beatrice_otter: Captain America (Captain America)
[personal profile] beatrice_otter posting in [community profile] cap_chronism
I have a problem with always-a-girl genderswap AUs of Captain America.  Not because I dislike genderswap--in fact, I love a good genderswap.  Because of the name.  I know the genderswap convention is to just feminize the name (Tony becomes Toni, Steven becomes Stephanie, James becomes Jamie, etc.).  And there's a reason to do it that way; it's immediately obvious who the character is a genderswap of.

But the thing is, when people name babies, they don't have one name and then choose the female form or male form when they find out if it's a boy or a girl.  With some names, such as Anthony (Tony) vs. Antonia (Toni), they're both relatively popular names, and at that point I don't mind it.  But for Steven/Stephanie, well, let's take a look at some hard numbers, shall we?

I get my numbers from SSA.gov, which has name frequency rates for the top thousand names since 1896 available on its website.  Pulling up "Top Names of the 1910s," which includes Steve Rogers' year of birth, we find that Steve is 116 on the list, with 9,639 boys born in that decade named Steve.  Not the most common name, but not terribly unusual, either.  (James, by the way, was number three, with 275,079 boys in that decade named James, which may be why he went by "Bucky" instead.)  If we go over to the girl's side of the list, the name in the 116th slot is "Cora."  "Stephen" (spelled differently, but basically the same name) is 89 on the list, with 13,502 boys in that decade born with the name of Stephen.  (The corresponding girls' name is "Ellen").  If we take Steve and Stephen as basically the same name and add the numbers of boys with those names together, we get 23,141, which would put us up in the mid-50s on the list, between Chester and Herman (corresponding girls' names being Bessie and Pearl).

Where is Stephanie on this list of common American names in the decade of Steve's birth? It's not even on the list.  See, the bottom names on the list are the 200th most common names, and those are Bert and Lela, respectively.  Where was Stephanie?  Well, if we pull up the popularity of the name "Stephanie" from the same site, (here's the search page but I can't find a way to link the specific search) we find out that in 1918, Stephanie was the 333rd most popular girls' name.  In that decade, it varied between 423 and 302--hardly a name one would expect to see very often.  In the mid-40s, it began creeping up, until from 1960-2007 it was always higher-up than 100 on the list.  (It peaked from 84-87, when it hovered at 6th most popular name.)  People my age are named Stephanie, not people my grandparents age.

Now we should consider Steve's family background (after all, in his day, children were a lot more likely to be named unusual names if they were family/ethnic names.  It's not like today where couples get baby name books looking for exotic names they like.  There had to be a reason to name a child something unusual).  Well, Steve was a working-class Irish Catholic.  Stephanie is not a working-class Irish Catholic name.  The only reason I can think of for an Irish Catholic working-class family in 1918 naming their daughter "Stephanie" is if they were naming her after St. Stephen, but usually you do that if the child was born or baptized on the feast day of that saint, and St. Stephen's feast-day is December 26th.  And he's the patron saint of martyrs and stone-masons, so not necessarily the guy you'd choose to set up as the patron saint of your baby girl.  If Steve's father were named Steve, I can see "Stephanie" in honor of him after his death, but his name was Joseph.

So what can we call always-a-girl!Steve that would be more period appropriate than Stephanie?  Well, you could go with Cora, Ellen, Bessie, or Pearl (which were as popular as the variations of "Steve"), or you could go with something that sounds similar and is on the list of popular names.  Stella, for example, is at #64 out of 200 on the "Popular Names of the 1910s" page, and Estelle is at #125.  Those sound similar to Steve's name so it would be easy for the audience to remember, and they are actual period names that she might realistically have been called.

(Crossposted from my journal)

Date: 2014-05-06 11:43 pm (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
I always wish more writers would use resources that give popular neams by birth year - and not just fanwriters either; I've noticed a deplorable tendency for TV show characters to have names popular the year the show was written, not the year they were born. It can lead to some weird anachronisms for people who've learned to notice that kind of thing, even for stories set in the present. You can even see that with Cap - Steven/Stephen is a relatively uncommon name around 1918, but starts a long climb in popularity just about the time Steve Rogers the character was created. (I use Name Voyager for American names 'cause it's fun to play around with, but the social security site works too.)

And Stella is also the name I would use for always-a-girl Cap! The popularity is about the same, the names are similar enough soundwise, and as a bonus, the meaning of the name even references the star on the shield.

Date: 2014-05-15 05:47 pm (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
Oh, yeah, I didn't mean that Stephen was *terribly* anachronistic! But it's not a name I associate strongly with Steve's generation - the oldest Steves I know, especially going by "Steve" rather than "Steven", are people who would have been born around WWII. (Whereas "Howard", for example, is exactly right.) But the people who created Steve Rogers didn't have internet resources so they have a better excuse. :P

Date: 2014-05-07 07:39 pm (UTC)
dirty_diana: Hawkeye and Black Widow in Avengers film (clintasha)
From: [personal profile] dirty_diana
Interesting! I'm still trying to decide where I stand on this, since I'd never really thought about it in these terms before. Though it does clarify for me why I'm never quite convinced by the idea of a lady named Bryce Banner, lol.

On the other hand - how not-rare does a name have to be in a character's birth year to not distract you from the fic? (This is a genuine thing I'm curious about, not a rhetorical gotcha, ps.) Is there a minimum ranking you wish authors would be aiming for?

Stephanie was rare in 1918, but it wasn't literally unheard of. I'm working on a genderswap for an Avengers character with no female analog for their name, and the name I've been going with so far isn't significantly more popular in that character's approximate birth year than Stephanie in Steve's. But again, not literally unheard of, or even at a number in the single digits like girl!Bryce pre-1980. Also, my character's name was probably being perceived as old-fashioned at the time, rather than being a name that had never really had any kind of popularity - so does that make a difference in the perception of period anachronism? I'm wondering about these types of (mitigating?) details. Stephanie was significantly rising in popularity around the years of Steve's birth, so people were hearing of it somehow.

I'm also wondering if it's like mpreg or souldbonding, where that's just the trope and that's that. :)

(still avoiding spoilers for Winter Soldier tbh, but risking diving in bc I find the topic interesting.)

Date: 2014-05-08 06:54 pm (UTC)
dirty_diana: colored pencils sit in an empty latte cup. (Default)
From: [personal profile] dirty_diana
I think a lot of why "Stephanie" bothers me is because it was very popular later. Like, in the 80s, as I pointed out, it was very popular. So I associate it with that decade.

Ah. I can think of names that I definitely associate with newer trends, like Heather or Taylor or Ashley, but I guess Stephanie doesn't happen to be on the list. And I'm in the right cohort, but I just can't think of any from school/etc. Fluke? Regionalism? Hmmn.

Honestly, I wouldn't look at the overall popularity of a name in the US as the first criteria. I would go, "Okay, what is a name that would make sense that the character's parents would name a child in that time and place and with that cultural background?" and go from there.

Logical, and I like the Bridget example. Though I guess I was searching for a solution that would be slightly easier for an author who wasn't a US history buff to implement. Research is fun for some of us, but it's not universally loved. :)

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