Back when there was a very limited stockpot of names, and there might be, for example, two Roberts in a village who had to be distinguished from one another, they began to be identified by nicknames and by the names of their fathers: one would be known as Robert Will’s son, the other Robert John’s son, and soon an elaborate system evolved based on the names of grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
Similar patronymic systems, with names meaning “son of,” took root in most cultures. In Danish, the suffix added was sen, in Swedish son, in French de, in Armenian ian, in Basque ez, in Norman fitz, in Scotland Mac or Mc, in Ireland O’, Mac or Mc, and in Wales, simply the letter s–Jones meaning John‘s son.
Though all these surname names relate to paternal lineage, in these days of last-name-first and boys-for-girls, there are a lot of patronymics that can work for girls as well: Mackenzie and Madison are good examples that have already been totally accepted. Some of the many other possible “son of” names follow–those that have been used for girls are starred.
For twelve years now, since 1996, the most popular name for girl babies has been Emily. But it looks like Emily’s reign as the top girls’ name may be coming to an end–something we won’t know until the next Social Security list comes out in May. In all fairness, Madison or Emma deserves to take the top spot–they’ve been hovering around it for so long, but there are five other newer names that are hot enough to threaten Queen Emily’s supremacy.
What’s interesting about four of the five current contenders , Addison being the exception, is that they’re trendy without the sound or feel of trendiness typical of some of the high-rated names of a few years ago–Tiffany, Brittany/Britney, Ashley–that flashed onto the scene, became red hot, and then faded. The difference with the present group is that they have deep roots, both historic and literary, and though they are clearly feminine, they also have strength and substance.
ADDISON is the name that’s had the most rapid rise, being the logical rhyming successor to the long-running Madison, and the first name in a while to have sprung from a TV show–Grey‘s Anatomy/Private Practice. Currently at #11, it would be a long shot for first place, though it did reach that spot in two states
AVA is a name imbued with old Hollywood glamour via Golden Age star Ava Gardner and has taken off like a rocket, largely because of its use by a dozen or so current movie stars, starting with Reese Witherspoon. It already headed the lists of nine states last year, and was #5 on the national list.
OLIVIA is a Latinate name popularized by Shakespeare for a leading character in Twelfth Night and has continued to be used in literature all the way up to the contemporary kids’ book porcine character Olivia. # 7 last year, it was also #1 in three states
ISABELLA was of course the Spanish queen who backed Cristoforo Columbo’s voyages, as well as being the name of a British royal, a character in Shakespeare‘s Measure for Measure, in Jane Austen and in Wuthering Heights. Last year, it was #3 nationally, top name in nine states.
SOPHIA has been a favorite of British novelists, starting with the heroine of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, and shares reflected cinematic stardust with Ava, this time via the sultry Sophia Loren. Three states had this name at #1 last year, it was #6 nationwide.
So these are the candidates. Place your bets.