How to Name a Baby

The first time a friend of mine had a child, it was intensely jarring.

I’d be living my normal day, and then the thought would hit me—”Matt has a son”—and my whole world would get turned upside down.
Three years and six friend babies later, I’m 32 and have numbed to the whole thing considerably. It’s still weird. But not jarring.
This new phenomenon in my life has introduced several new experiences—things like “having your feelings hurt and losing self-confidence because your friend’s toddler doesn’t like you” and “learning that talking about the baby as a ‘toy’ or a ‘pod’ and commenting on ‘it not having a brain yet’ is less funny to the baby’s parents than it is to you.” But perhaps the most frequent new experience is finding myself in discussions about baby names, both in the form of talking to the impending parents and pressuring them to reveal the candidates, and talking to other friends about the eventual name choices behind the new parents’ back.
(Note: definitely best to keep the name candidates a secret until after the baby’s born—no name will please everyone and other peoples’ opinions really shouldn’t be part of the process for something so personal. And when you announce the name after the baby is born, everyone has to pretend they like it to your face no matter what they think, so you’ll end up feeling like everyone likes it.)
You’d assume that thinking about baby names is a new thing in my life, but I’ve actually had a lifelong fascination with the topic.
My curiosity rose to a whole new level the day I discovered an amazing website called The Baby Name Wizard, and especially their Voyager tool, which lets you plug in a few letters or a whole name and see a visual depiction of its corresponding popularity trends over time. The Voyager is delicious and rents permanent space in my Dark Playground. (Of course, as soon as it was the topic of this post, putting Voyager play time in the Dark Woods for the first time ever, the monkey suddenly wanted to do other things and kept clicking away from the page. But that’s a whole other topic.)
So, for all these reasons, it seemed like the right time for a post about names, trends, and the things expecting parents need to think about as they make this decision.
After many hours on The Baby Name Wizard (and the government’s official name database), here are my thoughts (focusing on the US unless otherwise stated)—
Parents choosing a name have a few options:

1) Go Timeless

Examples: John, James, William, David, Mary, Sarah, Elizabeth
Benefits: You won’t embarrass yourself; You won’t pigeonhole the kid in any way, including generationally; It’s classy; There’s something cool about a common bond with centuries of previous humans
Drawbacks: It’s kind of boring.
These names are often biblical, or sometimes those of famous royalty, and they’re bigger than any one generation—William is not a typical old man’s name or young guy’s name—it’s just William. And they’re always popular.
But they’re less popular than they used to be. The Top 10 boys names in the 1880′s share six members with the Top 10 boys names in the 1950′s: John, William, James, Robert, Charles, and Thomas. But the Top 10 in 2012 only includes one name from that list—William.

2) Go Super Weird

Examples: Winter, Namaste, Jameliah, Stormy, Cameo, Grudzel
Benefits: No one will ever question your balls; If the kid is awesome, then it’s awesome.
Drawbacks: They’ll have to spell their name on the phone 2 trillion times throughout their life; They’ll have to watch people figuring out how to react every time they introduce themselves; They’ll get made fun of at school; It might hurt their chances of getting job interviews; If the kid isn’t awesome, the whole thing is awkward; If you were just in a phase and made a compulsive decision, that’s shitty cause the kid has to live with it forever.
Despite several drawbacks, it’s a nice chance to say, “P.S. We don’t give a shit about what other people think.” And again, if the kid’s awesome, a weird name just makes them even more awesome.
For what it’s worth, a lot more people are going weird now than they used to. People used to be almost uniformly conformist. In 1950, only 5% of parents strayed out of the Top 1,000 names when naming their child. In 2012, 27% of parents went weird and left the Top 1,000.

This is part of a broader trend away from conformity: In 1880, the Top 4 boys names (John, William, James, George) covered one in every four boys. In 2012, the Top 4 boys names (Jacob, Mason, Ethan, Noah) cover only one in every 26 boys.

3) Go a Little Weird But Not Too Weird

 

Examples: Ashton, Wyatt, Luca, Brooklyn, Delaney, Alexia
Benefits: You’re being nonconformist but without most of the drawbacks in Category 2; If it’s a really good name people will be jealous and you’ll be all thrilled with yourself; It says “My parents are cool but not too annoying.”
Drawbacks: You might be a little too pleased with yourself for someone who still let the Top 200 names dictate their choice; There’s a chance a lot of other people feel the same way about that “unconventional” name and you inadvertently find yourself as part of a Name Fad.
This category is perfect for parents who are far too thrilled with themselves and are having far too special a child for a Timeless or Top 10 Name, but who also look down upon those who go for a Super Weird Name as annoying or unclassy. (In case you’re wondering, most of my friends went with Category 3.)
But let’s focus on something I mentioned in the drawbacks: The Name Fad. It turns out that sometimes you’re not the only one who loves that fresh, oh-so-pretty name, and a Name Fad happens when millions of Category 3 couples all start to say “Wait I like that” when they hear about someone else making a great Category 3 choice (it can also be started by a famous person—e.g. the surge in Mileys in the last decade).
Suddenly, that name so perfectly placed at #137 on the list of popular names is #86. Then the next year it’s #41. Then #18. Then #5. All to the horror of the Category 3 couple.
You know when everyone calls a guy by his nickname except his parents, who use his full three-syllable name? I think part of that is trying to wrench individuality from a fad name.
The fad is heightened by another large category of parent choice—

4) Just Dive Into the Current Honeymoon, Knowing You’re Picking a Popular Name

 

Examples: Anything from the current Top 20.
Benefits: Safe; Hip; Bonds your child with his/her whole generation in a broad sense.
Drawbacks: There will be three other kids in the class with the same name and they’ll be referred to along with their last name initial; Your child will one day have a Middle-Aged Name, and one later day, an Old Person Name.
To me, studying Name Fads throughout time yields the most interesting information because it speaks about something society is doing as a whole at a given time. Let’s spend the rest of the post digging into Name Fads and how they work—

Name Fads

Here’s what a Name Fad looks like:

Between 1965 and 1985, everyone named their daughter Jennifer, and now, no one does. So Jennifer was officially a Name Fad. What this means for all the Jennifers of the world is that while they’ve enjoyed spending most of their life so far with a cute, hip, young girl name, they are on their way to having a Your Mom’s Friend’s Name. A Your Mom’s Friend’s Name happens when lots of middle-aged people have a name that no young or old people have.

A few decades after that, Jennifer can look forward to having an Old Lady Name, which happens when a name belongs to lots of old ladies, but no one under 75.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a fact that Jennifer is irreparably branded with her generation forever. Of course, Jennifer is just one of many such names.
In 30 years, the names Natalie, Chelsea, Samantha, and Lindsay will sound how Nancy, Cheryl, Susan, and Linda do today. And in 60 years, the names Ethan, Cody, Brandon, and Matthew will be Earl, Chester, Bernard, and Melvin. These are all just Name Fads—only difference is when they happened.

If you want to know if your name is a fad, type it into the Voyager. If it looks like a witch’s hat, it’s a fad.

So what’s hot right now?

Sophia and Emma in particular are not just sweeping the US, but the whole Western world.

Sophia (or Sofia) is in the Top 6 baby names in Italy, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Argentina, and Chile. Emma is Top 6 in Ireland, Finland, Norway, Canada, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. Emma’s popularity is also clearly caused by a wave of naming after great-grandmothers, another way people sometimes name a child:

To stress how much more popular the biggest names used to be, Mary was six times as popular in 1880 as either Sophia or Emma is now.

And looking at the other top names of 2012 emphasizes just how dead fads are once they’re over:

 

So to be clear, Gunner and Gael are currently more common baby names than Phillip or Scott. And Lyric, Paisley, and Brooklynn with two n’s are all more common than Lindsay, Caitlin, and Erica. We’re still close enough in time to the red name fads that they seem really common, but they’re actually just fads. And they’re over.

Some other odd fads I observed while researching:

 

Demographic-related fads

 

Charlotte has a weird history.
 

After dying out as a popular name for Southern women a few decades ago, Charlotte has returned as a popular name in the most liberal states. This graph shows popularity in each state over time, with the states going from most conservative on the top to most liberal on the bottom.

So there are a bunch of middle-aged conservative women and liberal toddlers out there named Charlotte.

The only time I ever saw a dead name return in fewer than 80 years is when it caught on with a totally different demographic (Jeremiah is another one of these, which after losing steam in the early nineties in the Northwest, has now gotten hot in the Deep South).

We stole a lot of the hottest current names from Utah.

Here’s the history of the name Brooke:

Utah got into the name in the early 70s by itself, and then suddenly in 1980, everyone else decided to jump on board. The same phenomenon goes for Natalie, Aubrey, Riley (m), Jaxon, Paisley, Braxton, and Lacey. (Yes, those are all popular names right now.) Not sure who made Utah the name prophecy state, but that’s what it apparently is.

We also stole Evelyn from California.

Evelyn’s Popularity Over Time

The popular girl name Reagan is for Republicans. 

Same goes for Braxton, Brooklyn, and Jaxon.

Sophia was originally for the richest states, before it got so popular everyone got into it. Sofia is still for rich states though:

Paige is only for Northerners.

Here’s a map showing where Paige was popular in 2008.

Same goes for Alexa, Kathleen, and Nicole.

Meanwhile, Victor is mainly found in the Southwest, Colton in the middle of the country, Caroline in the East, and both Adrianna and Dominic are mostly contained to New Mexico.

Fads around specific letters or sounds

Names starting with a vowel were hottest now and 100 years ago, while many names starting with consonants were biggest in the middle of the century.
Vowel Names

Consonant Names

And F names are for old people.


Names starting with ERI, LA, and the sound CR all went through fads in the 1970s and 80s. They’re all over now.

There’s a current fad going on for names starting in IS.

People used to copy the president

Genders being dicks

Sometimes one gender is doing its thing, living its life, when one of its names is suddenly stolen by the other gender:

Another case of females committing full-fledged robbery:

Genders also get jealous when the other has too popular a name. Each of the following names has had the other gender in the Top 1,000 during some stretch of the past (click on a name to see its history with the opposite gender).

And now, many of the most popular baby names are popular with both genders, as if each gender can’t handle the other one innovating without being included.

I know a lot about names right now.
I’ll leave you today with this puzzle:

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141 comments - jump to comment field »

  1. Anonymous

    Very interesting.

    This made me remember how my wife and I pick up the name for our kids. As we are from Spanish/Italian background living in an English speaking country we wanted our kids name to be easy for these cultures – taking into account than in Spanish and Italian you pronounce the name exactly as it is written. So we prepare a short list of name and we had them tested with friend and people we did not know at all. The ”process’ was something like this, we show the name written to a person a would ask this person how would s/he said that name here in Australia. Well, I realised that a name I did like a lot was pronounce completely differently as it was originally thought. Ultimately we changed that name for another and my kids ended up having a ‘multi-category’ name: being in category 1 for Spanish/Italian people and category 3 for Australia.

  2. Anonymous

    [continuing my previous comment, I'd like to add ...]

    I read a very good idea one day about baby names (from people that had friends a family giving suggestions on the baby name).

    They said they set up an e/mail address and asked all the friend and family to suggest names for the baby, and people should just send the mane/s to that address for it to be considered – without a need to mention it to the couple – the name being announced once the baby is born.

    Well, did what they said, they announced the name once the baby was born, happing exactly was picture one describes. And the e/mail address was checked.

  3. Anonymous

    [following my post on the multi-category names for my kids]

    Well, the monkey and I went to the website to check popularity and just discovered that my kids seem to be in category 1 (for Spain and Italy) and category 2 (weird) for Australia. :-O

    Hopefully they are awesome.

    Thanks

    Big Balls.

  4. Anonymous

    What a pity that this website has no data for cyrillic names! Was always wondering if there are fads for my Zoya as it seems to be category 3, but I know hardly anyone with the same name

    • Anonymous

      When I was little (15-20 years ago), Zoya was a typical “granny’s name”, so there must have been a fad 70-80 years ago, at least in Russia :)

    • eastern european anon

      From the corner of Eastern Europe I come from, there most certainly are dated names you associate with older generations, or even of older people of a particularly rural background. My family tree literally has the same names alternate every second generation, until my parent’s generation when a lot of people moved out of the country and discovered more varied names, or even *shock* Western ones.

      The convention of naming after grandparents we have in my culture doesn’t help, it just saddles babies with what are now obscure, hard-to-pronounce names of dead relatives. I guess it wouldn’t have been a big thing generations ago, because those names felt less dated, but now they definitely do.

      Skip forward a few generations and there’s a new dilemma touched upon by other commenters; that of multicultural parents and immigrants wanting to find a name for their children that hopefully reflects their heritage whilst not being impossible to pronounce. My parents worked hard to think of names for us, and found ones that transfer well, yet they’re still written differently in Cyrillic than in English, for all of us. We’ve stuck to the English version, reckoning that if we’re spending our entire life here, it’s easier for us to not explain how to spell our name every. single. time. But if I have kids, I wonder what route I’ll take. I think there’s much more of an acceptance of Eastern European names in the UK now due to immigration than when I was a kid, perhaps my kids would have to do less explaining than I had to…

  5. Anonymous

    Love this post! I am obsessed with baby names for some reason right now. My husband and I named our son Declan last year. We chose it because we wanted an Irish name and this one meant something to us as we got engaged while hiking through St. Declan’s hermitage in Ireland. We had no idea it would start trending and one of his coworkers actually named their son Declan a few months before ours was born. We still love it though, even if it is a fad, because it has significance to us. Hopefully he will never hate it.

    • Anonymous

      My parents almost named my brother Declan 17 years ago, but decided that it was probably not the best choice because kids are cruel and they couldn’t help but think of the nickname “Deke the Geek”. Not the being a geek is necessarily a bad thing, but…he ended up being Thomas instead, like my father, and got the middle name Patrick to honor our Irish heritage. I do like the name Declan, though.

  6. Some social scientists have done work looking at naming fads and staying power. The article is behind a paywall and a little on the technical side, but definitely interesting for thinking about differences in fad-ish names and those that gradually increase in popularity:

    http://www.pnas.org/content/106/20/8146.short

    I also am in the position of having a name (Noah) that was not particularly popular when I was born (1980), but is now #4. So many little Noahs running around. Oof.

  7. About 10 years ago, within a 6 month period, I had 3 friends cleverly decide to go with the little-known name of Ainsley. Imagine their horror when I told them about each other. Now it is even more popular… downfall of choice #3!!

  8. Anonymous

    I am so glad I subscribed to your email newsletter! This is intensely captivating article! A mini research I would say! I’ve seen so many absolutely ridiculous kids’ names, and this trend is getting more outrageous every year, as if the new parents compete whose kid’s name would sound more “WTF?” on a playground.

  9. Very fascinating trends on names I guess some people still tried to make Adolph work but received a lot of negative remarks and stares so it phased out – I would like to think this occurrence was exclusive to Germany. My name in 2011 ranked 722 (Ivanna). :) The graphs were a great touch! Have a great one -Iva

    • Anonymous

      From the graph it looks like the name Adolph was declining very rapidly, to the point it would be non-existant by the early 50s, but then some small percentage of the world population decided it was a really good name.

  10. Anonymous

    I know two people about to have a child. I need them both to read this immediately. But I’m also worried they’ll already have a name picked and this will expose something bad about it. Hm…….

    Either way, fantastic post!

  11. Thank God, Brittany and Ashley are fading away. I’ve never had a good student with either of those names. Just attitude.
    And as a Chris born in 1979, I understand being one of many. Once in a 7th grade class of 27 students, there were 8 (EIGHT) different Chris kids. That poor teacher. My name was FIVE, which I thought was better than Chris-with-a-K.

  12. Anonymous

    Those Adolf parents are in a group called Last Adopters, which may be a sub of Category 2. I wonder how many Adolfs changed their names, and if those name changes are reflected in these results? What do you choose after Adolf? I’m grateful that your monkey has spent so much time at Voyager, now mine doesn’t have to…um, gotta go.

  13. Anonymous

    We’re all about phonetically-spelled names (or made-up names) in Australia. And hyphens. As in Tay-ya, De-Lanee, Jaxson, Reebekka. Mackswell. It’s pretty awful.

    • EE anon

      I find these names really difficult. It means having to ask how people spell even a common name, because that particular common name can have, like 5 spellings.

      I get the desire to ‘prove’ your squidy baby is the best thing ever, but I’m a spelling pedant, so to me, gratuitously misspelled names are just painful. Also, a lot of my friends and family speak English second language, so it’s hard enough for them to spell Amy, but learning that it can be written Aimee, Aimae, Amie, Eymie, Ehmi, the list can be endless!

      Yes, there are lots of ‘variant’ names based on the same name in different languages – so Catherine or can become Katerina, or ekaterina, etc , but these names are still normally based on a spelling standard within their language. Imagine if parents in every language cared as little for spelling as English speakers seem to! Learning foreign names can be hard (and I say this as someone of immigrant heritage), so having to learn a million variations on a simple, common name on top of that feels silly.

      Ironically, I find it easier if people just name their kid Merlin, or Summer, or Daffodil, or Eisenhower, or Prudence, because these are still words, with spellings that you can normally guess.

      As someone who’s had to spell their name because of transliteration differences between my mother tongue and English, I know it’s frustrating when you have to spell your name, and chose to keep the Anglicised version for my sanity. Why would someone name their kid Sarah only to inflict a lifetime of having to spell out ‘S-C-A-I-R-A-G-H’?!?! Madness.

  14. I know what you mean about old person names–never thought about the fad-ness of it. My mother was a Martha and I have an Aunt Bertha. I have a fad name, and the thought of being an old person name some day saddens me. All of my names (including my married name) are intensely popular. At least it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. =)

  15. Anonymous

    Your blogs bring a smile to my face. It’s like reading my own thoughts, but you always manage to make them more interesting and funnier. I wait eagerly for Tuesday and have also gotten two of my friends addicted to it. Thank you for coming out of Dark Playground to start this blog. Kudos!!

  16. Interesting post but I challenge anyone to beat my grandmother’s imagination for names. My aunties got Neiva and Rosemary, my uncle was named Moesio, but my granny saved the best to the end, my mum’s name is Eurideia.

    Well, considering my granny was called Rocilda, I can’t blame her.

    I’m just glad my mum didn’t carry on with the ‘tradition’ :)

    And better being a fad than sorry!

  17. Eva

    I enjoy reading your blogs :)
    Just an interesting comparison: in Slovenia (where I’m from) Emma was No6 baby name in 2011 – it’s spelled Ema in Slovenian, though.
    I look forward to more posts …

  18. Anonymous

    The charts with presidential names don’t look so much like people imitating the president so much as that name being instantly ruined, and going into immediate decline.

  19. Anonymous

    I had my first baby in July so have spent most of the year a bit obsessed with names – the first half looking for a great name that hasn’t been overused or the name of a shitty child I have taught, and the second half scouring sites to check that her name isn’t turning into a Category 3 fad. And that her name isn’t used by the next celebrity parents to have a kid. So far it’s not… long may it last. And I wish Adolf/Adolph wasn’t a no-go name now, it rocks! I would totally name a son Adlof if it weren’t for the social stigma he would carry for life.

  20. Anonymous

    Love love love. By the way, did you recently break up with someone, waitbutwhy? …Sour patch kids at 2 am.. Jack dating Today.. 10 kinds of single guys.. Being 32 and surrounded by baby makers.. just a female intuition here. I could be wrong. But if so, don’t be sad, she obviously sucks and your readers are TOTALLY on your side.

  21. Anonymous

    Interesting! Took me a while to figure out that what looks like a name dropping all the way to zero is really just a name dropping out of the top 1000. Once it is no longer in the top 1000, I think it appears as zero on the plots. So the “fad-name peak” distributions actually have longer tails to them than appear in the plots.

  22. EMILY

    Emily is great. It doesn’t have a peak; it has a plateau. Being born in the early 80s, even though I have a fad name I won’t feel the effects for a long time, like when I’m ancient it will still be considered a “mom’s friend” name.

  23. Thanks for the great post! You REALLY love the voyager thing. What do you think about siblings all kind of “matching” each other? We have a Natalie, Hannah, and Emily (all traditional) but our fourth girl we are thinking of naming Cambry. Is a sudden trendier name ok within the same family? I don’t think it matters too much because once the childhood years are over, the women will be on their own and it won’t matter what the siblings’ names are….
    I am always trying to explain the “Middle Aged Name” and “Old Person Name” to people but you put it way better here.

    • Carol

      We have three daughters, Camryn, Ryanne (pronounced Ryan) and Devan.
      When I was pregnant with the last one, it was obvious to us that we had to find something a little less traditional. Who would want to be the only one with (to them what would seem like) a boring name?

      Also, once you have girls and give them traditionally boys names, you can’t name the third one Something very feminine.

      For me anyway, I like the idea of having “matching” names, or at least similar in feeling.

  24. Anonymous

    Totally true on the generational name thing. Think of Edith, Rose, Betty and Patricia. All great names describing old ladies. I kind of hate the trend for “uniqueness” in today’s baby names. There seems to be some kind of disconnect with history going on with people. When did people decide that the name for a grassland ecosystem was a good thing to name their daughter, apologies to all Savannahs thus blessed. My prediction for the next big boy’s name trend: Nelson.

  25. I like the idea themed “A” family. You know what guys,
    i recently visited babynology.com that has amazing list of baby names of many origins.
    The baby names offered by babynology truly harmonize with the choice of parents. Check out
    indian names

    • Sonny

      There was a good Baby Name Wizard article about why more liberal states favor traditional names and conservative states are more trendy. Her conclusion was that the main difference is that conservative women have children younger, and that young moms are more likely to choose the newest fad name.

      Since so many Mormons get married in their late teens and early twenties, it makes sense that the names that are hot in Utah would hit other states a few years later.

  26. Anonymous

    It seems that many of the presidents names were already getting popular in their time, so it creates a chicken and egg argument. Did people name their kids after presidents, or were the presidents simply named one of the names popular at that time in history.
    Another interesting one I have wondered about before is the name “Errol” which I think of as a name for an old man. I think people may have named their kid after Errol Flynn, because the swashbuckler movie star was born in 1909 which precedes the peek in the popularity of “Eerol” in the population 20 years later in the 1930s. http://www.babynamewizard.com/voyager#prefix=errol&sw=both&exact=false

  27. After looking at my family tree I had a theory that girls names beginning with “Z” were very popular in the years between about 1900-1920. I did wonder if it might be something to do with wanting to appear modern. The Voyager tool does bear this out as there was a noticeable rise in names like Zelda, Zola, Zelma, Zena, Zetta, Zorka around that time.

  28. Anonymous

    Unfortunately, he missed an alarming trend – Twi-hards having babies, and naming them for characters in the “Twilight” books. Both ‘Bella’ and ‘Emmett’ are currently spiking, and Jacob is is rebounding from a previously-downward trend. (Oddly, ‘Edward’ does not seem to be experiencing the same effect.)

    I caught on to this phenomenon only after we named our son. We chose a family name, Emmett. But I now fear a future conversation of the topic, “Mom, Dad – did you name me after a f@$&ing tween vampire!?”

    • Sonny

      I actually think this happened the other way around – that Stephanie Meyer named the characters based on current naming trends. Most of the character names were already rising before Twilight.

    • Sonny

      I forgot to add that Edward, one of the most famous characters, isn’t trendy now at all. It doesn’t sound “cute” or “fresh” the way Bella, Emmett, Jacob etc. do.

      And, thank god, no one seems to be naming their kid Reneesmee.

  29. Ahhhhh! I’m a fad name and will soon be an old lady name! Not good! But definitely can see the fad-iness of my name now and always knew that to be the case since there were 5 of us Jennifer’s in my classes all through my school years! I remember asking my mom how she came up with my name and she said my dad did because it was the name of a hurricane at the time! Yikes!
    I didn’t name my kids after any mega storms but have them very regal sounding traditional names that they could use later in life, but still had the ability to be shortened into a hip nickname for their younger years. So for instances my oldest being Victoria with a nickname of Tori. So the is flexibility for her! The same for my other children, and it had worked out well:-)
    Have always been interested in names and so freaky enjoyed this post! Thank you!

    • Anonymous

      My oldest daughter is named Jennifer (pre-Love Story which is what set off the massive rush to the name) and her oldest daughter is Victoria/Tori. Coincidence? Her second is Elizabeth/Lizzie–same reasoning you used, a good solid adult name and a good nickname as well.
      I also have an over-40 daughter named Caitlin. She will tell you she’s the oldest Caitlin you’ll ever meet!

  30. Anonymous

    In my first year as a doctor in 2009, I came across several Seymours in the ER, all of them kindly but frail octa- and nonagenarians, most of whom unfortunately succumbed to the illnesses that got them hospitalized. At the time, my colleagues and I remarked it seemed like the world was slowly losing all of its Seymours, and this data explained my observations. No Seymours left these days.

  31. I’d like to add a #5 option: Use a name that suffered the fate of #4 from a previous generation, but is not common anymore. Examples: Naming a modern girl Amy or Nancy, or a boy Eric or Francis.

    Benefits: Your child will probably be the only one in his/her class with the name, while still being familiar to everyone and considered a “normal” name by the general population.
    Drawbacks: Your child may feel the name “ages” him/her and feel awkward when everyone they know with the name is much older than them, and others may likewise assume they’re older from the name. On the other hand, if the name gets revived like Emma or Grace down the road, then he/she will then experience having a name in old age that marks the person as younger than they are.

    (I know someone with a college-age daughter named Linda who did this – so far the results have been mostly positive.)

    • Brendan

      My name suggestion for that #5 category suggestion would be Gary. I find that name to be pretty classic without sounding too old-manish. I discovered at one point that I had never known anyone under the age of 30 named Gary, which seemed weird because it doesn’t sound like a Walter or Howard. Later on, I would befriend someone a few years younger than me named Gary so the life streak was broken.

      Anyway, I wouldn’t name my kid Gary but it sounds like a totally perfect suggestion for your #5 category as one of those names that inexplicably dropped off the name planet i.e. top 500.

    • EE anon

      I like to think that once a name has become so old, some of them are beyond dating you and now in a trendier place. There’s no danger of a 2 year old Violet or Alfred being mistaken for a 90-year-old, so there’s potential there for hipster parents who want to pick a name that’s unusual, but is actually still an established, respected name (and not a surname masquerading as a name or some random noun lol), because it’s existed recently enough that it doesn’t feel ancient and strange.

    • Jewdiful

      My name is Judy, I’m 25 and I love it. I still look like a highschooler, I’m a quarter-century old and I have a older lady, vintage name. I like that it’s somehow both traditional and unique.

  32. I’ve also noticed an interesting pattern with unisex names and “red/blue” states: In many cases they’re more common – for both genders – in the Republican-leaning areas (your first instincts might lead you to believe otherwise). The “sexism” of using these names for girls but not for boys is most prevalent in the Northeast (and more conformity with boy’s names in general is larger there as well).

  33. Anonymous

    That 1980 stripe for Brooke doesn’t just coincide with the 1980 Romance Blockbuster “The Blue Lagoon” starring Brooke Shields? Any more examples for famous name patron peaks other than presidents?

    Also ist there something like an over-popularity/trademark effect? After Shirley Temple’s peak of success in 1934 the name got apprently less generic since it got to accociated with a typecasting effect to temple? Ist there such a thing as typecasting for names?

    • Calvin Philips

      Haha I was reading it and imagined this occurring:
      1880s-~1940s: “Wow! The name Charlotte is so perfect!”
      1950s-early 1990s: “Meh. So old-fashioned.”
      Writers of SATC at the show’s inception: “We need a name for a super old-fashioned character. How about Charlotte?”
      Writers of SATC today: “Goodness; our entire fanbase is having kids now.”

    • Anonymous

      I’m 43 and was used to being the only Charlotte while growing up in the northeast. Was named after a great-great grandmother. Now I know several much younger Charlottes here in the southeast. I used to hate my name (my friends were mostly Jennifers, Amys, Michelle, etc.) but grew to appreciate having a “unique” but not bizarre name!

  34. Amanda Waters

    Going super weird is probably the riskier thing you could ever do in terms of building a healthy relationship with your boy / girl. Nobody wants their kids to hate them when they grow up and have everyone teasing them about their names. My favorite choices are always “safe”, for example something among these popular baby names for 2014: Karter, Kendrick or King (apparently K- starting baby names will be hot in 2014 as http://www.babynameslog.com/popular-baby-names-2014/ reports). My all time favorite is Adelynn though, sweet and cute, ideal for pretty baby girls!

    Loved all the analysis, it was an awesome post…

    Many thanks and wish you all the best for 2014 !!!
    Love,
    Amanda xx

  35. Jase

    Fascinating article. Check out “Jase” when you have a chance. I call this the Duck Dyansty Effect (DDE). Didn’t even register the decade I was born. Off the charts since 2012. DDE.

  36. Deb

    Debra (spelled in a couple of ways) and Jacqueline (also spelled in different ways) were big when I was growing up. I’m a Deb and I had a good friend named Deb and 2 Jackies. When we were in college, guys would never believe us and we would have to show them our licence. I haven’t heard either of these names in years until a couple of years ago a young pastor and his wife named their daughter, Deborah from the bible in our town. Also, there isn’t a lot of Jennifers but I have heard a lot of Jennas lately….

  37. As far as the Adolph phenomenon, my theory is that since the name was a popular one but decreasing in popularity due to natural shifts, people still used it for a while because it was still a common one and the sound of it reminded one of lots of other people besides Hitler. People still name their kids Joseph, in spite of Stalin (although I’d be curious to check the stats for that in Eastern Europe), because there are tons of other Josephs we can think of.

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  41. Jake

    What an article! This was riveting—names are so interesting but I’ve never seen them broken down so visually before. I also didn’t know that I have the most popular baby name. Weird.

  42. Anonymous

    Best blog I think I have EVER read! Something you might want to post about it the popularity of parents naming their kids after the father making him a jr. I’m sure it must have been common for a long time but just from the 80′s (my age group) alone I know so many jr.s. I like to tease my husband that his mother just wasn’t creative enough to come up with a name of her own for her kids because him, his brother and step brother are all jr.s. As well as all my first born male cousins. My husband is fortunate enough to be Harold jr at age 29 :D…. so to re-cap, seriously a great read thanks!!!

    P.S. I have three boys Jacob Connor (2009) Tucker Mason (2011) and soon to be Chase ______ March of this year… any suggestions on a middle name ;)

  43. V

    Really interesting article, thanks for pulling this all together!

    “Name your daughter after a queen and she will rise to queenly stature” is what my mother told me (my name is Victoria) and despite trying Tori and Vicki (and now I prefer to sign things Vik or V) and have never liked my name since it’s neither ballsy enough nor conformist enough. I named my daughters gender-neutral names (or at least they will be in a few years) because my mom always used her initials in business and I liked the concept of not being gender-biased before meeting. Both girls like their names (though one of them in elementary was often “girl Ryan” or “Ryan Ann” because so many other boy Ryans were in here classes). Both also have one of their great-grandmother’s names in the middle (including Winifred for my oldest) and they like that connection.

    I like the trend toward uniqueness and don’t think it’s new. As a genealogist, I’ve found some really odd names on my tree (Deidamia I think is the oddest, but my great-grandmother’s name, “Opal Valley” is still a favorite). The uniqueness often makes it easy to find connections more easily (ala husband’s ancestor “Haven”). The opposite (James and June) continues to cause problems because there are so many in the same town that I’ve hit a brick wall.

    • EE anon

      I love the names in your family! I wish my ancestors were so original. As far back as I can trace my tree (and given shoddy Eastern European record-keeping, that’s not far), everyone shares the same 10 or so names, often repeating every couple of generations. Ugh. Nice enough names in their way, but very much a thing of their time and place so much so that even with my penchant for older names or names that reflect my ethnicity I probably wouldn’t consider them for my children. Having a ‘foreign’ name is one thing, having a near-impossible to pronounce, peasant granny name is something else entirely!

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  46. Elizabeth

    This really was a fun post to read, including the comments. One thing parents searching for the perfect name ought to be aware of is the hassle they are letting their kids in for when they call them something other than what they are named. Not normal nicknames like Liz for Elizabeth, or Rob for Robert, but calling them by their middle name, for example. My husband and I both go by our middle names; he doesn’t mind it, but it causes all kinds of confusion in my life! Then again, I think it may be worse to be called something totally unrelated to your given name. A relative of mine goes by Steve, (from his last name, Stevens) but so do all the other men in his family! I have a cousin called Scooter – yes, by everyone, and another called Skip. Craziness ..

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  48. Tracy

    This is truly fascinating! Upon a Voyager trip with my own name, I discovered that Tracy (f) was “like, SO OVER” in 1982 when my parents gave me that name, but turns out my Mother named me Tracy after one of her favorite students, who would have been born in the late ’60s or early ’70s when Tracy was wildly popular. I for one am glad – I was always the only Tracy in my class!

  49. I’m also a bit of a name geek and love the Name Voyager – and our first is due any day now. I also have a gender-neutral name, and I have to say, it’s actually been incredibly useful. When I majored in computer science, I could often safely predict that others who had only seen my name would assume I was male until I walked in the room, and wouldn’t form any sexist preconceptions about me (“I bet her boyfriend does her homework,” “she’s only here because of affirmative action,” etc. were all things I heard often enough) ahead of time. It got me in the door for interviews and other opportunities much more often than other women in the program, something I’m happy about for my personal benefit but very very sorry for on a societal level, because it’s just another indicator that sexism is still pretty darn rampant.

    But I do really appreciate the ability to hide my gender when I want to, and to subtly de-emphasize its importance day-to-day. We’re planning to name our first – boy or girl (we’re waiting to find out) – a gender-neutral name as well, and I promote them to all of my friends (though nobody has actually followed my advice yet ;)).

    Just some food for thought and a different perspective about being a so-called “dick” about gender, as you put it.

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  52. "Calling All Isabellas"

    I used to work for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. They have a program where if you are named Isabella, you can visit the museum for free, anytime, indefinitely. Way back when they started this program the name Isabella was very unusual. Then – BOOM – the name exploded and every 10th little baby girl in metro Boston was named Isabella. To their credit the Gardner has continued to offer this nice deal for anyone named Isabella.

  53. Barbara P

    My great grandmother was named Barbara before it became really popular, and then I was named after her when the popularity had declined sharply. So SHE got to have a “young lady” name, and I got the “old lady” name. Hmph.

  54. FitAndFabBy40

    I think the author missed one more category…. Naming a kid a “safe” and “conventional” name and giving the name an unconventional spelling. I have a friend who will forever be “Stephanie with an F” (Stefanie) — and another friend who is “Jennifer with a ‘G’ in front and only 1 ‘N’” (Genifer) These kids turned adults have such a hard time with their names — and it’s getting SO old.

  55. Alejandro (México)

    Congrats!
    Fantastic piece of work.
    I assume that my name “Alejandro” has gone all coo coo since lady gaga … Bitch haha

  56. 214775 163666Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch! 686744

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  59. Who called my name?

    I am a 35 year old Sofia! Needless to say I didn’t meet another Sofia until my college years! Now, I am constantly hearing people yell my name, everywhere! I didn’t realize how nice it was to NOT have a fad name until it became a fad. I will share a name with my daughter’s friends I guess.

    • Jessica G.

      I feel your pain completely. I was the only Jessica I knew until I was 10. Then Bam! the Jessica era arrived. Now it’s dying. I can’t decide which is/was worse: Having the too common, fad name or the yesterday’s news name.

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  63. Dana

    I LOVE data and I think this is great fun but I disagree with your statement that people copy the names of the presidents… all the images you show have a convenient point near the time of the presidency, but in fact the trends had been building to that point for some time, and they all head downward soon after (and even before in some cases)… I think the fads were just running their natural course. If people were really naming kids after presidents there would be a significant spike immediately AFTER the start of the presidency. None of the images reflect this.

    • wobster109

      Actually they might. You know how if you go to the site and hover over the graph, it will show you the ranking by year? Before 2000, it’s all by decade. So the “building up” is just connecting the dots by decade.

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  68. Yolanda

    In point 2) you write, “If the kid isn’t awesome, the whole thing is awkward; If you were just in a phase and made a compulsive decision”. I think you meant to say impulsive. Compulsive doesn’t really make much sense in this context.

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  70. wobster109

    I have a guess for Adolph. People naming babies not after Hitler, but after their grandfather Adolph. Later on it dies out because after a while, fewer people have a grandfather Adolph.

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  73. Brooke

    As a Brooke born in ’78 in Utah…I am glad to see I am just part of some larger trend. As always a very interesting and fun article that has been part of my dark playground this morning. Thanks!

  74. Natalie

    You’re actually wrong about Natalie being a fad name, if we are to use the criteria suggested of typing it into this website, and seeing a witch’s hat. Natalie is actually still widely used for young girls today, so its use hasn’t tapered it off enough to make it a ‘grandmother’s’ name on par with ‘Linda,’ etc.

    Just found it interesting that you’d include the name when it doesn’t fit the mold you listed–maybe a bit more fact-checking next time would be prudent?

    Natalie, obviously.

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  78. Jonathan

    I was named Jonathan in 1947. I rarely encountered namesakes and appreciated having a conventional but unusual name – until sometime after 1980.

    I was reading a magazine in a grocery store when a young woman said forcefully, “Jonathan! Put that down and come with me right now!” I was puzzled until I noticed a young boy playing with something from the toy rack behind me. He was the first of a deluge. I was surrounded by them in the ’90s, so I was known as “Old Jonathan” then.

    We named our first daughter Sarah in 1976. She told me after she finished college that she had never been in a class without at least one other Sarah. Was that because of the maid from “Upstairs, Downstairs”? The Fleetwood Mac song came later. Any other ideas?

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