Is the way we name our daughters changing?
The way we name our sons in 2014 feels different. For years we relied on Biblical favorites with a few hardy Germanic go-tos mixed in. But since the 1990s, we’ve seen names like Tyler, Mason, and Jayden reach the US Top Ten. Jackson is more popular than John, while former favorites like Richard and Steven are less and less common.
Girls’ names have always been more volatile. And yet, our ideas about what makes an appropriately feminine name were once more set. Sophia, Isabella and Charlotte might be today’s darlings, but they’re not so different from Amanda, Melissa, and Heather in the 1980s or Barbara, Cynthia, and Karen in the 1950s.
In 2014, some of the most interesting names for girls are sharply different. Emerging modern choices are less European, less conventionally feminine, and more likely to start out as vocabulary words – in some language.
That’s not to say that we’re throwing tradition out the window. Earlier this week, you answered “Which names do you wish you were brave enough to use?” and for every modern innovation, there were plenty of dusty antiques, even Mildred and Gertrude.
But it is possible to find modern names that aren’t invented, but still feel ready-made for the twenty-first century. There are plenty of parents choosing something distinctly different for a daughter.
Seren – Looking for a tailored name less expected than Harper? The Beauty of Names listed Seren on her Wonderously Welsh list. It means star, which puts Seren in the company of throwbacks like Stella and Esther. And yet her sound is sleek and modern.
Haven – In a crowd of girls named Elizabeth and Amelia, Haven stands out. From a word meaning safety or refuge, Haven has been boosted by Jessica Alba’s younger daughter. At #372 in 2013, this one has almost gone mainstream. Names for Real spotted a Haven Marilyn in Maine.
Bronte – Bronte is novel – in more than one way! The Bronte sisters – Charlotte, Emily, and Anne – were nineteenth century poets and novelists whose work is still read today. And while all of their given names are buttoned-down classics, their surname is a surprising possiblity for a daughter. Waltzing More than Matilda found a Bronte Ann-Rae on a recent birth announcement.
Vesper - Vesper appeared not once, but twice, on the Brave-Enough-to-Use list. Two parts-Harper, one-part Vivienne, with a hint of Stella, Vesper seems like a daring name that wouldn’t be impossible to wear. On the downside, Vesper Lynd is a Bond girl from Casino Royale. But Vespers is an evening prayer service. Another name that made the Brave list twice? Reverie. We do love that letter V, don’t we?
Vale – The big news of the week came from Savannah Guthrie and Michael Feldman. The Today co-host announced her new daughter’s name on Thursday, just a day after baby Vale Guthrie Feldman arrived. Vale is a poetic word for valley – and it’s rarer than rare. Spelled Vail, there’s actress Vail Bloom, best known for her role on The Young and the Restless. Could Vale be the twenty-first century answer to Brooke? A tailored nature name that feels substantial and interesting, without being “kooky or too weird,” to quote the new mom.
Alisar - Speaking of rare, what do you think of Alisar? No, it isn’t Allison. Syrian-born model Alisar Ailabouni moved to Austria as a child, and won Germany’s Next Top Model in 2011. Now she’s appearing on Project Runway. Part-Aaliyah, part-Harper, the best answer I can track down for Alisar’s origins is that she’s an alternate name for Queen Dido of Carthage. Modern Lebanese composer Marcel Khalife has used Alisar in the name of a recent work.
Zhuri - It looks like LeBron James revealed the name of his baby-on-the-way in a recent tweet. He and wife Savannah are expecting #3, their first girl. Zuri is a Swahili name meaning good or beautiful, and the Disney Channel series Jessie includes a spunky character by the name. A very wearable possibility for parents seeking something slightly different.
Marlowe - Speaking of different, I was expecting Susan Sarandon’s first grandchild to have a really different name based on grandma’s earlier comments – she called the chosen name “unusual.” Instead, I heard Marlowe and thought it was pretty tame – which just goes to show how much things have changed. Marlowe feels like a modern, surname-spin on 1960s That Girl star Marlo Thomas’ given name. Jason Schwartzmann used the name for a daughter in 2010, and Sienna Miller did the same in 2012, plus blogger Dooce has a Marlo.
Bliss – Now for something truly different – did you watch Amelia’s video about Guilty Pleasure names? Bliss has been on my Not-Brave-Enough list since Ellen Page wore the name in the 2009 movie Whip It. Amelia’s list also includes Calico, Tempest, and Vermillion – bold and daring choices, all. And yet, if Zuri, Vale, and Marlowe are possibilities in 2014, maybe we’ll meet a baby Vermillion by 2020.