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A Matter of Taste: How Names, Fashions, and Culture Change Hardcover – August 11, 2000

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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From Library Journal

Social scientists have long been interested in the question of how notions of taste and fashion change over time. Do aesthetic judgments reflect external forces such as state policies, class stratification, or commercial advertising, or are these judgments informed by largely subjective factors that are difficult to pin down in scientific terms? Lieberson (sociology, Harvard) has written a subtle and technically sophisticated analysis of changes in taste by examining the cultural patterns influencing the first names given to children in the past two centuries. As Lieberson notes, "compared with fashions in clothing, cars, and sodas, the naming process can be studied without worrying about the effect of organizations dedicated to influencing these tastes." While he acknowledges the impact of external forces on name selection (the emergence of popular movie stars, for example), he emphasizes the importance of "internal taste mechanisms" that shape fashion "even when external conditions are fixed." This carefully reasoned study should be of interest to sociologists, historians, and students of cultural studies. Recommended for academic libraries.DKent Worcester, Marymount Manhattan Coll., New York
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Stanley Lieberson is Abbott Lawrence Lowell Professor of Sociology at Harvard University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 350 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (August 11, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300083858
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300083859
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,197,001 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
A MATTER OF TASTE is a powerful contribution to our understanding of the factors underlying the popularity of first names. Lieberson has brought together a wealth of ideas, concepts, and principles to the analysis of social change. He has used empirical data from the research on names to do this. The data come from several locales including various parts of the United States, England and Wales, Scotland, Denmark and France. Extensive attention paid to the media influence (or lack of) on the popularity of names. For anyone interested in first names this is a valuable background source to understanding their importance.
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Format: Hardcover
Lieberson has written a scholarly, witty, and extremely informative book about the factors influencing parents' choices of first names for their children. Using data from 7 countries plus the states of Illinois and California, he shows that "fashion" affects children's names just as much as it does choices in clothing or music. Names became objects of fashion several centuries ago in the West, when, among other influences, state regulations and religious customs loosened their hold over what names parents could choose. With the changes concomitant upon nations entering the modern era, name choices subsequently became more matters of individual preference rather than custom and tradition. However, parents made their choices within the context of changing tastes driven by forces "internal" to the naming process itself, rather than being "determined" by external technological or mass media forces.
The sounds of names themselves display explicable trends, such as the preference for names ending in "a" or "n." Groups of names with similar endings rise and fall together, in fairly orderly, long-term movements.
Lieberson does a brilliant job in presenting evidence, using simple graphs and tables, rather than elaborate quantitative statistical analysis. His chapter on trends in name choices among ethnic and racial groups is particularly compelling, as he shows the joint affects of internal mechanisms (e.g. how names "sound") and external influences (e.g. a group's desire to assimilate quickly).
Want to know why your parents named you "Judy" rather than "Judith"? This book has the answer!
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Seven years ago, my wife and I thought we were going to be clever and original if we named our daughter "Hannah". We didn't know any Hannahs in our generation. But now it seems every other family had a "Hannah" in the 1990s. After reading Lieberson's book, I understand that we got swept up in one of the many waves of name-fashions that he so ably chronicles.
This is an entertaining book, remarkably so considering the author's intention which was to write a serious work of academic deep-think. So there's a great deal of sociologist talk, which is decidedly not entertaining. But, just as the cartoons redeem even the worst issues of the _New Yorker_ , this book is worth getting just for the many statistical charts. You can follow the spectacular career of "Jennifer", the ups and downs of Biblical names, learn about names and social class, and so on.
Finally, I recommend this book to economists who are interested in fads and herd behavior.
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