrian. Dakota. Cole. Blake.
That's correct -- even Dakota has supplanted Ralph
as a favored first name for American males.
I tracked down some similar lists that were compiled
In the 1930s and 1940s, or so it seems, Ralph was
doing quite well. During both of those decades,
according to two of the lists I was able to find, Ralph
held steady at No. 26.
(Quick -- if Ralph was No. 26 in the '30s and '40s,
what was just above it and just below it? What was
most-popular name No. 25 and No. 27?)
So why has this happened -- why has Ralph, a
respected and respectable name for so long, flown
away into the winds of social history?
I have my own theory.
Television -- which can sell people anything -- has
great power in influencing parents when they choose
names for their children. There are Vannas who
never would have been Vannas had their moms not
watched "Wheel of Fortune," and one hesitates even
to contemplate all the Felicitys who will soon enough
begin enrolling in preschools. And while Michael
tops the list of names for current-day boys, Jordan is
also a popular first name. Much more so than Ralph.
But television can also persuade people not to
imitate it. And my theory is that when "The
Honeymooners" became a hit during the early years
of television, it was curtains for Ralph. What young
American parents-to-be, watching Jackie Gleason's
Ralph Kramden character lumbering around that tiny
apartment, yelling at Alice and berating Ed Norton,
would think: "We really should name our darling new
little boy after that loud, angry, round fellow who's
screaming about sending someone straight to the
Evidently not very many. It was during the 1950s
that Ralph fell off the list of popular names for
males, never to return. Blame it on what you will --
but the answer seems fairly clear: Ralph Kramden
blew the whole deal.
(The No. 25 most-popular name for boys in the '30s
and '40s: Henry. The No. 27 most popular: Harry.
Sort of makes sense, doesn't it? Henry, Ralph and
Harry, together. Three great
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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