Recording and Saving the Memories of a Nation: StoryCorps Lets People Hear Real Life in America




Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week:

We answer a question about how Americans name their children ...

Play some music from singer Soraya ...

And report about a project that is recording the stories of many Americans.



The StoryCorps project is helping to record and keep the personal stories of everyday Americans. Mario Ritter tells us more about this digital recording experiment that shows how listening can be an act of love.

Mario Ritter:

A radio producer named Dave Isay developed the StoryCorps project in two thousand three. He wanted to create a way for Americans to record and keep the stories of their friends and families. He saw that recording interviews between loved ones could produce rich experiences. Mister Isay wanted to be able to protect these important memories and teach people the importance of listening closely.

StoryCorps started in New York City three years ago in a small recording studio in Grand Central train terminal. At a set time, people visit the recording studio. With the help of a StoryCorps professional, they ask each other questions. They record stories about their lives and experiences or those of family members. Afterwards, they can keep a copy of the interview. StoryCorps sends another copy to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. where the recordings are safely preserved. The recordings are also posted on the StoryCorps Web site.

StoryCorps has become very popular. It opened another small recording studio in New York City and started visiting other cities. Last month, it celebrated the one-year anniversary of its two movable recording studios. These studios are built inside trailers that attach to cars so they can travel around the country. The trailers started their road trip from the Library of Congress. They stayed for several weeks in each place. One trailer traveled to western cities. The other trailer traveled to eastern cities and has now returned to Washington.

So far, StoryCorps has helped people capture more than seven thousand stories. They are stories about love, death, friendship and family. These stories represent a rich spoken history of Americans from many races, ages, and backgrounds. To listen to these recordings on the Internet, visit And remember to listen closely.

Naming Children


Our VOA listener question this week comes from China. Liu Jia Hai asks if there are any rules about how Americans name their children.

American parents generally can choose any name they want for their children. They may choose a name because it honors a family member. Or they may choose a name just because they like it.

A Web site called Baby Center lists some unusual names given to American babies born last year. Some were named for characters in old stories, such as Hero, Thor and Ulysses. Other people named their babies after kinds of food, like actress Gwyneth Paltrow did in two thousand four. She named her daughter Apple. Other people named their babies Banana, Pumpkin and Cookie.

Still other babies born last year were named for places. These include Brazil, India and Rome. Some parents used names of famous people from history such as Newton and Hannibal. Other parents named their babies after flowers or the weather. These babies were named Buttercup, Iris, Sunshine and Thunder.

Recording artists and movie actors influence some parents' choices of names. Babies were named Beyonce, Charlize, Reba, Pierce, Shakira and Whitney. Movie actors themselves often give their babies unusual names. For example, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt recently named their baby daughter Shiloh. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes named their little girl Suri.

Some American parents do not want unusual names. They want their baby's name to honor their religious faith. Such names include Abraham for boys or Sarah for girls. And many people give their babies the same name as a family member or good friend.

The United States Social Security Administration published a list of the most popular names for American girls and boys born last year. Many of the top ten boys names are from the Jewish and Christian Bibles. They are Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew and Ethan. Also Andrew, Daniel, Anthony, Christopher and Joseph. The top ten girls names are Emily, Emma, Madison, Abigail and Olivia. Also, Isabella, Hannah, Samantha, Ava and Ashley.



Hundreds of thousands of women develop breast cancer each year. Latina musician Soraya was among those women who bravely battle the disease. However, last month, her fight ended.

But her story, and her work to educate women about breast cancer, will help others for years to come. Barbara Klein remembers the singer and songwriter's life and plays some of her music.

Barbara Klein:

Soraya Lamilla was born in the state of New Jersey in nineteen sixty-nine. Her parents had come to the United States from Colombia.

Soraya discovered her interest in music early in life. She began studying guitar when she was five. She was playing the violin at age eight.

Her family traveled often between Colombia and the United States. Soraya's music was a mix of those cultures. In fact, she released both Spanish and English versions of her first two albums.

Listen to the title song from her first album "En Esta Noche." She wrote it to honor her mother who died of breast cancer. The disease also killed her grandmother and aunt.

(MUSIC: "En Esta Noche")

Soraya discovered her breast cancer during a self-examination six years ago. She began treatment and was cancer free for several years. She spent much of that time spreading the message of the importance of breast examination and treatment.

She also kept making music, much of it about hope. Like this song, "Casi," or in English, "Almost."


Soraya won a Latin Grammy and other awards during her short career. Her last album, "El Otro Lado Di Mi," was nominated for a Grammy. We leave you with a song from that recording. Here is "Como Seria."



I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.This show was written by Dana Demange, Nancy Steinbach and Caty Weaver who was the producer.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio agazine in Special English.