Friday, May 14, 2010

LISA, ANGELA, PAMELA, RENEE: The annual release of the Popular Baby Names list is always a cause for much navel-gazing both the media and ourselves, with much of the attention focused on the ascendance of Twilight names including Isabella, Jacob and Cullen.

I have a feeling we can crowdsource this data in more interesting ways. I noticed, for example, that Katrina has continued its rapid descent, from #246 in 2005 to #600 in 2007 to #815 last year, while Brooklyn keeps climbing from #182 in the year of Brooklyn Beckham's birth (1999) to #101 in 2004 to #37 last year. The top five girl's names all end with schwas, and it's only until a little later where you hit the strong-e run (Natalie, Lily, Ashley, Hailey, Kaylee, Riley, Aubrey ...). Also, Madelyn > Madeline > Madeleine and Skylar > Skyler > Sky > Skyla (the Will Hunting pronunciation), and the kids who will hate their parents most upon learning the real genesis of their names (other than the 3,640 girls named Genesis) are likely the 2,155 girls and 283 boys named after Marley, a dead dog.

[Also a possible form of child abuse: naming your kid Aryanna, Aryana or Aryan. Yeah, they made the list.]

As Kim noted in 2006, "Of course, the real entertainment value of the list lies less in monitoring the top 10-20 names than in watching the trajectory of individual names over time and assessing whether a particular name has jumped the shark or will have jumped the shark by the time one's wee offspring hits the first grade. Have fun."


  1. The Brooklyn trajectory (at least in the US, where the Beckhams are B- to C-list) is probably as much or more a product of the rise of model (and Andy Roddick spouse) Brooklyn Decker.

  2. Meghan9:25 AM

    My kid's name is in the high 600s. She may never have personalized barrettes, but she also won't be known as First Name Last Initial.

  3. mikeski9:31 AM

    I love that song.

  4. mikeski9:54 AM

    We need more "Bort" license plates.

  5. lisased10:00 AM

    In the '80s, soap operas influenced the rise and fall of a lot of names. I wonder if "General Hospital" naming one of their characters Brook Lynn in the late '90s contributed at all to the rise of Brooklyn. She was rapidly aged to a teenager (of course) in 2004.

  6. lisased10:04 AM

    One daughter's name is not in the top 1000, but that's because she's anmed after a river in Russia. The other daughter's name is slowly creeping up, but she's still in the 300s. We have met a few kids in her school with the same name, but it's more of a problem with teachers and volunteers confusing her with similarly, creatively spelled synonames.

  7. Adam C.10:04 AM

    Kid the Elder's name has been floating in and out of the top 100 for a decade, so there's almost always a personalized tchotchke for her. Kid the Younger's name isn't in the top 1000 and likely won't ever be, unless a massive group of Israelis (like, all of them) move to the US -- we have to get her things that just have her first initial, and she's fine with it.

  8. Sheila10:12 AM

    Have you all been to the awesome site Baby Name Wizard? It's one of those things I feel everyone must already know about, but just in case you don't, here it is:
    She created a "Name Voyager" where you can track frequency of name use back to the 1890s (and fair warning: you will waste a LOT of time looking up names), a Name Mapper to see regional trends, and a very insightful blog about baby names.
    Lisased - I love the word "synonames" - that is just a perfect way to describe the phenomenon!

  9. Christy in Philly10:19 AM

    Sheila, I love that website.

    As for the personalization, I never buy personalized things for my nieces and nephews because although it is easy to get Abigail and Joshua, finding Timothy is tough, and Eve, near impossible despite the popularity of synoname Ava.

  10. Marsha10:26 AM

    Both my boys have popular names, although my older one's fell out of style in 1974. But the older one goes by a very uncommon nickname, so I'm hoping he at least avoids FNLI. The younger one will almost certainly have the FNLI problem at some point in his life, especially since the nickname he uses is gender-neutral.

  11. Wow, my friend named her baby daughter Olivia in September 2009. I had no idea it was so popular. I guess she has to get ready for being "Olivia C." for a while...

  12. This is a momentous year for my name.

    It was number one or two from 1910 through 1965. First time out of top 10 was in 1971 and this year is the first year out of the top 100.

    - Mary (born in 1970)

  13. The Pathetic Earthling10:37 AM

    Can anyone offer me a theory as to why Owen made a big turn in 1993-94 from hanging out in the 400-500 range for 20+ years previous to its sustained rise to 51? Mind you, that's the Little Earthling's name, so we like it, but I've never identified why the shift.

  14. Genevieve10:44 AM

    Wow, Mary, I am surprised to see that! (My kiddo has three great-grands named Mary, right from when it was on the top.)

    My name, which has been on the charts since 1939 and crested in the 60s, dropped off completely in 2005. I look at it and think, Aryan and variations are in the top 1000, and my name isn't?

    The kiddo's name was close to the same numbers for boys and girls the year before he was born. The year he was born, it was about twenty higher for the boys, and now it's around a hundred higher for the boys, which makes me cheer. A name that didn't go the Leslie/Tracy/Ashley route and became mainly for girls after it became gender-neutral.

  15. Genevieve10:45 AM

    My actual name, I should say, not my nom de commenter.

  16. Carrie10:49 AM

    Also a big year for Carrie!

    After peaking in the 1880's at #20, and a comeback in 1976-77 at # 28, I fell all the way to #1000 by 2008 and for the first time ever this year am OFF THE LIST.

    I feel so....special?

  17. Adam C.11:17 AM

    Lots of fans of "Bottle Rocket," first released (as a short) in 1994?

    Delayed readers of "A Prayer for Owen Meany," published in 1989?

    Wrestling fans (Owen Hart's heyday in WWF/WWE was mid- to late-90s)?

  18. J. Bowman11:17 AM

    You named your kid Ob?

  19. Sheila11:18 AM

    At the risk of outing myself as a complete name-geek AND of over-flogging that website, check out Laura's thoughts here:
    Besides the "ending in N" phenomenon (which is pretty amazing when you look at her graphs), I think Owen also fits the trend of vowels over lots of crunchy consonents.

  20. J. Bowman11:19 AM

    A sudden cult popularity of Throw Momma From The Train is an obvious starting point.

  21. sabrina11:22 AM

    we named our girl a rising name for a boy. there are girls with the name but very very few (and this too seems to be rising). this will either be great for her or terrible when she is referred to FNgender in school

  22. Maggie11:26 AM

    Baby Owen on Party of Five?

  23. Anonymous11:27 AM

    Huh. And Joseph continues it's mild decline, but still in the top 20's.

  24. patricia12:41 PM

    Patricia appears to have continued its decline, from a solid 3-4 position in the 40s and 50s to its current 541. It's kind of an old fashioned name, and I'd guess it will become popular again when my children are having children. My youngest daughter's name is in the mid-300s, where it's hung out for awhile now. My older daughter's name doesn't rank, but it's a creatively spelled synoname for a reasonably popular name- one that's in the top 100, anyway. I had no idea it was so popular when we named her that in 2006, and looking at the charts, that was about when it crested in popularity. How does that happen?? So weird.

  25. spacewoman12:52 PM

    The far more relevant stat is the popularity for your area. spaceboy #1's name has been in the 20s since he was born, but we know almost no one else with his name. spaceboy #2's has been hovering around the 130s to 140s for the last 4 years, but at our yuppie Jewish preschool, there's a kid in every class with the same name. Go figure.

  26. Sabrina

    our daughter's name is in the 800s for girls and 100s for boys. curious how other throwers feel about names changing genders...

  27. Bambi1:17 PM

    I wish you women would stop using all the cool male names.

  28. You beat me to it, Maggie. I was going to suggest the Party of Five theory. I think it's entirely possible.

  29. My name hit its most popular at #18 in 1983 (not the year I was born) and has been decreasing in popularity ever since. It hit #194 in 2009 and I'd like to see that trend continue.

    A friend of mine is pregnant with her second daughter and recently said she's thinking of naming her Ava because it's so unique. I nearly laughed. Had to clue her in that it's incredibly popular right now. But I do think that if she really loves the name then the popularity of it shouldn't matter so much.

  30. Genevieve2:13 PM

    Fellow name-geek here, Sheila.

  31. How do parents not realize that their "super unique" name is actually the most popular name being used? Also, I've noticed that half the kids named recently have the "El" sound- Ella, Isabella, Elizabeth and my nephew, Ellis (which is slightly less popular than the other three).

  32. patricia3:44 PM

    KR, I swear to you that I had no idea my older daughter's name was so popular when we named her. I didn't have any illusions that it was super unique or anything, but I really had no idea how often we would come across other little girls her age with the same name. It's not Emma or anything, but it's far more popular than I ever would have believed. I have no working theories as to how a name would just...seep into the zeitgeist? But clearly it happens a lot.

  33. Guest3:53 PM

    tell me more bambi

  34. I'm guessing parents don't see a lot of little kids' names at once until the kids hit school. First baby? You're out of the loop.

  35. sbr9293:56 PM

    I think it has to do with the fact that when you are thinking about names the universe of popularity you are operating in is your own generation/people you know. Thus, if you don't or didn't know any Ava's growing up you still think it is unique. It isn't until you meet other kids on the playground that you notice how popular certain names are in the newest generation.

  36. I am horrified to discover that "Heaven and Neveah" is the 7th most popular set of names for twin girls (though I like that they're keeping track of twin names -

  37. slick4:14 PM

    Our younger daughter's name was in the 500s when we named her and is now in the 100s. That bums me out. We also thought we were being so original with her older sister (and the name was in the high 600s when she was born) but the first day we took her to daycare, low and behold, another baby with her name!

  38. As a girl with a boy's name, it's not a big deal (out of the 1000 for girls, but in the 100s for boys). It's a name with variant spellings but everyone can pronounce. If you're the only girl with the name, everyone knows who "girl NAME" is. I can't recall if there's actual data that boy names make girls more assertive in life, but it probably has some marginal effects w/r/t unconscious sexism working in your favor.

  39. Your name here...4:33 PM

    As a gal who is 8 months pregnant and has a two year old, let's say I've spent my share of the last two and a half years pouring over names. With baby 1, we started with a huge amount of restrictions (we are engineers by trade): name must not decline to one syllable, could not start with the letter of our very common last name, easy to spell, easy for others to pronounce on the first try, unique but not a crazy spelling, etc.

    We picked a name that was in the high 200s and felt very proud of ourselves. That was totally smashed the first time I hit the grocery store with my newborn in tow to hear a mom pleading with her total-tantrum 4 year old with the same name.

  40. D'Arcy4:43 PM

    When we named our girls (2002, 2004 and 2006) we didn't think we were picking hugely popular names, but we've met a fair number of kids with their names.

    However, our youngest's middle name is Katrina, after great grandma Catherina and great grandpa Catrinus. We almost didn't use it because of the hurricane (friends of our were in New Orleans for Katrina and we didn't want to bring up traumatic memories)

  41. I will provide consulting services to new parents as to names I hear often from birth announcements, Facebook and the local papers. The names I'm hearing the most are the Ells, Ava/Eve, Jack, Oliver/Olivia and Will.

    Or maybe I would call Pottery Barn Kids and find out who their doing the most monogramming right now.

  42. My unscientific survey of Pottery Barn Kids:

  43. THAT"s why I named him Owen? Yep. Probably.

  44. lisased7:54 AM

    HA! We named her Neva, which make me hate the Neveah/Heaven phenomenon even more.

  45. One of my Indian friends made the following comment "Funny thing about the word Aryan. In Sanskrit it means "of noble blood." I had a classmate with the surname "Arya" and I know of at least one kid named Aryan, in India. No relationship whatsoever to the Nazis."

  46. christy in nyc8:15 PM

    Yep, totally obsessed with Baby Name Wizard, and completely amazed by the ending-in-N phenomenon. I may have posted this in a previous name-data entry, but I literally don't know anyone with sons under 10 who don't have at least one son whose name ends with N. And there are two Owens in the bunch.

  47. Jordan9:33 PM

    The fuck is Jayden?

  48. rachel7:34 AM

    Anyone care to attribute the rise of Jacob to Lost?

  49. #1 every year since 1999, top 10 since 1993.

  50. gretchen9:28 PM

    I agree about the El sound -- we almost named our daughter Eleanor-to-be-nicknamed-Ella, until I realized how many other Ellie/Ellas are running around.

  51. gretchen9:30 PM

    My name continues its precipitous fall out of the top 1000. I just had a baby and agonized about names; our chosen name hasn't been in the top 1000 for years and isn't there this year, either. It is so hard, though -- I fully expect that the 2010 statistics will come out and there will be thousands of other little girls with the same name. The zeitgist is a powerful thing.